A rigorous Data Management Plan (DMP) is becoming an increasingly important device for any research project. It is hard to think of any activity than does not result in data in its broadest sense, and funding bodies are rapidly moving to a position where all grant applications will require a DMP. In addition, University of Hertfordshire’s Data Management Policy explicitly states that:
‘Data management is an essential and integral part of the responsible conduct of research’
Over and above regulation and meeting funder’s needs, the process of devising an appropriate plan can be an effective project planning tool and the plan can contribute to the quality of the outcomes of a project.
So what goes in a plan? – Everything that pertains to the acquisition of, safe working with, and disposal or re-use of, research data.
The JISC funded Digital Curation Centre (DCC) has developed an online tool which greatly assists the process of making a Data Management Plan. See https://dmponline.dcc.ac.uk/
If used at the pre-funding stage, the tool includes questions which address the requirements of all the UK research councils. When used at the post-funding stage, it presents more options which relate to ongoing research data management (RDM). A new version will be available shortly, which will be more customisable, and have the facility to overlay multiple DMP templates, for example, one for the funder, one for the institution, one for the discipline.
I recently gave DMPonline a try. Signing up was straightforward and quick. The tool is very easy to use and has good contextual pointers to further DCC materials for the uninitiated. The reporting options are excellent, including common application formats and machine readable formats. The result is a well presented and authoritative looking document.
I completed a plan in about two hours actual time in between meetings and calls and normal daily activity. I made a mock plan for RDTK, working with the idea that we might need to use or create some data to test the services demonstrated by the ToolKit.
The RDTK mock data management plan can be downloaded here (PDF, 188KB). (I leave it the reader to decide which answers contain good advice and which bits were necessarily spurious in the imaginary context).
For a number of reasons, this was probably not a fair test: I am already well acquainted with RDM issues and the technology we have available at University of Hertfordshire; and I was unhindered by consequences of not making a thorough plan, or the impact that the plan might have on my grant application and project budget. I estimate a real planning exercise might take between half and two days to complete, depending on your experience and knowledge of the local infrastructure.
DMPonline will likely be both a part of, and driver for, the Research Data ToolKit. It is a very useful tool in itself, and the guidance and services delivered by ToolKit will develop to answer the questions posed in the planning process.