What is research data management?
Research data management (RDM) is about how you collect, care for, use, preserve and share the data that support your research. Key elements of RDM include:
- how to store your data and back them up effectively so that they are protected against corruption and loss;
- how to organise your data, using meaningful file names and logical folder structures, and applying version control to modified files;
- how to apply quality controls to your data workflow, so that their integrity is maintained and the incidence and impact of error is minimised;
- how to document your data, so that you (and others) can understand what the data are, how they were collected/generated, and how they have been processed and analysed;
- how to process personal and confidential data, to ensure you are meeting the requirements of the Data Protection Act and your ethical obligations;
- how to preserve and share your data so that they can be consulted and re-used by other researchers, usually by using suitable data repositories.
RDM starts with data management planning. A number of funders ask for a data management plan (DMP)to be completed as part of a grant application, and it is always advisable to create a DMP for any research project involving the collection of primary data.
RDM is especially important when applied to primary data, i.e. new data collected or generated in the research activity. Because these are new and in many cases are essential to validation of your research findings, it is important to ensure they are properly curated from outset.
While you are not responsible for the preservation and sharing of secondary data that you use in your research, you will still need to consider a number of issues, including: how and on what terms are the data to be accessed and used; where and how any copies of data will be stored; and whether the data provider allows copies of the data or derived data to be distributed.
Benefits of RDM
Data are your research capital. They enable you to answer your research questions; they provide the evidence base for the results you make public; they may have ongoing value to you and to others; and where they are used, they can be cited to your benefit. By actively managing your research data you will:
- make life easier: well-organised data management increases your efficiency, and saves time and effort in the long run;
- protect yourself and others: you can reduce the risk of costly/embarrassing/damaging accidents, such as losing data, or disclosing confidential data;
- preserve the integrity of your research: well-documented data demonstrate the authenticity of your research and the reliability of your findings;
- realise the full value of your data: data that are preserved and accessible in the long-term can be re-used to your benefit and others'.