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 This is an effect of policy, and of well-established and probably outdated reward/recognition structures.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 will be published on MediaHopper in the coming weeks.

Other resources

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

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Dealing with Data, 2017

One hundred researchers from across the University came together to present work in progress and discuss many tricky issues they face in ‘dealing with data’ at a Research Data Service sponsored event on 22nd November in Playfair Library.

A theme that emerged from this year’s event was around approaches to balancing the drive to make data open with the increasingly restrictive ethical and legal requirements for non-disclosure of personal data from research subjects.

The University’s CIO and Librarian, Gavin McLachlan, set the scene for the day’s topics in his welcome address, referencing data driven innovation through the Edinburgh Region City Deal, the aims of the European Open Science Cloud, FAIR data (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reusable), and the GDPR – the new General Data Protection Regulation coming into force in May, 2018.

Videos of speakers and links to presentations may be viewed from the event page at http://edin.ac/2CypID0. Look out for the event same time next year!

Robin Rice & Kerry Miller (DWD 2017 Organiser)
Research Data Service

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Dealing with Data Conference 2017 – Call for Papers

[Update: Deadline for submissions has now been extended to Thursday 5th October]

Date:                     Wednesday 22nd November 2017

Location:             Playfair Library

Themes:

  • Balancing openness with privacy – How do you meet funder demands for   open data without exposing research participants sensitive information?
  • Informed consent – Is it possible to get informed consent from a research participant if you don’t know how their data may be used in future?
  • Is your research data Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable (FAIR)? – How easy is it to apply the FAIR data principles to your research data?
  • Is open data changing the way you do research? – Has open access to research data helped your research? Have you struggled to access data which ought to be open? Is the need to make our data open taking you away from conducting new research?
  • How have research data tools impacted on your productivity? What tools do you need to work with your research data effectively?

Format:            Presentations will be 15 minutes long, with 5 minutes for questions. Depending on numbers, thematic parallel strands may be used.  Presentations will be aimed at an academic audience, but from a wide range of disciplines. Opening and closing keynote presentations will be given.

Call for proposals:

Open research data is not an end in itself, its purpose is to push research forward by making existing research data available to others so that they can build upon it and in doing so make new discoveries not even envisaged by the original data creators.

The Dealing with Data 2017 one-data conference is your opportunity to talk about how the drive towards open data is affecting your research. How do you balance competing demands for data openness with the right to privacy of research participants? Has access to open data already helped in your research, or are the demands for openness discouraging you from undertaking certain types of project?

Are new tools providing new and exciting ways to work with your data or are you struggling to find tools to help you do what you need?

This is your opportunity to tell fellow researchers how you are benefiting from, or struggling with, the ever changing research data environment.

Please send abstracts (maximum 500 words) to dealing-with-data-conference@mlist.is.ed.ac.uk before Thursday 5th October 2017.  Proposals will be reviewed and the programme compiled by Friday 3rd November 2017.

Kerry Miller
Research Data Services Coordinator
Library & University Collections

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Research Data Management (RDM) Forum

RDM Forum is a newly created platform to bring together both researchers and research & IT support staff from across the University whose role involves helping academics in managing their research data. The aim of the Forum is to share good practice, exchange experiences as well as discuss current and future challenges related to data curation, preservation and publishing. We hope that the Forum will allow its participants to learn from one another and gain a new perspective on some common issues.

The Forum takes the form of meetings as well as e-mail updates (done through the RDM Forum mailing list) and an online platform (SharePoint website) for sharing useful resources, engaging with each other and keeping up-to-date with recent developments in RDM.

The first meeting took place on 7th September 2016. There were 24 in attendance and participants had the opportunity to introduce themselves, ask questions, and provide their expectations and suggestions for future RDM Forum meetings, which have been summarised below:

  • Overcoming challenges:
    • Supporting academic engagement
    • Going beyond funder requirements
    • Engagement beyond training
    • Avoiding last-minute arrangements
    • Addressing concerns about data sharing and reuse
  • Finding solutions that will work
    • Early training
    • Establishing workflows for standard processes
    • Developing an Information Governance structure for data
    • Sharing real-life scenarios
  • Forum structure
    • Forming several user groups focused on specific aspects of RDM
    • Organising meetings around specific themes
    • Updates from Research Data Service team
    • Forum as a platform for training
    • Forum to meet every two months at different locations

The Forum is only open to the University of Edinburgh staff and postgraduate research students. If you are interested in joining the Forum mailing list you can do so at: https://mlist.is.ed.ac.uk/lists/info/rdm-forum
RDM Forum SharePoint website (access by request) is available at:
https://uoe.sharepoint.com/sites/rdmforum

Cuna Ekmekcioglu
Senior Research Data Officer

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