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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FAIR dues to the Research Data Alliance

It has been a while since we’ve blogged about the Research Data Alliance (RDA), and as an organisation it has come into its own since its beginnings in 2013. One can count on discovering the international state of the art in a range of data-related topics covered by its interest groups and working groups which meet at its plenary events, held every six months. That is why I attended the 13th RDA Plenary held in Philadelphia earlier this month and I was not disappointed.

I arrived Monday morning in time for the second day of a pre-conference sponsored by CODATA on FAIR and Responsible Research Data Management at Drexel University. FAIR is a popular concept amongst research funders for illustrating data management done right: by the time you complete your research project (or shortly after) your data should be Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable.

Fair enough, but we data repository providers also want to know how to build the ecosystems that will make it super-easy for researchers to make their data FAIR, so we need to talk to each other to compare notes and decide exactly what each letter means in practice.

Borrowed from OpenAire 

Amongst the highlights were some tools and resources for researchers or data providers mentioned by various speakers.

  • The Australian Research Data Commons (ARDC) has created a FAIR self-assessment tool.
  • For those who like stories, the Danish National Archives have created a FAIRytale to help understand the FAIR principles.
  • ARDC with Library Carpentry conducted a sprint that led to a disciplinary smorgasbord called Top Ten Data and Software Things.
  • DataCite offers a Repository Finder tool through its union with re3data.org to find the most appropriate repository in which to deposit your data.
  • Resources for “implementation networks” from the EU-funded project GO FAIR, including training materials under the rubric of GO TRAIN.
  • The Geo-science focused Enabling FAIR Data Project is signing up publishers and repositories to commitment statements, and has a user-friendly FAQ explaining why researchers should care and what they can do.
  • A brand new EU-funded project, FAIRsFAIR (Fostering FAIR Data Practice in Europe) is taking things to the next level, building new networks to certifying learners and trainers, researchers and repositories in FAIRdom.

That last project’s ambitions are described in this blog post by Joy Davidson at DCC. Another good blog post I found about the FAIR pre-conference event is by Rebecca Springer at Ithaka S+R. If I get a chance I’ll add another brief post for the main conference.

Robin Rice
Data Librarian & Head of Research Data Support
Library & University Collections

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Dealing With Data 2018: Summary reflections

The annual Dealing With Data conference has become a staple of the University’s data-interest calendar. In this post, Martin Donnelly of the Research Data Service gives his reflections on this year’s event, which was held in the Playfair Library last week.

One of the main goals of open data and Open Science is that of reproducibility, and our excellent keynote speaker, Dr Emily Sena, highlighted the problem of translating research findings into real-world clinical interventions which can be relied upon to actually help humans. Other challenges were echoed by other participants over the course of the day, including the relative scarcity of negative results being reported. This is an effect of policy, and of well-established and probably outdated reward/recognition structures. Emily also gave us a useful slide on obstacles, which I will certainly want to revisit: examples cited included a lack of rigour in grant awards, and a lack of incentives for doing anything different to the status quo. Indeed Emily described some of what she called the “perverse incentives” associated with scholarship, such as publication, funding and promotion, which can draw researchers’ attention away from the quality of their work and its benefits to society.

However, Emily reminded us that the power to effect change does not just lie in the hands of the funders, governments, and at the highest levels. The journal of which she is Editor-in-Chief (BMJ Open Science) has a policy commitment to publish sound science regardless of positive or negative results, and we all have a part to play in seeking to counter this bias.

Photo-collage of several speakers at the event

A collage of the event speakers, courtesy Robin Rice (CC-BY)

In terms of other challenges, Catriona Keerie talked about the problem of transferring/processing inconsistent file formats between heath boards, causing me to wonder if it was a question of open vs closed formats, and how could such a situation might have been averted, e.g. via planning, training (and awareness raising, as Roxanne Guildford noted), adherence to the 5-star Open Data scheme (where the third star is awarded for using open formats), or something else? Emily earlier noted a confusion about which tools are useful – and this is a role for those of us who provide tools, and for people like myself and my colleague Digital Research Services Lead Facilitator Lisa Otty who seek to match researchers with the best tools for their needs. Catriona also reminded us that data workflow and governance were iterative processes: we should always be fine-tuning these, and responding to new and changing needs.

