Dr. Paul Taylor works at the University of Melbourne and has just finished a 2 week secondment in the UK with the JISC-funded EIDCSR (Embedding Institutional Data Curation Services in Research) project based in Oxford. This is an approximate transcript of a quick 5 minute interview between Paul and Neil Grindley (JISC Information Environment Programme Manager)
Hi Paul, thanks for sparing the time out of a very busy schedule … what role do you have in the EIDCSR project?
Thanks Neil … I’m here to help them come up with a draft policy for the management of research data and records. It’s something we’ve had in place at the University of Melbourne since 2005 and we’ve just completed a revision of the policy to hopefully help make it a little more useful for researchers.
Tell us a little bit more about how that policy has been developed at the University of Melbourne and the reactions to it from researchers and data managers.
As I said, we’ve had policy in place since 2005 and early this year we were asked to work out how compliant we were with it, on the basis that if you have a policy and no-one pays any attention to it, its probably not much use keeping it there! Not surprisingly, we found out that most people weren’t compliant and also didn’t really know that the policy was there. We’re hoping that was the reason that they weren’t compliant rather than any sort of animosity against policies in general – but that’s still to be determined.
We reviewed the policy for two reasons: firstly to try and make it of more use to researchers (… there’s limits to that because when you are writing a policy to go across the institution, it has to contain really high level principles about the management of research data. If you get too specific you rule large populations out and then people pay even less attention to it than they did before). Secondly, its to get some attention and a bit of refocus on the data management area. There are a lot of things happening at the university at the moment in terms of the services that the university intends to provide for it’s researchers and some other changes in the Australian environment. We’re hoping to lock the high-level principles away in policy documentation and focus on keeping the guidance, information and support materials up to date and relevant for researchers.
The sustainability of keeping that guidance and information for researchers up to date is a real issue. Capturing their feedback and working it back into future iterations of those materials (and ultimately the policy documentation) is a desirable outcome but also a big challenge isn’t it?
Yes, it is.
How do you think that the policy that you’ve developed in Melbourne transposes to the University of Oxford?
That’s a good question … one of the things that we’ve learnt from the 2005 version of the policy is that its not enough to have the central policy on its own. There needs to be some kind of localisation of the policies and so with this new version of our policy we’ll be asking faculties to come up with their own enhancements so that it makes more sense to their researchers, and then probably get departments to do the same thing. I’d imagine the same sort of system could work at Oxford but it would be a little more complex with the number of people that would need to be involved in coming up with these localised versions of the policy. The hope is that there will be a trickle down effect from the high-level policies which have a practical influence on the way that researchers go about managing data.
In the meetings that I’ve had since I’ve been here, there have been some excellent examples of data managers and data management researchers (I guess you’d call them) who are working closely (one-on-one) with researchers who have come up with some excellent and novel solutions. I think the more that that can happen – a sort of resourcing at the coal face – then the more likelihood there is of high level principles trickling down to meet some of the very local one-on-one researcher-based developments. At that stage, perhaps there would be a general improvement in the management of research data across the institution.
One of the things I’ve heard a lot from people is the need for it to be a federated system. A lot of the departmental research groups have come up with their own systems for managing their own research data. Anything new that is provided centrally from the university has to try and complement those processes rather than take them over. That wouldn’t work well here (in Oxford) and it wouldn’t work in Melbourne. It would tend to antagonise people rather than improve the situation.
Yes … that principle of embedding existing processes and workflows into broader policy initiatives is an important concept for institutions grappling with these kinds of issues at the moment. Thanks very much Paul.
University of Melbourne – Policy on the Management of Research Data and Records (2005)
Review of Policy on the Management of Research Data and Records (2009)
EIDCSR Project (Embedding Institutional Data Curation Services in Research)