Collaborating on data in a modern way

Between mid-September and mid-October, the Research Data Support team hosted an international visitor. Dr Tamar Israeli, a librarian from Western Galilee College in Israel, spent four weeks in Edinburgh to increase her experience and understanding around research data management. As part of this visit, Tamar conducted a study into our researchers’ collaborative requirements, and how well our existing tools and services meet their needs. Tamar’s PhD thesis was on the topic of file sharing, and she has recently published another study on information loss in Behaviour & Information Technology: “Losing information is like losing an arm: employee reactions to data loss” (2019). Tamar is also a representative of the Israeli colleges on the University Libraries’ Research Support Committee.

Tamar carried out a small-scale study in order to gain a better understanding of the tools that researchers use to collaborate around data, and to explore the barriers and difficulties that prevent researchers from using institutional tools and services. Six semi-structured interviews were conducted with researchers from the University of Edinburgh, representing different schools, and all of whom collaborate with other researchers on a regular basis on either small- or large-scale projects. She found that participants use many different tools, both institutional and commercial, to collaborate, share, analyse and transfer documents and data files. Decisions about which tools to use are based on data types, data size, usability, network effect and whether their collaborators are in the same institution and country. Researchers tend to use institutional tools only if they are very simple and user friendly, if there is a special requirement for this from funders or principal investigators (PIs), or if it is directly beneficial for them from a data analysis perspective; sharing beyond the immediate collaboration is only a secondary concern. Researchers are generally well aware of the need to keep their data where it will be safe and backed-up, and are not concerned about the risk of data loss. A major issue was the need for tools that answer projects’ particular needs, therefore customisability and scope for interlinking with other systems is very important.

We’d like to thank Tamar for the great work she did, and for the beautiful olive oil and pistachios that she brought with her! Tamar’s findings will key into our ongoing plans for the next phase of the Research Data Service’s continual development, helping us assist researchers to share and work on their data collaboratively, within and beyond the University’s walls.

Martin Donnelly
Research Data Support Manager
Library and University Collections

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