Crafting your data management plan
Most research funders encourage researchers to think about their research data management activities from the beginning of the project. This will often mean a formal plan for managing data (a 'data management plan').
However, even informally setting out your plans and project guidelines can make your life much easier. If you want to be able to reuse your data or manage collaboration with colleagues, it helps to plan for that from the beginning. Decisions you make about which software to use, how to organise, store and manage your data, and the consent agreements you would have to negotiate, will all affect what is possible to do, and what data is shareable in the future.
Planning ahead for your data management needs and activities will help ensure that:
- you have adequate technological resources (e.g. storage space, support staff time)
- your data will be robust and free from versioning errors and gaps in documentation
- your data is backed up and safe from sudden loss or corruption
- you can meet legal and ethical requirements
- you are able to share your finalised data publicly, if you and/or your funder desires
- your data will remain accessible and comprehensible in the near, middle, and distant future.
What do research funders expect?
Most funders expect you to prepare a data management plan when applying for a research grant. Additionally, some funders, for example the Medical Research Council (MRC), will require you to regularly review your data management plan and make all necessary amendments while managing your grant. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) provides comprehensive guidelines on how treating personal and sensitive data, as well as on obtaining consent for data collection from participants. The information on funder requirements is available here.
Where do I start?
Much of research data management is simply good research practice so you will already be some way down the line. Data plans are just a way of ensuring (and/or showing) that you have thought about how to create, store, backup, share and preserve your data.
The Digital Curation Centre (DCC) has produced an interactive online tool to help researchers create data management plans: DMPOnline. The website records all major UK/European funder requirements, and it automatically tailors the data management plan template to the needs of your funder. You can log in to DMPonline using your Raven account (to do this, simply select the University of Cambridge as your institution, and you will be re-directed to the Raven log-in interface). Data plans that you create are easily exportable to a desired file type (Word, Excel, pdf), so you can simply add them to your grant applications.
What should I cover in my data plan?
The best way to start is to look for what your funder expects you to cover in your Data Management Plan. You can either check this on your funder's website or by using the DMPonline tool, which is populated with funder's template and will guide you through your funder's requirements.
Who can help with data planning at the University of Cambridge?
The University has a range of support staff who can help you create a data management plan, including:
- your departmental or college IT staff
- subject and departmental librarians
- your funder - some funders, for example, the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), offer support in preparation of data management plans
- Open Data team
No matter who you ask for support, please get in touch early, so there is enough time for support staff to help.
Simple data management plan template
Have a look at our simple data management plan template here - if your funder does not provide guidance on data plans, this might be a good starting point.