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Engaging Researchers with Data Management

Connie Clare
Maria Cruz
Elli Papadopoulou
et al.

Case studies

1. Research Data Management Policy: The Holy Grail of Data Management Support?

Joanne Yeomans, Joseph Ssebulime, Fieke Schoots et Laurents Sesink

Texte intégral

1One of the easiest but most impactful ways to engage with researchers is to create awareness about the need for good Research Data Management (RDM) and then agree on what good RDM looks like. Upon this foundation many other services and activities can be built.

2In this chapter, we introduce two case studies that demonstrate how engaging with researchers can create this foundation by:

  1. Getting the concept of RDM accepted.

  2. Collaborating to define what is meant by good RDM and to agree a policy to achieve this.

  3. Following up with researchers to ensure the policy is implemented.

Both case studies are relatively inexpensive to implement if enthusiastic and talented staff are available but require access to influential people or administrative support structures.

1.1. Are You a Research Data Superhero ? One Person Making a Big Difference at Makerere University

Makerere University demonstrates how one person can start engaging with researchers about data management before any formal institutional resources or services are in place.

Table 1.1,

CC BY 4.0.

3In September 2017, Joseph Ssebulime interviewed research staff at Makerere University about their views on sharing their research data. Every one of them saw sharing or even storing their data anywhere but on their own computer as a loss of control over their work and an unwelcome interference, so they were far from ready to discuss the possible implementation of a university policy for research data management. Less than two years later, Joseph is thinking about speaking to them again to see if their views are still the same. What has happened in that period that might have changed their mind?

Changing the Mindset of Researchers

4After graduating in Records and Archives Management from Makerere University in 2015, Joseph was working in the university library as a Reference Librarian and searching for a topic for his Master’s study. He explained how his interest came about:

I came across Research Data Management (RDM) as a concept and realised that Makerere was lacking these services so I decided to research what RDM support meant, and then investigate the views of Makerere researchers about data sharing. I thought they would be interested in how their data could be looked after and re-used

Joseph sought out individuals who had published research papers in the previous five years and recorded interviews with them. ‘I was really surprised that they had no interest in changing their data management habits, ’ he admitted. Astonished at the lack of enthusiasm for RDM services, he was unsure what to do next.

5Luckily, an opportunity arose to speak with the Deputy Vice Chancellor (DVC) for Academic Affairs and, upon proposing that Makerere University needed to implement a data management policy, Joseph found in him a strong ally. They both believed that it is essential to start with a research data management policy as a foundation.

6With the support of the DVC, Makerere University is at the beginning of its RDM policy journey. Maintaining engagement with the researchers is an important priority as this will help to ‘change their mindset’ by addressing their concerns and then finding infrastructure solutions that work for them.

Never Overlook an Opportunity to Speak about RDM

7Joseph takes advantage of every occasion he can find to discuss the need for good RDM with researchers. He seeks opportunities at conferences and other university events to approach Makerere research staff and start a conversation about their data. His aim is to sensitize them to the need for good practice, so that the introduction of a policy and its associated procedures becomes easier. His personal enthusiasm drives him to continually look for opportunities to raise awareness about RDM whilst carrying out his job as a Reference Librarian.

Fig. 1.1.1 Conferences offer a great way to network with researchers: Joseph Ssebulime discusses data management with a conference participant at the University of Pretoria, August 2018. Photograph by Anthony Izuchukwu,

CC BY 4.0.

At Makerere University there is no network drive, meaning that most researchers rely on their personal computer to store their work. A training session on ‘Backing up information online using Google Drive’ provided a valuable service for researchers as well as an ideal opportunity to talk with them more generally about RDM.

Fig. 1.1.2 Poster showing a visual representation of the RDM Roadmap for Makerere University used to raise publicity and start discussions with research staff and senior university managers at meetings and conferences. By Joseph Ssebulime,

CC BY 4.0.

