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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Reflections on Repository Fringe 2017

The following is a guest post by Mick Eadie, Research Information Management Officer at University of Glasgow, on his impressions of Repository Fringe 2017.

Capture1From the Arts

The first day afternoon 10×10 (lightning talk) sessions had many of the presentations on Research Data topics.  We heard talks about repositories in the arts; evolving research data policy at national and pan-national level; and archival storage and integrations between research data repositories and other systems like Archivematica, EPrints and Pure.

Repositories and their use in managing research data in the arts was kicked off with Nicola Siminson from the Glasgow School of Art with her talk on What RADAR did next: developing a peer review process for research plans.  Nicola explained how EPrints has been developed to maximise the value of research data content at GSA by making it more visually appealing and better able to deal with a multitude of non-text based objects and artefacts.   She then outlined GSA’s recently developed Annual Research Planning (ARP) tool which is an EPrints add-on that allows the researcher to provide information on their current and planned research activities and potential impact.

GSA have built on this functionality to enable the peer-reviewing of ARPs, which means they can be shared and commented on by others.   This has led to significant uptake in the use of the repository by researchers as they are keen to keep their research profile up-to-date, which has in turn raised the repository profile and increased data deposits.  There are also likely to be cost-benefits to the institution by using an existing system to help to manage research information as well as outputs, as it keeps content accessible from one place and means the School doesn’t need to procure separate systems.

On Policy

We heard from Martin Donnelly from the DCC on National Open Data and Open Science Policies in Europe.  Martin talked about the work done by the DCC and SPARC Europe in assessing policies from across Europe to assess the methodologies used by countries and funders to promote the concept of Open Data across the continent.   They found some interesting variants across countries: some funder driven, others more national directives, plans and roadmaps.  It was interesting to see how a consensus was emerging around best practice and how the EU through its Horizon 2020 Open Research Data Pilot seemed to be emerging as a driver for increased take up and action.

Storage, Preservation and Integration

No research data day would be complete without discussing archival storage and preservation.  Pauline Ward from Edinburgh University gave us an update on Edinburgh DataVault: Local implementation of Jisc DataVault: the value of testing. She highlighted the initial work done at national level by Jisc and the research data Spring project, and went on to discuss the University of Edinburgh’s local version of Data Vault which integrates with their CRIS system (Pure) – allowing a once only upload of the data which links to metadata in the CRIS and creates an archival version of the data.  Pauline also hinted at future integration with DropBox which will be interesting to see develop.

Alan Morrison from the University of Strathclyde continued on the systems integration and preservation theme by giving as assessment of Data Management & Preservation using PURE and Archivematica. He gave us the background to Strathclyde’s systems and workflows between Pure and Archivematica, highlighting some interesting challenges in dealing with file-formats in the STEM subjects which are often proprietary and non-standard.

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Research Data Management Forum: Third meeting – 28/03/2017

Harkening back to a bygone era of libraries, when books were printed on paper and research data management meant not accidentally burning your notes with your candle, the third meeting of the university RDM forum was held in the impressively aged Old Library in Geography’s Old Infirmary building at the end of March.

As a regular participant, I find the RDM forum is a very useful platform for everyone who has an interest in supporting research data management. It is an opportunity for me to update myself on the support and services that the university has in place in this area, to ask the daft questions but get a sensible answer and more generally, to meet the others in the university who are working in the same area as myself and face the same issues and challenges.

This edition of the RDM forum was no different. After a quick introduction of the participants, Cuna, leading the forum, took us through the following agenda:

  • Cuna Ekmekcioglu – RDM update
  • Dominic Tate – DataVault update
  • Pauline Ward – DataShare new features
  • Cuna Ekmekcioglu – development of Data Safe Haven

The session began with the RDM update which went into detail about the RDM Sharepoint site and some of the tools and documents that have been uploaded to the site. There are some useful threads looking to collect information about the different types of data that we have, as well as some guidance on recording datasets in PURE, RDM journey flowchart and sample Data Management Plans amongst other things. The Sharepoint site can be accessed by request, and can be found here: https://uoe.sharepoint.com/sites/rdmforum (access is only for UoE staff and students).

We had updates on the existing services such as DataShare and details about the development of both DataVault and the future Data Safe Haven, a system which will allow the storage and analysis of very sensitive data. There were some discussions around the new systems and practical issues such as cost and training/guidance for the new services.

It was a very worthwhile event and I shall be looking forward to the next forum.

Michelle O’Hara
Research Data & Information Officer
School of Social and Political Science

 

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