Managing your research data is as important as collecting it

Dr. Tom Shriver of NC State’s Department of Sociology & Anthropology studies social movements, political sociology, and environmental justice, particularly in Eastern Europe. During the summer of 2014, he submitted a grant proposal to study how “authoritarian systems negatively characterize protesters... to protect their own legitimacy and justify the use of harsh repression.”

His research was conditionally funded, pending revisions to his data management plan (DMP). With more experience doing research than writing data management plans, and with only two days to return the improved plan to the National Science Foundation (NSF), Dr. Shriver turned to the NCSU Libraries for assistance. 

What is a Data Management Plan?
Grant funding agencies looking to extend the impact of the research they support are issuing new management and sharing requirements for the data the research yields. These requirements aim to ensure that the data from sponsored research are preserved for transparency, replication, and reuse to support new discoveries. 

The first of these requirements is the creation of a DMP, a document that formalizes the practices for managing and sharing data. DMPs describe the kind of data that will be created, the standards used to describe the data (metadata), who owns the data, who can access the data, how long the data will be preserved (and/or made accessible), and what facilities and equipment will be necessary to disseminate, share, and/or preserve the data. 

Two recent actions are bringing greater national attention to DMPs. In January 2011, the NSF began requiring researchers to include a DMP with all grant proposals. Then, in February 2013, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) issued a call for more public access to federally funded research. Today, most of the major federal funding agencies require a DMP.

DMP Review Service
In response to this trend, the NCSU Libraries launched its DMP Review Service to support the creation and sharing of research assets at NC State. The Libraries’ service was designed to be light and nimble. A team of experts from across the Libraries would work together to support researchers’ management of data - from best practices with using file types to responding to funder mandates. 

Several librarians worked with Dr. Shriver to review his DMP and gave him immediate feedback and actionable suggestions for improvement. They suggested several viable options for long-term storage of the data and publications resulting from his research project. As with many research projects that leverage pre-existing datasets, the librarians offered guidance in assessing the rights to use external data. Since sharing of research data is expected by the NSF, librarians helped identify which file formats would more easily facilitate that sharing. To make it easier to manage and reuse his data in the future, librarians helped him think about ways that he could be more specific about describing the data analysis and metadata, and offered to help create a standard metadata schema for his project.  

At the end of the process, Dr. Shriver felt more comfortable with the necessary components for a strong data management plan and has recommended our support to colleagues applying for research funding. In his feedback to us he said, “The service was really instrumental in helping me put together my data management plan.”  After submitting his revised proposal including a revised DMP, his proposal was fully funded.

How the Libraries Can Help
Researchers like Dr. Shriver can begin by visiting the NCSU Data Management Planning guide. This guide outlines the main components of a data management plan and reviews funding agency requirements. The Libraries also hosts the DMPTool, a step-by-step template that guides you through writing a DMP. Researchers are invited to send us their DMP draft to get feedback from our team of experts. We strive to meet researchers where they are with rapid, targeted feedback.

To date, the Libraries has supported researchers in 6 different colleges and 17 departments and institutes across NC State. As we engage more with managing research data support and developing DMPs, NCSU librarians are partnering with faculty and researchers on select grants. We offer free workshops and consultations throughout the year with a new workshop planned for October 2015 as part of the Responsible Conduct of Research series.