Tuesday, 27 March 2012
Research data preservation projects meeting.
"It's a question of discipline," the little prince told me later on. "When you've finished washing and dressing each morning, you must tend your planet." ~Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince, 1943.
We had a JISC Research data preservation projects meeting on Thursday 22 March. We had attendees from Cambridge, LSE, Bristol, and of course ULCC. Each project updated on its findings and progress including briefing on past and current training provision. Each project summarised the findings of their user survey. Although we had approached this in different ways (structured interviews, workshop, on-line questionnaire) our findings were remarkably similar. Even Bristol/DataSafe, which is concentrating on support staff and records data preservation, found resonances.
An important point which we see emerging again and again is the fact (and Cambridge, LSE and ULCC had all found this in our research) the phrase “research data” was not recognised by most researchers especially in the arts and humanities. They simply could not relate to the term. “Data” implies science and structural data and in large amounts. Whereas we are using it to define all and any information in any form for research purposes. LSE has already adopted “research material and data” as a catch all phrase and is a more accessible term. ULCC have not used the term metedata in relation to training as we consider it an alienating term.
We looked at comparing the identified needs of trainee community. There was much discussion about the attitudinal aspects of managing research data. People despair often of the lack of appreciation of the value of research data and why it should be kept. I personally think that we, the infromation managers, must share responsibility for this. Terms such as 'data' and 'metadata' for example are meaningless and alienating for most people not involved in the management of information. In a way we need to address our attitude to working with the research community. We have to develop ways of tailoring our approach/language to the non information management community. In a sense what I feel we need is to tend to ourselves first in order to make sure that we communicate effectively with the outside world.
Otherwise I noted that people are simply not getting the advice or assistance from their instiutions who are fostering their research. hence the value of our projects if we pitch our advice correctly. Very often there are no guidelines on the management of researc data avilable so researchers are very much left to their own devices. This can be demonstrated by their storage solutions as almost everyone we interviewed uses the cloud in one way or another. The exceptions were the few who knew the risks of the cloud (or who actually read the tems and conditions).
Issues in preservation skills included: choosing and using appropriate file formats; incorporating data preservation into their project; working with repository criteria for research data deposit.
We agreed that no one method of delivery or approach would suit all our target audiences, but having material that could be re-purposed for several modes (e.g. group training and on-line learning) would be the best tactic. Furthermore, all projects are constrained in what they will produce by their project scopes and institution-specific requirements. We did, though, identify several areas where collaboration would be mutually beneficial, so we agreed the following joint action:
Cambridge will set up a wiki to enable us to develop firstly a structure and set of questions for a FAQ, then secondly to develop where possible generic answers to these questions, accepting that some will need to be tailored for each institution;
LSE will develop and design a top-level brochure about research data preservation containing the core points and links to further information. This will be adapted from the similar-but-independent 4-point structures proposed by ULCC and Cambridge, namely: Explain it – Store it Safely – Share it – Start Early. And as the little prince said it is all a question of discipline but communicate the 'why bother' effectively and it will be a less bitter pill to swallow with remarkably beneficial results.
So, a good get together. More later.