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Engaging Researchers with Data Management

Connie Clare
Maria Cruz
Elli Papadopoulou
et al.

Case studies

8. Engage with Senior Researchers through Archiving

Elli Papadopoulou, Katherine McNeill, Rachel Wise, Stein Høydalsvik et Leif Longva

Texte intégral

1We are all familiar with what a data management lifecycle looks like: you start with the idea or the concept for your research journey, then move on to collecting a dataset and analysing it, then cleaning and tidying it up to prepare it for sharing, before finally preserving or archiving it for perpetuity. That is the ideal Research Data Management (RDM) scenario, but most of the time the final archiving step never happens. Instead, data remains with the original researchers and moves around with them. ‘What if the researcher retires or dies?’ you might ask. Well, often the dataset is lost, unless a colleague can find it and bring it to their institution for preservation, which is rarely the case. Researchers may be familiar with the idea of donating books, papers and special collections, but rarely think of their messy draft documents, data from unpublished research projects, or password-protected USB sticks and hard drives.

A Turnaround in Habit

2In the world of open science, where the reproducibility of research is of increasing concern, some institutional archives have become a key driver of cultural change and good RDM practices. Archives are typically responsible for persistently securing and preserving the intellectual legacy of the institutions they serve, and this role requires engagement from those who create this content.

3In order to understand how some archives have managed to successfully communicate their role in RDM within their institutions, we present two case studies: the Harvard Business School Archives (USA),1 and the UiT The Arctic University of Norway Library (Norway).2 These case studies reflect their institutional settings, and provide interesting approaches to managing research data.

8.1. Soliciting Deposit and Preservation of University-Produced Research Data as Part of Broader Archives and Records Management Work

Staff from the Harvard Business School (HBS) Archives share their views on how the transition from physical to digital management practices helps engage with researchers who are about to leave the institution.

Table 8.1,

CC BY 4.0.

4Note that the figures above are for Harvard Business School and not for Harvard University overall.

Don’t Forget about the Physical Data!

5You might think that research data management is a recent trend resulting from funders’ requirements for open and FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Re-usable), machine-actionable data. But is that the only driver? Katherine McNeill, Research Data Program Manager, explains the role of the Harvard Business School (HBS) Archives: ‘Since the early twentieth century, the HBS Archives have been preserving the data produced by the School’s faculty as part of its mission to preserve its research in all forms. Activities include a proactive program of data collection, as well as a storage service for post-project research records.’ She points out that ‘many organisations have an opportunity to collect research data by leveraging programs that already exist to actively preserve institutional records.’

6Their key message from this long history of curation is that, despite current discussions about big data and digital disruption, data are not always in a digital form and archives have experience of looking after physical data that can also be applied to digital data. Rachel Wise, HBS Archivist, explains that the Archives have a tradition of curating and storing paper forms of research data, including notes, physical articles and other published papers, survey data, agreements, consent forms, accepted proposals, correspondence, etc. The steps followed for physical research records are not drastically different to managing digital data: researchers first hand over the data collected during their research and an archivist works with them to clean up and curate the data, and to decide what to keep for the long term.

It’s about Shifting Perspectives

7Of course there are as many challenges when dealing with physical data management, as there are for digital asset management, and some are similar in nature, but the HBS Archives prefer to look at challenges as opportunities to grow. The importance of integrating electronic data management procedures into existing workflows is one challenge shared with physical data management, along with having the infrastructure to carry out the necessary actions for that data management; such activities necessitate expanding the archive’s partnerships with research computing services to better facilitate the transition between the active phase of research and the long-term data management.

8For the HBS Archives, developing infrastructure from scratch is not necessary, as they already make use of the university’s repository for web-based publishing of research data. However, they are working on improving their local IT (Information Technology) infrastructure for medium-term storage of digital files to help faculty members retain research data until they are ready to share or archive their data. This is the same service the HBS Archives have provided to faculty members for physical records for decades, adapted to address digital data.

9Finally, many HBS researchers are not subject to producing funder-required data management plans, whether for physical or digital data, and thus miss an opportunity to plan responsible and reproducible research practices from the beginning of a project.

What the Future Holds

10Katherine and Rachel both highlight the need to be more proactive, and to continuously develop and expand the archive service so that digital data can be effectively curated in the archives. Rachel continues: ‘Now the approach is more reactive: when someone reaches out to us before a career shift or retirement, we are there to support them by providing guidance and physical storage; this could be for a researcher at any level of their career’. Being more proactive means cultivating researchers’ mind-sets so that they are willing to organise and prepare data for sharing before they leave the institution, or prior to the end of their project; it means exploring the best ways to reach out to faculty members, and it means applying technical solutions that will facilitate digital data-sharing of valuable research assets.

Confused about Where to Start? Foster Data Champions and Build upon Existing Services

11Both Katherine and Rachel agree that one of the top priorities when establishing an engagement activity is raising awareness and educating researchers about what you can do. ‘You have to be able to talk to people in a language that they understand. And who better to take on that role than researchers themselves? So it is wise to encourage faculty users of the service to educate their peers. Having a faculty champion, who can talk about how much their data has been re-used because of your services, can go a long way in promoting your research data management program, ’ they state.