8Poster submitted to the 2018 IFLA Library and Information Congress: Joseph Balikuddembe Ssebulime, Martie Van Deventer and Heila Piennar, ‘The role Academic Libraries could play in sensitizing researchers about research data management: a case of Makerere University Library’, Session 153 — Poster Session, IFLA WLIC 2018 — ‘Transform Libraries, Transform Societies’, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 27 August 2018,​id/​eprint/​2297

9Another such opportunity arose during training on how to use the institutional preprint repository. ‘Open access’ is a well-known and accepted concept at Makerere University so it was natural to run training sessions on uploading articles to the repository, and these sessions are well-attended. Because some publishers now also require authors to publish the data underlying their article, Joseph can include some data management topics in this training session and use it as another chance to talk about RDM.

10Social media is another obvious way to reach people at the university, and Facebook posts are effective in helping to raise awareness about RDM.

How Fast Do Things Change?

11Joseph believes that the impact of his activity on driving cultural change is ‘a little bit slow but very steady’. It’s useful to have an ‘elevator pitch’ ready for when an opportunity arises, and he advises anyone interested in driving data management awareness to ‘start by having conversations with as many stakeholders as possible across the university; this can begin with a brief discussion whenever there is a chance to talk to a senior official;’ if they are convinced, these conversations pave the way for more formal approaches and proposals. It’s clear that having a confident personality is beneficial for success, but with the right people in place Joseph believes that ‘every academic institution across the country’ can implement this activity. Are you the person who can do it?

Additional Resources

12Ssebuline, Joseph, Van Deventer, Martie, and Pienaar, Heila, ‘The Role Academic Libraries Could Play in Developing Research Data Management Services: A Case of Makerere University Library’, [Preprint], 5 July 2018,​publication/​326208493

1.2. Does a Policy Solve Everything ? Policy as a Driver for Engagement at Leiden University

The Centre for Digital Scholarship at Leiden University reaches out directly to research institutes to understand the support they need to implement RDM policy.

Table 1.2,

CC BY 4.0.

A Crown Is Merely a Hat that Lets the Rain In

13A Research Data Management (RDM) policy can outline expectations but by itself will rarely engender a change of behaviour. Worse, although it may be the culmination of many months or years of work, it may prove to be ‘merely a hat that lets the rain in’ if not properly implemented, exposing gaps in service provision and support, and magnifying the resistance that academics feel towards administrative tasks that take them away from their research.

14Engaging researchers to help produce a practical plan for implementing an RDM policy can, however, prove to be an ideal way of learning first-hand what they need to support their data management. The policy can therefore become the ‘crown’ that demonstrates the effectiveness and success of the resulting RDM services.

Leiden’s Use of its RDM Policy to Prompt Discussion

15Leiden University Libraries’ Centre for Digital Scholarship is taking the RDM discussion directly to researchers, by engaging with individual researchers on a one-to-one basis and by reaching out to research institutes and finding out what they need in order to be able to implement the Leiden University RDM Regulations1 approved in 2016.

16‘We can use our RDM policy as the reason to arrange a meeting and discuss what is expected by the university in terms of data management, ’ says Fieke Schoots, a Data Management Expert at the Centre for Digital Scholarship who initiated and coordinates the data management activities at Leiden University Libraries. Once a meeting is underway, ‘we can use the policy as a focus for finding out what is needed, by an individual or a research group, to improve their data management and so we can plan to work on solutions to make their data management easier.’ These solutions help to provide incentives that result in compliance with the policy.

17The result is an environment where researchers know where to go to ask for support with their data management and the central support services have a better understanding of the practical needs of the research staff regarding their research data.

‘One Size’ Does Not Fit All

18The Leiden policy regulations recognise that disciplinary differences exist for many practical data management decisions and, therefore, avoid imposing a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution. The regulations indicate explicitly where departments and institutes should devise their own procedures, and include a whole section on ‘elaboration’ that lists the specific decisions that need to be taken at a faculty or institutional level to supplement the generic policy.

