Research Data Workshop Series 2019

Over the spring of 2019 the Research Data Service (RDS) is holding a series of workshops with the aim of gathering feedback and requirements from our researchers on a number of important Research Data topics.

Each workshop will consist of a small number of short presentations from researchers and research support staff who have experience of the topic. These will then be followed by guided discussions so that the RDS can gather your input on the tools we currently provide, the gaps in our services, and how you go about addressing the challenges and issues raised in the talks.
The workshops for 2019 are:

Electronic Notebooks 1
14th March at King’s Buildings (Fully Booked)

1200-1400, 10th April at 6301 JCMB, King’s Buildings, Map
Booking Link –
The DataVault was developed to offer UoE staff a long-term retention solution for research data collected by research projects that are at the completion stage. Each ‘Vault’ can contain multiple files associated with a research project that will be securely stored for an identified period, such as ten years. It is designed to fill in gaps left by existing research data services such as DataStore (active data storage platform) and DataShare (open access online data repository). The service enables you to comply with funder and University requirements to preserve research data for the long-term, and to confidently store your data for retrieval at a future date. This workshop is intended to gather the views of researchers and support staff in schools to explore the utility of the new service and discuss potential practicalities around its roll-out and long-term sustainability.

Sensitive Data Challenges and Solutions
1200-1430, 16th April in Seminar Room 2, Chancellors Building, Bioquarter, Map
Booking Link –
Researchers face a number of technical, ethical and legal challenges in creating, analysing and managing research data, including pressure to increase transparency and conduct research openly. But for those who have collected or are re-using sensitive or confidential data, these challenges can be particularly taxing. Tools and services can help to alleviate some of the problems of using sensitive data in research. But cloud-based tools are not necessarily trustworthy, and services are not necessarily geared for highly sensitive data. Those that are may not be very user-friendly or efficient for researchers, and often restrict the types of analysis that can be done. Researchers attending this workshop will have the opportunity to hear from experienced researchers on related topics.

Electronic Notebooks 2
1200-1430, 9th May at Training & Skills Room, ECCI, Central Area, Map
Booking Link –
Electronic Notebooks, both computational and lab-based, are gaining ground as productivity tools for researchers and their collaborators. Electronic notebooks can help facilitate reproducibility, longevity and controlled sharing of information. There are many different notebook options available, either commercially or free. Each application has different features and will have different advantages depending on researchers or lab’s requirements. Jupyter Notebook, RSpace, and Benchling are some of the platforms that are used at the University and all will be represented by researchers who use them on a daily basis.

Data, Software, Reproducibility and Open Research
1100-1430, 21st May at G03, Bayes Centre Central Area, Map
Booking Link –
In this workshop we will examine real-life use cases wherein datasets combine with software and/or notebooks to provide a richer, more reusable and long-lived record of Edinburgh’s research. We will also discuss user needs and wants, capturing requirements for future development of the University’s central research support infrastructure in line with (e.g.) the LERU Roadmap for Open Science, which the Library Research Support team has sought to map its existing and planned provision against, and domain-oriented Open Research strategies within the Colleges.

Kerry Miller
Research Data Support Officer
Library & University Collections


DwD2018 – Videos now on Media Hopper

Dealing with Data 2018 was once again a great success in November last year with over 100 university staff and Post-Graduate students joining us to hear presentations on topics as diverse as sharing data in clinical trials and embedding sound files in linguistics research papers.

As promised the videos of each presentation have now been made publicly available on Media Hopper (, while the PDFs can be found on You can also read Martin Donnelly’s reflections on the day

We hope that these will prove both useful and interesting to all of our colleagues who were unable to attend.

We look forward to seeing you at Dealing with Data 2019.


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


open.ed report


Lorna M. Campbell, a Digital Education Manager with EDINA and the University of Edinburgh, writes about the ideas shared and discussed at the open.ed event this week.


Earlier this week I was invited by Ewan Klein and Melissa Highton to speak at Open.Ed, an event focused on Open Knowledge at the University of Edinburgh.  A storify of the event is available here: Open.Ed – Open Knowledge at the University of Edinburgh.

“Open Knowledge encompasses a range of concepts and activities, including open educational resources, open science, open access, open data, open design, open governance and open development.”

 – Ewan Klein

Ewan set the benchmark for the day by reminding us that open data is only open by virtue of having an open licence such as CC0, CC BY, CC SA. CC Non Commercial should not be regarded as an open licence as it restricts use.  Melissa expanded on this theme, suggesting that there must be an element of rigour around definitions of openness and the use of open licences. There is a reputational risk to the institution if we’re vague about copyright and not clear about what we mean by open. Melissa also reminded us not to forget open education in discussions about open knowledge, open data and open access. Edinburgh has a long tradition of openness, as evidenced by the Edinburgh Settlement, but we need a strong institutional vision for OER, backed up by developments such as the Scottish Open Education Declaration.


