What do researchers want?

According to popular opinion, we’re now in the second half of 2014. This revelation has caused considerable upset for many people, who have grown attached to the months of January to June. These people can be found in popular coffee establishments, loudly complaining that time never passed this quickly when they were young and that there are only XXX shopping days until Christmas.

We shun such people at the LSHTM RDM Service, celebrating the 1st half of the year by doing what we do best: drinking tea  analysing the RDM queries we’ve received during the past six months and identifying common areas where researchers need support.

Number of RDM queries received

First, let’s look at some numbers. The RDM Service received and processed 66 unsolicited queries during the Jan – Jun 2014 period. The majority were submitted by researchers in Epidemiology and Population Health, followed by the Infectious and Tropical Diseases and Public Health and Policy faculty.

Number of RDM queries during Jan - June 2014The distribution of RDM queries is interesting: there’s an ongoing need for help with data storage and Data Management Plans during the entire period, but there are distinct time periods where more people get in touch. In most cases, this was prompted by external factors: the announcement of the PLOS Data Policy prompts a number of queries in March, while the relatively high demand in May is caused by various MRC funding call deadlines. The June peak – the highest number of queries since the setup of the RDM Service – was caused by another flurry of MRC bids and the organisation of a RDM/Open Access drop-in session. The latter attracted several people who were previously unaware of RDM/OA support available in the School.

Number of people who contacted the RDM Service

An analysis of who submitted RDM queries identified 52 distinct individuals. It doesn’t take a mathematical genius to work out that most people contacted the RDM Service once only. However, it is reassuring that just over 20% of queries were from people who had been in touch during the past 6 months and presumably found the advice useful. If we compare these figures to those produced for Jan-Dec 2013, during which 68 people got in touch, we can see that the RDM Service is making good progress in reaching a greater number of LSHTM researchers.

No. of unique individuals in each faculty who contacted the RDM ServiceTopics raised in an RDM query

Finally, I assigned a label to each query to identify its key theme or topic. The analysis revealed that data management plans, journal data sharing policies and data storage are the primary issues that concern researchers contacting the RDM Service.

Topics raised in RDM queriesThe creation of funder Data Management Plans represents the most common concern for many researchers. In most cases, support queries relate to the MRC’s DMP requirements, with a small number of questions related to the Wellcome Trust’s data sharing requirements. This continues a trend identified in 2013. However, we have started to observe changes in the type of questions raised. In the last few months, DMP questions have become more focussed, asking how they address specific technical issues and describe the approach in their application. Possible reasons for this change may include: the launch of LSHTM’s RDM website at the start of the year and researcher’s increased familiarity with RDM requirements.

The PLoS Data Policy announcement was also a concern, forcing data sharing onto the agenda of many research projects. The majority of people who got in touch have expressed grudging acceptance – they were frustrated that they only learnt of the policy a week before it came into force, but saw it as a logical development. As a result of the announcement, research projects are increasingly looking for advice on the variables that can/should be shared, access levels that should be applied and data repositories available for use.

Data storage represents a third issue raised by a number of projects. Due to the collaborative nature of LSHTM research, many people requested advice on storage systems that offered appropriate security and were accessible in The Gambia and other locations. They are also interested in the growing number of cloud services available, which might be used for research purposes.

Some concluding thoughts

Obviously, there’s a lot of work still to be done. However, I think we’ve done a good job in improving awareness of the RDM Support Service and data management processes during the past six months. The drop-in session and training modules have been particularly successful, resulting in contact being made with people who were previously unaware of the RDM Service. We’ll try to offer more of these sessions in the near future.

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