Making the Case for Research Data Management : Call for Contributions

by Rob Johnson and Tom Parsons, 16 Feb 2016

Research data management (RDM) can be a controversial subject. From a policy viewpoint it seems a no-brainer that researchers should safeguard their work, avoid any embarrassing data loss and share their data freely. However, from a researcher and institutional perspective, these ambitions are far from straightforward. Cost, complexity and a research culture that can disincentivise sharing are powerful barriers that could hamper the success of RDM. It is therefore crucial that we can demonstrate the benefits that effective RDM will bring, and show that these outweigh the costs involved.

A high level business case for RDM

Research Consulting and Spotlight Data are working with Jisc as part of the Research at Risk project to create a high level business case for RDM. We will focus upon the positives and uncover new evidence to support RDM success stories, but also acknowledge and address the factors that could hinder RDM in practice.

Our aim is that the business case will be clear and compelling, but it won’t gloss over the reality – which is that RDM will cost money and it is not a ‘quick win’. Storing data for the long-term is expensive, while supporting researchers to carry out RDM usually requires additional staff. Yet the long-term economic and societal benefits to the UK, and the scientific benefits to the wider research community, will undoubtedly outweigh these costs – particularly when set against the cost of creating lost research or repeating failed experiments that were never published. Likewise, RDM and data sharing will allow new services and business models to be developed that exploit shared data and drive innovation.

The ‘stick’ is not enough

Fundamentally, RDM is part of good research practice. Few would argue that failing to backup data, accidentally deleting data or releasing personal data to the public is the right way for researchers to behave. Yet, this is happening across research institutions and data breaches are increasing according to figures from the Information Commissioner’s Office[1]. Of course, these stories usually relate to institutional data and not research data, but anecdotal evidence gathered from conferences and meetings shows that research data is under similar threat.

We can also point the rise in HEI data policies[2] across the UK HEI sector, while the EPSRC’s and other funders’ mandates can be seen as the ‘stick’ that is forcing institutions and researchers to consider RDM. These developments can be seen as one reason to adopt RDM, but they are not sufficient in themselves to change behaviours and justify the investment required.

Uncovering the benefits of RDM

The key focus of this work will be to work with the RDM community to seek out exemplars of RDM practice, and create case studies where sharing research data has led to innovation and tangible gains – whether to researchers, business or society at large. The business case will capture and synthesise these benefits to develop a sound evidence base, ensuring that key decision-makers back RDM financially while those who are expected to practice it are ‘bought into’ the process. The high level business case should also help universities to underpin the cases they are making to institutional decision makers for future investments in RDM.

The economic case

In parallel to the high-level business case, Jisc has also commissioned work to synthesise, analyse, and articulate the methods used to identify and quantify the direct, indirect and inferred economic benefits of RDM. This will focus on methods that are in use by (or could be used by) UK HE institutions and researchers, in order to inform institutional practice in this area. The report arising from this project will offer a clear description of economic benefits and returns that can be easily re-used for various audiences.

Call for contributions

We are seeking to identify case studies where RDM has led to benefits in any of the following areas:

  • Increased efficiencies in the research process (quantifiable if possible!)
  • Increase in the quality or level of innovation within research including new interdisciplinary work or other new opportunities
  • Establishment and development of new businesses/spin-out companies
  • Beneficial environmental, social or cultural impacts
  • Upskilling of industry/public sector workforce
  • New/improved public services, including NHS
  • New/improved policy development/standards
  • Promotion of the UK overseas

If you have any existing case studies or ideas for materials to be used in this study, we would love to hear from you – please forward any suggestions to rob.johnson@researchconsulting.co.uk or tom@spotlightdata.co.uk. We will ensure that appropriate permission is obtained from researchers and any external partners involved before case studies are used.

[1] https://ico.org.uk/action-weve-taken/data-security-incident-trends/

[2] http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/62358/1/__lse.ac.uk_storage_LIBRARY_Secondary_libfile_shared_repository_Content_Horton,%20L_The%20road%20to%20data%20sharing%20_2015_author.pdf