A year in the life of an RDM Service: How we helped LSHTM researchers in 2015

2015 was a busy year for the RDM Service, with the conclusion of the Wellcome Trust project and the launch of the LSHTM research data repository. For this blog post, I will  reflect upon the changing nature of support request handled by the RDM Service, and report on take-up of LSHTM Data Compass during the first few months since its launch.

The 2014  and 2013 reports are still available if you’re interested to see how RDM support has evolved over time.

RDM Support Requests

Researcher demand for RDM advice continues to grow, with 172 support requests submitted and processed in 2015. This is a significant increase over the 120 handled in 2014.

Source of RDM support requests

The largest number of support requests originated from researchers in the Epidemiology and Population Health (EPH) faculty, who submitted 56 requests over the past year. The number of support requests from researchers in the Public Health and Policy (PHP) faculty also rose sharply, increasing from 19 in 2014 to 54 in 2015. Support requests from the Infectious and Tropical Diseases (ITD) faculty remain low (32 in 2015), with only a slight increase over the number submitted in 2014 (29). The RDM Service also received 19 support requests from people at other institutions (primarily research collaborators at other institutions and UCL students who were submitting research bids through LSHTM). Finally, 11 support requests were submitted by AAS staff (Academic and Administrative Services).

A comparison of RDM support requests submitted each month in 2014 and 2015 show some similarities, though it’s too early to call it a correlation. June was an exceptionally busy time in 2014 and 2015, while few researchers get in touch during August and December (they’re probably sitting on a beach). Other months seem to fluctuate each year, however.

Number of support requests each month

RDM support topics raised

As in 2014, I assigned a topic label to each query in order to identify trends in topics covered by support request. This continues to be problematic, due to the wide-ranging topics that may be covered in a support request.  I’ve classified them according to the broad theme or primary issue being discussed, even if the discussion covered a wide-range of topics.

Topics covered in RDM support requests

The topics raised in RDM support are likely to be familiar to RDM staff across the university sector, covering subjects similar to those raised in 2014. However, it’s interesting to see how researchers’ needs have changed over time. Data Management Plans continue to be a major concern for researchers, increasing from 18 queries in 2014 to 28 in 2015. However, data sharing has taken over as the primary topic that researchers enquire about, increasing from 16 queries in 2014 to 37 in 2015.

I’ve noticed that support requests being raised also show a greater understanding of the subject area. Rather than submit general questions on how a funder/journal data policy will affect their research, many show an awareness of online RDM guidance and wish to clarify specific data-related issues. Tailored advice is often project and time specific, making it difficult to document  in a form that can be used by others. However, I’m exploring various options for documenting this guidance, possibly in the form of case studies on data management practices applied in specific projects, to which other projects can refer.

LSHTM’s new research data repository

The school’s new research data repository, LSHTM Data Compass was also launched in 2015, providing a location where LSHTM researchers and their collaborators can store and publish their data following its completion. I’m particularly pleased that work on the map interface was completed in time for launch, enabling users to identify datasets associated with specific geographic regions. Thanks to Simon Jennings, our much-missed software developer for his work on the plug-in.

Data Compass front page

LSHTM Data Compass was soft launched in May, with a formal launch event being held on July 9th. Between May – Dec 2015, 81 data records were created and published in the data repository. Of these, 23 records have been assigned a Digital Object Identifier (DOI). These contain a mix of datasets available through open and mediated access (only 1 mediated access dataset has been requested so far). The remaining 58 records were created by the Research Data Manager to catalogue datasets hosted elsewhere, such as those found on funder, journal, and project websites, as well as 3rd party repositories.

The IRStats reporting module for LSHTM Data Compass recorded 620 file downloads for the May – December 2015 period. Which was nice.

LSHTM Data Compass download figures for May - December 2015

A new section of the LSHTM RDM website has also been launched on Data Deposit in LSHTM Data Compass. These web pages provide guidance for researchers wishing to make their data available for access and have proven to be widely used among LSHTM staff.

Some concluding thoughts

We’ve made considerable progress in embedding the RDM Service within the university infrastructure during the past year, as demonstrated by the increased demand for data management support and growing awareness of the RDM Service as a place where researchers can obtain answers. We’ve also started to make in-road in building awareness of the LSHTM data repository as a place where researchers can store their data in the long-term and share it in an appropriate manner.  Hopefully we’ll continue to make progress in these areas during 2016.

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