I followed Melissa, providing a very brief introduction to Open Scotland and the Scottish Open Education Declaration, before changing tack to talk about open access to cultural heritage data and its value to open education. This isn’t a topic I usually talk about, but with a background in archaeology and an active interest in digital humanities and historical research, it’s an area that’s very close to my heart. As a short case study I used the example of Edinburgh University’s excavations at Loch na Berie broch on the Isle of Lewis, which I worked on in the late 1980s. Although the site has been extensively published, it’s not immediately obvious how to access the excavation archive. I’m sure it’s preserved somewhere, possibly within the university, perhaps at RCAHMS, or maybe at the National Museum of Scotland. Where ever it is, it’s not openly available, which is a shame, because if I was teaching a course on the North Atlantic Iron Age there is some data form the excavation that I might want to share with students. This is no reflection on the directors of the fieldwork project, it’s just one small example of how greater access to cultural heritage data would benefit open education. I also flagged up a rather frightening blog post, Dennis the Paywall Menace Stalks the Archives,  by Andrew Prescott which highlights the dangers of what can happen if we do not openly licence archival and cultural heritage data – it becomes locked behind commercial paywalls. However there are some excellent examples of open practice in the cultural heritage sector, such as the National Portrait Gallery’s clearly licensed digital collections and the work of the British Library Labs. However openness comes at a cost and we need to make greater efforts to explore new business and funding models to ensure that our digital cultural heritage is openly available to us all.

Ally Crockford, Wikimedian in Residence at the National Library of Scotland, spoke about the hugely successful Women, Science and Scottish History editathon recently held at the university. However she noted that as members of the university we are in a privileged position in that enables us to use non-open resources (books, journal articles, databases, artefacts) to create open knowledge. Furthermore, with Wikpedia’s push to cite published references, there is a danger of replicating existing knowledge hierarchies. Ally reminded us that as part of the educated elite, we have a responsibility to open our mindsets to all modes of knowledge creation. Publishing in Wikipedia also provides an opportunity to reimagine feedback in teaching and learning. Feedback should be an open participatory process, and what better way for students to learn this than from editing Wikipedia.

Robin Rice, of EDINA & Data Library, asked the question what does Open Access and Open Data sharing look like? Open Access publications are increasingly becoming the norm, but we’re not quite there yet with open data. It’s not clear if researchers will be cited if they make their data openly available and career rewards are uncertain. However there are huge benefits to opening access to data and citizen science initiatives; public engagement, crowd funding, data gathering and cleaning, and informed citizenry. In addition, social media can play an important role in working openly and transparently.

Robin Rice

James Bednar, talking about computational neuroscience and the problem of reproducibility, picked up this theme, adding that accountability is a big attraction of open data sharing. James recommended using iPython Notebook   for recording and sharing data and computational results and helping to make them reproducible. This promoted Anne-Marie Scott to comment on twitter:

@ammienoot: "Imagine students creating iPython notebooks... and then sharing them as OER #openEd"

“Imagine students creating iPython notebooks… and then sharing them as OER #openEd”

Very cool indeed.

James Stewart spoke about the benefits of crowdsourcing and citizen science.   Despite the buzz words, this is not a new idea, there’s a long tradition of citizens engaging in science. Darwin regularly received reports and data from amateur scientists. Maintaining transparency and openness is currently a big problem for science, but openness and citizen science can help to build trust and quality. James also cited Open Street Map as a good example of building community around crowdsourcing data and citizen science. Crowdsourcing initiatives create a deep sense of community – it’s not just about the science, it’s also about engagement.


After coffee (accompanied by Tunnocks caramel wafers – I approve!) We had a series of presentations on the student experience and students engagement with open knowledge.

Paul Johnson and Greg Tyler, from the Web, Graphics and Interaction section of IS,  spoke about the necessity of being more open and transparent with institutional data and the importance of providing more open data to encourage students to innovate. Hayden Bell highlighted the importance of having institutional open data directories and urged us to spend less time gathering data and more making something useful from it. Students are the source of authentic experience about being a student – we should use this! Student data hacks are great, but they often have to spend longer getting and parsing the data than doing interesting stuff with it. Steph Hay also spoke about the potential of opening up student data. VLEs inform the student experience; how can we open up this data and engage with students using their own data? Anonymised data from Learn was provided at Smart Data Hack 2015 but students chose not to use it, though it is not clear why.  Finally, Hans Christian Gregersen brought the day to a close with a presentation of Book.ed, one of the winning entries of the Smart Data Hack. Book.ed is an app that uses open data to allow students to book rooms and facilities around the university.

What really struck me about Open.Ed was the breadth of vision and the wide range of open knowledge initiatives scattered across the university.  The value of events like this is that they help to share this vision with fellow colleagues as that’s when the cross fertilisation of ideas really starts to take place.

This report first appeared on Lorna M. Campbell’s blog, Open World:

P.S. another interesting talk came from Bert Remijsen, who spoke of the benefits he has found from publishing his linguistics research data using DataShare, particularly the ability to enable others to hear recordings of the sounds, words and songs described in his research papers, spoken and sung by the native speakers of Shilluk, with whom he works during his field research in South Sudan.