Because good research needs good data

DMPonline at the University of Birmingham: the joys of a ‘tangible tool’ in a complex environment

Magdalena Drafiova | 27 April 2020

Left to right: Georgina Hardy, Vicky Wallace, Judith Hegenbarth, James Barnett, Lynne Harris, Kam Bhurji

Data management planning, as we know, is a good thing; but the concepts around it can seem daunting for newcomers.  At University of Birmingham (UoB) we have discovered that offering DMP Online as a solution and as a manifestation of the key questions and issues, eases anxieties for researchers and offers a framework for training and advocacy. 

Mandating Data Management Plans

UoB began an institution-wide project in 2015 to create a service to support research data management (RDM).  Institutional culture change was seen as a cornerstone of this, and a consideration of data from the very start of a research career was key.  In March 2017 the University’s Graduate School Management Board agreed that all PGRs would be required to submit a data management plan by the end of their first year, monitored by their supervisors.

Using DMP Online to support the mandate

Around the time of the mandate, a new ‘Research Skills Team’ was being formed in Library Services.  One of our first tasks was to develop workshops which not only explained the concepts of data management planning, but allowed participants to work on their ‘living document’ with support, and leave with an asset, alongside enhanced understanding.  The opportunity to facilitate active learning was too good to miss.  By echoing the structure of the DMP itself in the organisation of the workshops, we achieved a coherence that both session leaders and participants appreciated.

Local benefits

With its customisation potential fully exploited by the Library’s research data expert in our Scholarly Communications  Services Team, DMP Online has enabled us to signpost funder-specific advice which is highly valued by workshop participants.  The range of guidance within the tool has been a huge support, particularly when RDM was relatively new to the library.
Discussing DMP Online with our IT Service colleagues has brought about enhanced collaboration and we now have the benefit of their involvement in workshops, so that they can advise researchers on data storage, retention and sharing specifics.  DMP Online is a focus around which beneficial relationships have flourished.

Uptake – the evidence

There is little doubt that the mandate for PhD students to complete a data management plan has increased uptake of the tool.  Without the resource as an integral part of our service, we would have had less confidence in supporting the mandate.  The ability to see the significant use of the local UoB template (which tends to be used by PhD students) also helps us demonstrate the impact of our training.  The usage data has allowed us to monitor uptake and a benchmarking approach (we’re sixth highest-adopting in the list of institutions) has given the team a boost in knowing that our workshops, promotional material and online support is having a significant impact.   The statistics also show a spike in uptake during summer when PhD students are preparing for their annual review.  This has helped us with the scheduling of face to face sessions with students and supervisors alike.

Next steps

A positive outcome of the implementation of DMP Online at UoB have been the opportunities to work with research colleagues within the academy.  Research Partner professionals have taken advantage of the template feature to help discipline specific researchers in the grant application process. As we work to encourage colleagues to embrace ‘open research’ this engagement is a great step on that road.

One of our key challenges is the display of DMPs from our researchers who have chosen the setting to make their plan public – we worry that these might be seen as exemplars, so key messaging now includes recommended settings for their DMP.

DMP Online will continue to feature strongly in the work of the Research Skills Team in the library and as we expand our RDM support. We are currently recruiting for a dedicated Research Data Librarian (replacing a previous role which combined repository management and research data expertise), enabling us to use DMPOnline as a nexus for developing a DMP advice service for academic staff.  We will grow our engagement with supervisors (we have a section on RDM in the University Graduate School’s online supervisor refresher training and run face to face workshops specifically for them, featuring a rubric).  We are also determined to maintain our impressive trajectory of uptake – so this is just the beginning…

Judith Hegenbarth and Research Skills Team

18 November 2019

We would like to say thank you to Judith Hegenbarth and Research Skills Team for sharing this blog post with us. If you would like to get involved in our knowledge exchange and share a story from your institution please do get in touch with us.