A consortial approach to Research Data Management – piloting the next phase

In this blog post originally published on the Jisc Research Data Blog, Rachel Persad, the Senior Policy Adviser for research and innovation at GuildHE, reports on the progress and engagement of small and specialist higher education institutions with research data management. She also highlights the challenges that CREST institutions are facing and the goals they have as a pilot within the research data shared service.

CREST – Consortium for Research Excellence, Support and Training – is comprised of 22 small and specialist higher education institutions drawn from across the UK. Established in 2010, the research network enables its members to join together pockets of research excellence across a wide variety of subject areas, from visual arts to agricultural science, from nuclear technologies to health sciences and theology. The group collaborate on joint initiatives to serve their communities of postgraduate researchers and research active staff; these activities add significant value by providing opportunities for interdisciplinary exchange and engaging with national organisations and programmes.

One of these initiatives has been exploring the research data management (RDM) needs of smaller and specialist institutions, building on our existing provision of a shared repository for our members. In 2014 the consortium was funded through Jisc’s Research Data Spring to develop RDMS solutions that would meet the challenges faced by such institutions. This project articulated a clear need for RDMS provision that could respond to the needs of specialist and niche subject areas and smaller institutions with more challenging infrastructure. In 2016 CREST was selected as one of the Jisc Pilots for the RDM Shared Service to build on the expertise created and to provide the Jisc and the HE sector with insights about RDM from the full diversity of institutions.  

The CREST pilot is the only consortium in the project. Our member institutions are diverse, in terms of the disciplines they focus on, their size, maturity, and current infrastructure – this makes for a fantastic source of information and intelligence. To help us navigate that diversity we have pulled together a steering group of five lead institutions which will act as our sounding board and provide the access to researchers and support teams so vital to the success of the development of a shared service.

Importantly, our pilot demonstrates the challenges posed for the UK HE sector by the increasing impetus and demand to deliver open access (OA) to research outputs and research data. Like many other small to medium sized, regionally anchored institutions which balance teaching and research activity, CREST members are embracing an uphill climb to ensure that their excellent research meets the requirements of OA. At the recent Jisc Pilot Meeting in May we heard from a number of consultants focussed on Technical Architecture, Metadata, and the Data Asset Framework. Visits to our institutions have started and these have illuminated some of those challenges:

  • Currently few institutions have a single, consistent mechanism for holding research data.
  • Policies are being developed for RDM, but they require adoption and advocacy which is challenging to resource for small research support and library teams/
  • Researchers often also have a teaching role and are active in industry; they are time poor, not embedded in academic research intensive cultures, and need support to develop an understanding of what research data is.
  • The research data may be sensitive, and for a host of reasons: intellectual property concerns will be high amongst visual arts, performing arts and design; privacy concerns will be high for health, security, and social science topics dealing with vulnerable individuals. Balancing these priorities in a single system is challenging.
  • Embedding other systems, such as a publications repository, is unlikely to have been fully achieved amongst all research-active staff. A significant proportion of institutions are also unlikely to have much other infrastructure, such as Current Research Information Systems (CRIS), in place. Such systems also tend to be built with larger scale usage in mind.
  • Most of the research data is not text-based, particularly amongst specialist areas. Audio-Visual materials, analogue data, older formats, and specialist formats are more likely to dominate.

As the pilots move into a much more active phase the CREST group are optimistic for the benefits the pilot project will bring. By including CREST and other specialist institutions in the pilot project Jisc has recognised that what works for large scale, research intensive institutions is unlikely to be replicable or even appropriate for every institution in the HE sector. CREST will be working with the The Royal College of Music pilot for various focus groups throughout the project in order that we get the most out of the shared experiences of our researchers and support teams.
We are certain that lessons from developing RDM services for specialists and research specialisms at all levels of scale are crucial for the health and sustainability of research in those areas across the UK higher education sector. As our institutions have already found, being part of a  collaborative and collegiate group with a common goal means we can create critical mass and, together, we can illuminate more.