DMP Rights & Responsibilities

A consultation on Open Data was conducted in the United Kingdom in February 2012 providing valuable insight into governing principles for open data.  In particular, a series of rights and responsibilities regarding researchers, public and private funders, and  the public was identified in the study’s final report.  Emerging from this dialogue was a prominent policy role for data management plans (DMPs) to record agreements among stakeholders and to state clearly their rights and responsibilities associated with the data.  Viewing data management plans this way is closely associated to the position taken in the previous entry to this blog, The Value of Data Management Plans.  In this context, DMPs serve as a document of relationships and agreements.

Page 35 of this report contains a table summarizing rights and responsibilities among stakeholders.  Four stand out about DMPs:

  1. Researchers have a responsibility to “develop data management plans;”
  2. Funders have a right to expect researchers to prepare and implement data management plans;
  3. Funders have a responsibility to “enforce and publish data management policies and practices,” including DMPs; and
  4. The public has a right to know about research data in the public interest, which can be partially achieved through publishing DMPs.

The discussion in this report addresses several ways in which DMPs interplay across stakeholders’ interests.  For example, a concern among some researchers about “vexatious requests for data [p. 38]” was seen as being mediated through developing and publishing DMPs.  Furthermore, DMPs were seen as a method of communicating a timeframe for exclusive use of data by researchers prior to it being shared.  The expectation of funders to publish DMPs was seen as a transparency factor, keeping everyone informed of the agreements around the rights and responsibilities of a project’s data.

Other stakeholders can be seen also to have rights and responsibilities communicated in DMPs.  For example, a university has a right to know the demands on research data management infrastructure that the data across all locally based projects cumulatively have on a campus’ resources, including data curation services, storage, network capacity, and computational power.   On the flip side, a campus has the responsibility to support data management infrastructure that will facilitate high quality research, something to be gleaned from its researchers’ DMPs.

As Canadian institutions look to introduce DMPs as a policy tool, a wider discussion should take into account the relationships to be expressed in such plans.  We should expect to get full value out of this tool.

The Value of Data Management Plans

A big news item coming out of the Digital Infrastructure Summit held in Ottawa on January 28-29, 2014 was the announcement that Canada’s federal research councils will introduce policy changes over the next 24 months that will require applicants to include data management plans in their funding proposals. This announcement came quickly on the heels of a Fall 2013 consultation conducted by these same councils on Capitalizing on Big Data. Within the background material prepared for this study, these councils were challenged to adopt “agency-based and focused data stewardship plans (p. 8)” of which data management plans (DMPs) were seen as integral.  The push toward this policy change will now likely face some opposition, although momentum currently seems to be with those promoting policies in support of a Canadian data stewardship culture.

Some research councils in other countries have already implemented DMPs. For example, a guideline among the data principles of the Research Councils of the United Kingdom (RCUK) specifically encourages its members to develop data management plans:

Institutional and project specific data management policies and plans should be in accordance with relevant standards and community best practice. Data with acknowledged long-term value should be preserved and remain accessible and usable for future research.

Provided as an umbrella framework, each of the seven research councils of RCUK is independently responsible for its data policies.  For example, the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) describes its reasons for requiring data management plans as:

We believe that a structured approach to data management results in better quality data that is ready to deposit for further sharing.

This single sentence is very revealing about the expected returns on DMPs.  To begin, a DMP is seen to contribute structure to the handling of data within a project.  An outcome of this approach is believed to be higher quality data.  Furthermore, the data will be better prepared for deposit with an organization that will make the data available for others.

On the surface, data management plans appear to be a very straightforward policy tool. They simply lengthen current funding applications by another page or two. However, the purposes they fulfill and the processes they embody will enrich the production and custodial care of research data.  The ESRC anticipation of higher quality data for sharing also implies collaboration with data curation services and with data repositories.  Ultimately, a DMP should engage researchers in conversations with those providing such services.  In this context, a DMP becomes a document of relationships that should be shared, edited, and monitored among those contributing to a project.  From this viewpoint, a DMP functions as a dynamic document of agreements.

To serve the multiple purposes just described, DMPs should be designed for easy digital exchange across a variety of applications.  The best way to approach this in today’s complex world of  information technology is through a metadata standard describing a data model of elements constituting a DMP.   CASRAI, a community-based standards body for research administrative information, is well positioned to do this.  In fact, the U.K. chapter of CASRAI has already begun work on a set of elements for a DMP data model.  In conjunction with this, it would be helpful if the Standards and Interoperability Committee of Research Data Canada would develop a fundamental flowchart representing the interplay of purposes, uses, and relationships expressed in a DMP.  This would be both informative for the CASRAI working group developing specifications for DMPs as well as helpful in validating the completeness of a DMP data model.