Because good research needs good data

5 Steps to Research Data Readiness

This introductory guide to the tools and services available through the DCC will allow IT managers to begin identifying the support they need, not only from the DCC but also from other stakeholders at their institution. By working through the 5 steps IT managers will be able to establish the strengths and weaknesses of the services they currently offer and work towards offering the Research Data Management service increasingly demanded by institutions and researchers.

By Kerry Miller (DCC) 

Published: 17 February 2012

By working through the 5 steps IT managers will be able to establish the strengths and weaknesses of the services they currently offer and work towards offering the Research Data Management service increasingly demanded by institutions and researchers.

Please cite as: Miller, K.. (2012). ‘5 Steps to Research Data Readiness'. DCC Briefing Papers. Edinburgh: Digital Curation Centre. Available online: /resources/briefing-papers

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Research data is a valuable resource that needs to be properly managed if the maximum return on research investment is to be realised. Recognition of its importance is reflected in the policies of the principal research funders, as well as by an emerging suite of institutional data management policies.

Much of the responsibility for providing an effective data management infrastructure will fall upon IT services, who will be expected to store, protect, preserve and facilitate the retrieval of a wide range of data in order to enable the optimum exploitation of research outputs – often in ways not predicted by the original data creators.

To ensure that you are ready to meet these responsibilities follow our 5 Steps to Research Data Readiness. At each step we give you links to tools and resources to help you on your way.

Step 1: Take stock

You are probably already responsible for quite a lot of research data, but just how much do you have and how much do you need to keep? Until you know what you have, where it came from and for how long it needs to be kept accessible, you will struggle to plan your future strategy effectively.
  • The Data Asset Framework provides a methodology and an online tool to allow a systematic audit of your institution’s existing data holdings
  • The DCC’s guide How to Appraise & Select Research Data for Curation will give you practical advice on working with data creators, helping you to decide which data should be archived for the long term and which can be safely destroyed after set periods of time.

Step 2: Let research needs drive your strategy

Once you know what data is being held you can design a strategy for the future management of existing and new research data. Creating systems and policies that support the needs of both data creators and data users is crucial. After all, there is no point in holding onto data if users can’t
find it, access it and use it when they need it.

  • Start by reviewing your institution’s research codes of practice and related policies. Are these currently being supported by IT infrastructure and services? Research funders publish their requirements for data retention, with most now expecting that data should be held for 10 years or more. Just as important is making sure that any sensitive data isn’t kept for longer than is legally allowed. The DCC has gathered together funder policies, useful tools and legal guidance.
  • Many research funders now require applicants to submit Data Management Plans as part of their grant applications. Ensuring that you are aware of and can contribute to the DMPs being produced in your institution will give you a good idea of what kinds of data are going to be generated, enabling you to prepare your support to researchers both during and after a research programme. 

There will be a lot to consider – but remember, you’re not alone. Get others involved in this step – staff from the research support office, library, archives and the FoI office should be contributing.

Step 3: Re-evaluate your existing infrastructure and data architecture

Knowing what data you currently hold and what the future needs of your research community are will allow you to re-evaluate your existing infrastructure and data architecture to ensure that it is fit for purpose.

  • A CARDIO assessment, conducted in collaboration with members of the research community and other key stakeholders, such as the library and research support office, can help you to identify which parts of your systems currently work well and which will need development or re-design.  

Step 4: Get to know the new technologies and standards

Technologies and standards relating to data management are developing rapidly and it is essential to keep pace with these advances if your systems are to be fit for the future.

  • The DCC website is a great source of information on new developments; in addition, the DCC has created a suite of useful tools.
  • We also offer a catalogue of relevant tools and applications produced by other experts, which can be accessed at software-and-hardware/tools. The majority of these are freely available so you won’t need to worry about securing extra budget allocation to test these out at your institution.
  • New JISC-funded services that provide computing ‘in the cloud’ as an alternative to expensive campus servers are progressively being brought to market. Details can be found on the JISC website.  
  • The JISC Managing Research Data programme will be of particular interest as a source of case studies in the delivery of infrastructure and services.

Step 5: Bring your staff up to speed

So, all the policies, procedures, systems, hardware and software are in place. Now you need to make sure your staff are up to speed.

It is important first of all that they understand what your institution’s researchers are trying to do – and why – for which they must be equipped to join and engage with them. Some familiarity with the key characteristics of the research disciplines will always be helpful but a sound grounding in the principal aims and techniques of research data management will be essential.

We hope these steps will provide you with insight into achieving research data readiness. We are always ready to give you further advice and assistance so don't hesitate to get in touch.


This paper was inspired by the article 'Big data' prep: 5 things IT should do now written by Beth Stackpole for ComputerWorld, October 25, 2011.