Engaging Researchers in Good Data Management

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Last months, I participated in the Engaging Researchers in Good Data Management meeting organised by the Office of Scholarly Communication, SPARC and Jisc (details here). This post and additional feedback are also available in Engaging Researchers with Good Data Management: Perspectives from Engaged Individuals on the University of Cambridge’s Office of Scholarly Communication blog.

As a researcher who cherishes good and reproducible data analysis, I naturally view good data management as essential. I have been involved in research data management activities for a long time, acting as a local data champion and participating in open research and open data events. I was interested in participating in this conference because it gathered data champions, stewards and alike from various British and European institutions (Cambridge, Lancaster, Delft), and I was curious to see what approaches were implemented and issues were addressed across institutions. Another aspect of data championship/stewardship I am interested in is the recognition these efforts offer (this post touches on this a bit).

Focusing on the presentations from Lancaster, Cambridge and Delft, it is clear that direct engagement from active researchers is essential to promote healthy data management. There needs to be an enthusiastic researcher, or somebody that has some experience in research, to engage with the research community about open data, reproducibility, transparency, security, …; a blunt top-down approach lead to limited engagement. This is also important due to the plurality of what researchers across disciplines consider to be data. An informal setting, ideally driven by researchers and, or in collaboration with librarians, focusing on conversations, use-cases, interviews, … (I am just quoting some successful activities cited during the conference) have been the most successful, and have sometime also lead to new collaborations.

Despite the apparent relative success of these various data championing efforts and the support that the data champions get from their local libraries, these activities remain voluntary and come with little academic reward. Being a data champion is certainly an enriching activity for young researchers that value data, but is comes with relatively little credit and without any reward or recognition, suggesting that there is probably room for a professional approach to data stewardship.

With this in mind, I was very interested to hear the approach that is currently in place at TU Delft, where data stewards hold a joint position (EDIT this is not correct, see Marta Teperek’s comment/correction below) at the Centre for Research Data and at their respective faculty. This defines research data stewardship as an established and official activity, allows the stewards to pursue a research activity, and, explicitly, links research data to research and researchers.

I am wondering if this would be implemented more broadly to provide financial, professional and academic recognition to data stewards/champions, offer incentives (in particular for early-career researchers) to approach research data management professionally and seriously, make data management a more explicit activity that is part of research itself, and move towards a professionalisation of data management posts.

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