12There is an opportunity to partner with, and leverage, your institutional archives to preserve research data since they are already set up as a service provider and repository for institutional records. Archives have policies, procedures and relationships in place, which can be extended to organise, store and provide access to research data in all formats.

8.2. Starting at the End: Seniors’ Research Data Project at the UiT The Arctic University of Norway

The Library of UiT, The Arctic University of Norway, gives insight into their Seniors’ Research Data project and walk us through the links and networks established so far, and all of their achievements to date.

Table 8.2,

CC BY 4.0.

What If You Start at the End?

13What happens to data once a researcher retires? According to Lars Figenschou, from the Library of UiT The Arctic University of Norway, ‘there is empirical evidence that the data collected by researchers who are leaving research are those most at risk of being lost. This is a huge problem for the research community, as well as for the institutions.’ Stein Høydalsvik, senior advisor at the library, clarifies that the main driver of their project is re-usability: ‘We need to be able to access and re-use data that have been generated within our institution; it’s equally a matter of preserving the legacy and of enabling others to make something new out of it.’

14The goal of the Seniors’ Research Data project is to identify the most valuable datasets created by senior researchers. The library is responsible for curating data (reviewing the submitted data and communicating with the submitting researcher on how to present the data through good metadata and descriptions, and on recommended file-format conversions, etc.), while the faculty is expected to help researchers select the most valuable datasets and advise them on the most suitable, discipline-appropriate data management practices.

15One of the UiT faculties supported the project by allocating money to fund research assistants to help their senior researchers prepare their data for archiving, for example, by digitising, structuring and describing the data. However, not many researchers made use of this funding. The reason appeared to be that, even with funded assistants, researchers themselves still needed to prepare their research data materials for archiving. A major obstacle to the success of a project like the Seniors’ Research Data project is the fact that research data archiving, especially of old data, requires time and effort by the researchers.

How Do Senior Researchers Differ from Early-Career Researchers?

16It is sometimes thought that acquiring a new skill gets harder with age, but in Stein’s experience the most important factor is the willingness of individuals to learn new things. The impression in the Research Data Management (RDM) team at UiT is that senior researchers are more motivated to secure their research legacy than researchers in earlier stages of their careers. Senior researchers, especially those about to retire, seem quite willing to learn how to adequately prepare their data for sharing, perhaps because they feel less competitive as their career is established and because they have no further plans to use the data for their own research.

17A similar effect is observed when reaching out to researchers who are about to make a career shift, and who rely on the library archives for storing and preserving their data. However, Stein warns that researchers at this stage often hold the messiest data. Perhaps this is to be expected given that senior researchers have been collecting data for longer: years of modifying documents, creating new versions and formats of the same files, using the same file names on multiple occasions, and similar issues can lead to data chaos when compounded over time.

Targeting the Right People

18Here is where support from the library, with its strong networks and collaborations, comes in handy. Stein explains how they have adapted the library’s RDM support workflows to fit the Seniors’ Research Data project.

19It starts with effective communication from the Library Director, which then cascades down to the Deans of Faculties, Heads of Departments, and then to Principal Investigators and individual research groups. Next, an RDM specialist from the library usually starts by arranging meetings on different levels within the faculty: first with the Dean and key personnel to inform them about the Seniors’ Researcher Data project, then meeting with research groups and faculty to discuss what is needed from their side.

20If there is interest, the archivists organise hands-on sessions and provide detailed guidelines, sometimes with one-to-one conversations and meetings, as appropriate.

Coming Out of Your Comfort Zone: A Tough Decision

21Stein explains that the success of the Seniors’ Research Data project crucially depends on staff, for example, on subject librarians willing to leave their desk and having the courage to approach and cooperate with researchers on a topic that they don’t necessarily feel comfortable with. However, Stein says that, ‘it’s not the specific role or job title that librarians have that will make a difference, but their attitude. Knowing the RDM policy landscape is one thing, but in order to be heard, you have to go where the researchers are and talk to them in a language that they understand.’

22Prof Robert T. Barrett reflects on the selfish benefits of archiving his data: ‘It’s just positive and fun if my time series data can benefit others. And extra nice if they refer to me. I get a quote, and at the same time others know that I actually collected the data.’

Fig. 8.2 Prof Robert T. Barrett collecting data about seabirds and migratory birds. Retired in 2018 after 40 years of work at the UiT.

© Adrien Brun, CC BY 4.0.

23However, the benefits go far beyond merely selfish reasons: ‘as a researcher, one can always make excuses about lack of time, but we actually have a moral duty: what we have published is only part of the legacy. We should be proud enough of what we have done during our research career to make all our data and research materials publicly available, for the benefit of younger researchers and all our successors.’


1 Harvard Business School Archives,

2 UiT The Arctic University of Norway Library,

Table des illustrations

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Légende Table 8.1,
Crédits CC BY 4.0.
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Légende Table 8.2,
Crédits CC BY 4.0.
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Légende Fig. 8.2 Prof Robert T. Barrett collecting data about seabirds and migratory birds. Retired in 2018 after 40 years of work at the UiT.
Crédits © Adrien Brun, CC BY 4.0.
Fichier image/jpeg, 25k


Harvard Business School, The United States of America

Harvard Business School, The United States of America

UiT The Arctic University of Norway, Norway

UiT The Arctic University of Norway, Norway


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