19Implementation of the regulations was expected to be completed by 2019 and was to be carried out jointly by the faculties and various central services: the ICT (Information, Communication and Technology) Shared Services, Academic Affairs, Information Management, and the Centre for Digital Scholarship. Some progress was made with some faculties, but by 2018 it became clear that the levels of engagement required to bring about change across the entire University were beyond the current staffing capacity. The implementation period was, therefore, extended to the end of 2020 and new support staff appointments began.

Why Does this Kind of Engagement Take Time?

20In early 2019, two members of the university library visited every faculty board to discuss the needs for support regarding open access, data management (including the procedures and services needed to elaborate and implement the policy), and the use of digital tools and methodologies. Regarding data management there were still too many diverse needs at the faculty level and so a new round of talks has begun with the 29 institutional scientific committees.2

21To begin the conversation, a report on the current data management support for researchers in each institute has been produced, using enquiry and training statistics and a qualitative description of the current relevant services. This kind of engagement is staff- and time-intensive to organize and carry out.

22Although the absence of dedicated staff was slowing the pace of change, it was not the only problem. ‘Research staff were sometimes reluctant to start discussing new services whilst still waiting for solutions to long-standing problems, ’ says Fieke. It was clear that solutions would need to be delivered to persuade research staff to engage in new discussions. As a result, several pilot projects have begun in parallel to develop solutions for the storage of legacy data sets and encryption tools.

Continuing the Engagement with a Matrix of Support Services

23In order to improve the connections between staff, maintain the ongoing engagement, and deliver solutions, the steering board has agreed to a new approach to organising and strengthening support that employs both decentralised and centralised expertise (see Fig. 1.2.1).

24Fieke explained this new approach:

The matrix identifies key support themes, such as ethics and legal advice, where there are existing staff both in central support units and embedded within the faculties or institutes. Upon this matrix you can build multidisciplinary and thematic networks to bring these staff members together at a faculty level and a theme level, respectively.

The first thematic ‘Data Management Network’ event was organised by the Centre for Digital Scholarship in June 2019. It brought together embedded data stewards, central RDM support staff, and researchers who are particularly active in data management from across the whole university, to talk about their priorities for developments to improve data management practice.

25Through this meeting, central support staff have already learnt more about the research processes and needs of researchers, and researchers have learnt more about the expertise and possibilities offered by further engagement with central support staff.

Fig. 1.2.1 Leiden University’s proposed thematic and disciplinary networks, 2019. By Marcel Villerius, Leiden University,

CC BY 4.0.

26The ongoing efforts to engage researchers have been very rewarding for both sides, but have also been necessary to ensure that the regulations are a welcome tool for change.

Fig. 1.2.2 Leiden University’s Data Management Network convening event, 27 June 2019. Leiden University Libraries,

CC BY 4.0.

Table des illustrations

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Légende Table 1.1,
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Légende Fig. 1.1.1 Conferences offer a great way to network with researchers: Joseph Ssebulime discusses data management with a conference participant at the University of Pretoria, August 2018. Photograph by Anthony Izuchukwu,
Crédits CC BY 4.0.
Fichier image/jpeg, 45k
Légende Fig. 1.1.2 Poster showing a visual representation of the RDM Roadmap for Makerere University used to raise publicity and start discussions with research staff and senior university managers at meetings and conferences. By Joseph Ssebulime,
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Légende Table 1.2,
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Légende Fig. 1.2.1 Leiden University’s proposed thematic and disciplinary networks, 2019. By Marcel Villerius, Leiden University,
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Légende Fig. 1.2.2 Leiden University’s Data Management Network convening event, 27 June 2019. Leiden University Libraries,
Crédits CC BY 4.0.
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Makerere University, Uganda 0000-0002-9411-1515

Leiden University, The Netherlands 0000-0002-4385-9312

Leiden University, The Netherlands 0000-0001-7880-5413


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