Planning your research data
Section 4 of 8

planning sketch
Image: Planning, Estimating by Ben Husmann

The path to good research data management can be made far easier by forward planning. In fact, you should begin making plans for your data before you start to create or collect it. It will pay to think about how you're going to organise and store your data at the start of a research project, when you haven't yet accumulated much material and when it's easier to keep track of everything. At this point it's often tempting not to think too much about organising data; more likely you'll just want to get on with the research. Bear in mind, though, that beginning to manage data will get progressively harder as your research progresses and you create more of it. In terms of forward planning, it will also help to consider what will happen to your research data at the conclusion of the project. It's quite possible the data you create will need to be preserved and possibly re-used, by yourself or by others.

Many funders now expect you to submit a statement that outlines your plans for data management and data sharing, as part of the grant application process: that is, before your project starts. This statement is often referred to as a data management plan (DMP), it may also be known as a data management and sharing plan, a data access plan, or a statement on data sharing. Such plans are usually assessed along with the rest of an application. Poor DMPs have resulted in unsuccessful applications. Those researchers whose funders do not require a DMP to be submitted as part of the grant application process, (e.g. EPSRC applicants) still need to make plans for their data at an early stage. It's important to note that the decisions you make will affect what it will be possible to do with your data in the future.

A data management plan will require you to consider in detail, and make decisions about, at least some of the following issues with regard to your own project:

  • The general context of your data. For example, how will be responsible for it
  • How the data will be organised
  • How the data will be documented and described
  • How you intend to manage any data protection, ethical and intellectual property rights
  • How the data will be stored securely and how much this will cost
  • How you plan to preserve, share and provide access to your data
  • Most research funders are happy to see the costs of research data management included within budgets. As with any cost, these should be both proportional and justified.

    Remember also that a data management plan may need to be continuously maintained and updated throughout the course of your research project.

    Quiz: Data management plans - Below are some statements regarding DMPs. Which are true and which false?

    1. Once a data management plan has been drawn up, it should not be changed.
    2. A data management plan should cover IPR and ethical considerations.
    3. A data management plan should be drawn up before data is created or collected.
    4. A Data management plan will normally only be seen by the researcher who creates it.

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