A visit from the data jungle: My internship in research data management

This is a guest post from Dr. Tamar Israeli, who completed a work/study internship with the Research Data Support team last Autumn. A link to her report is available below.

Recently, there has been a rumor in Israel that research data should be managed. As a librarian and information specialist working in an academic institution, I decided to check if this was true.

When looking for a place for an internship on the role of the library in research data management (RDM), I was happy to find out that the University of Edinburgh RDM support team has a good reputation. I remember enjoying very much my visit to Edinburgh 30 years ago so I was very happy to get Robin Rice & Martin Donnelly’s kind invitation so I could boldly go where… I had already been before.

During September 2019, I worked with the RDM support team, attended some of the staff meetings and participated in one of the RDM trainings.  As part of my internship we carried out a small scale study. The purpose of the study was mainly to understand what are the barriers that prevent researchers from using tools and services provided to them by the university when collaborating with data.

For that purpose, I interviewed six researchers from different schools and disciplines. The researchers were open and cooperative and the interviews were very interesting and insightful. If you’d like to learn about the way researchers collaborate and what influences their decision to use a particular tool or service, here is a link to our report: http://dx.doi.org/10.7488/era/2

Many thanks to the support team for their invitation and warm hospitality. It was one of the most pleasant months of my life.

Tamar Israeli
Librarian and information specialist
Western Galilee College

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Research Data Service achieves ISO 27001 accreditation for Data Safe Haven facility

Following a five day on-site audit by Lloyd’s Register, the Information Security Management System (ISMS) which forms the basis for the Data Safe Haven facility for University of Edinburgh researchers has been officially certified to the ISO/IEC 27001:2013 standard. In a few weeks we will receive a certificate from UKAS (United Kingdom Accreditation Service).

The Data Safe Haven (DSH) team, comprised of members of Research Data Support in L&UC and Research Services in ITI, and with input from the Information Security team and external consultants, has been working toward certification since 2016. The system, designed by ITI’s Stephen Giles, has been extensively and successfully ‘white box penetration tested’ by external experts, one of the many forms of proof provided to the auditor. (White box means the testers were given access to certain layers of the system, as opposed to a black box test where they are not.)

The steel cage surrounding Data Safe Haven equipment in one of the University data centres.

In addition to infrastructure, a proper ISMS is made up of people who perform roles and manage procedures, based on organisational policies. The Research Data Support team work with research project staff to ensure their practices comply with our standard operating procedures. The ISMS is made up of all the controls needed to ensure that it is sensibly protecting the confidentiality, availability, and integrity of assets from threats and vulnerabilities. Over 150 managed and versioned documents covering every aspect of the ISMS were written, discussed, practiced, reviewed and signed off before being examined and questioned by the auditor.

The auditor stated in the final report, “The objectives of the assessment were achieved and with consideration to any noted issues or raised findings, the sampled areas of the management system demonstrated a good level of conformance and effectiveness. The management system remains supportive of the organisation and its business and service management objectives.” On a slightly more upbeat note, Gavin Mclachlan, Vice-Principal and Chief Information Officer, and Librarian to the University said by email, “Congratulations to you and the whole team on the ISO 27001 certification. That is a great achievement.”

The Digital Research Services programme has invested in the Data Safe Haven to allow University researchers to conduct cutting edge research, access sensitive data from external providers and facilitate new research partnerships and innovation. Researchers are expected to include Data Safe Haven costs in funded grant proposals to achieve some cost recovery for the University. To find out if your project is a candidate for use of the Data Safe Haven contact data-support@ed.ac.uk or the IS Helpline.

Robin Rice
Data Librarian and Head, Research Data Support
L&UC

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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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Announcing our new “Quick Guides” series

Earlier this week we bid farewell to our intern for the past four weeks, Dr Tamar Israeli from the Western Galilee College Library. Tamar spent her time with us carrying out a small-scale study on the collaborative tools that are available to researchers, which ones they use in their work, and what support they feel they need from the University. One of Tamar’s interviewees expressed a view that “[the University’s tools and services] all start with ‘Data-something’, and I need to close my eyes and think which is for what,” a remark which resonated with my own experience upon first starting this job.

When I joined the University’s Library and University Collections as Research Data Support Manager in Summer 2018, I was initially baffled by the seemingly vast range of different data storage and sharing options available to our researchers. By that point I had already worked at Edinburgh for more than a decade, and in my previous role I had little need or obligation to use institutionally-supported services. Consequently, since I rarely if ever dealt with personal or sensitive information, I tended to rely on freely-available commercial solutions: Dropbox, Google Docs, Evernote – that sort of thing. Finding myself now in a position where I and my colleagues were required to advise researchers on the most appropriate systems for safely storing and sharing their (often sensitive) research data, I set about producing a rough aide memoire for myself, briefly detailing the various options available and highlighting the key differences between them. The goal was to provide a quick means or identifying – or ruling out – particular systems for a given purpose. Researchers might ask questions like: is this system intended for live or archived data? Does it support collaboration (increasingly expected within an ever more interconnected and international research ecosystem)? Is it suitable for storing sensitive data in a way that assures research participants or commercial partners that prying eyes won’t be able to access their personal information without authorisation? (A word to the wise: cloud-based services like Dropbox may not be!)


[click the image for higher resolution version]

Upon showing early versions to colleagues, I was pleasantly surprised that they often expressed an interest in getting a copy of the document, and thought that it might have a wider potential audience within the University. In the months since then, this document has gone through several iterations, and I’m grateful to colleagues with specific expertise in the systems that we in the Research Data Service don’t directly support (such as the Wiki and the Microsoft Office suite of applications) for helping me understand some of the finer details. The intention is for this to be a living document, and if there are any inaccuracies in this (or indeed subsequent) versions, or wording that could be made clearer, just let us know and we’ll update it. It’s probably not perfect (yet!), but my hope is that it will provide enough information for researchers, and those who support them, to narrow down potential options and explore these in greater depth than the single-page table format allows.

With Tamar’s internship finishing up this week, it feels like a timely moment to release the first of our series of “Quick Guides” into the world. Others will follow shortly, on topics including Research Data Protection, FAIR Data and Open Research, and we will create a dedicated Guidance page on the Research Data Service website to provide a more permanent home for these and other useful documents. We will continue to listen to our researchers’ needs and strive to keep our provision aligned with them, so that we are always lowering the barriers to uptake and serving our primary purpose: to enable Edinburgh’s research community to do the best possible job, to the highest possible standards, with the least amount of hassle.

And if there are other Guides that you think might be useful, let us know!

Martin Donnelly
Research Data Support Manager
Library and University Collections

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