Another theme of the first morning session was the question of achieving balances and trade-offs in protecting data and keeping it useful. And a question from the floor noted the importance of recording and justifying how these balance decisions are made etc. David Perry and Chris Tuck both highlighted the need to strike a balance, for example, between usability/convenience and data security. Chris spoke about dual testing of data: is it anonymous? / is it useful? In many cases, ideally it will be both, but being both may not always be possible.

This theme of data privacy balanced against openness was taken up in Simon Chapple’s presentation on the Internet of Things. I particularly liked the section on office temperature profiles, which was very relevant to those of us who spend a lot of time in Argyle House where – as in the Playfair Library – ambient conditions can leave something to be desired. I think Simon’s slides used the phrase “Unusual extremes of temperatures in micro-locations.” Many of us know from bitter experience what he meant!

There is of course a spectrum of openness, just as there are grades of abstraction from the thing we are observing or measuring and the data that represents it. Bert Remijsen’s demonstration showed that access to sound recordings, which compared with transcription and phonetic renderings are much closer to the data source (what Kant would call the thing-in-itself (das Ding an sich) as opposed to the phenomenon, the thing as it appears to an observer) is hugely beneficial to linguistic scholarship. Reducing such layers of separation or removal is both a subsidiary benefit of, and a rationale for, openness.

What it boils down to is the old storytelling adage: “Don’t tell, show.” And as Ros Attenborough pointed out, openness in science isn’t new – it’s just a new term, and a formalisation of something intrinsic to Science: transparency, reproducibility, and scepticism. By providing access to our workings and the evidence behind publications, and by joining these things up – as Ewan McAndrew described, linked data is key (this the fifth star in the aforementioned 5-star Open Data scheme.) Open Science, and all its various constituent parts, support this goal, which is after all one of the goals of research and of scholarship. The presentations showed that openness is good for Science; our shared challenge now is to make it good for scientists and other kinds of researchers. Because, as Peter Bankhead says, Open Source can be transformative – Open Data and Open Science can be transformative. I fear that we don’t emphasise these opportunities enough, and we should seek to provide compelling evidence for them via real-world examples. Opportunities like the annual Dealing With Data event make a very welcome contribution in this regard.

PDFs of the presentations are now available in the Edinburgh Research Archive (ERA). Videos from the day are published on MediaHopper.

Other resources

Martin Donnelly
Research Data Support Manager
Library and University Collections
University of Edinburgh

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“Archiving Your Data” – new videos from the Research Data Service

In three new videos released today, researchers from the University of Edinburgh talk about why and how they archive their research data, and the ways in which they make their data openly available using the support, tools and resources provided by the University’s Research Data Service.

Professor Richard Baldock from the MRC Human Genetics Unit explains how he’s been able to preserve important research data relating to developmental biology – and make it available for the long term using Edinburgh DataShare – in a way that was not possible by other means owing to the large amount of histology data produced.

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Dr Marc Metzger from the School of GeoSciences tells how he saves himself time by making his climate mapping research data openly available so that others can download it for themselves, rather than him having to send out copies in response to requests. This approach represents best practice – making the data openly available is also more convenient for users, removing a potential barrier to the re-use of the data.

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Professor Miles Glendinning from Edinburgh College of Art talks about how his architectural photographs of social housing are becoming more discoverable as a result of being shared on Edinburgh DataShare. And Robin Rice, the University’s Data Librarian, discusses the difference between the open (DataShare) and restricted (DataVault) archiving options provided by the Research Data Service.

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For more details about Edinburgh’s Research Data Service, including the DataShare and DataVault systems, see:

https://www.ed.ac.uk/is/research-data-service

Pauline Ward
Research Data Service Assistant
Library and University Collections
University of Edinburgh

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