Writing a data management plan
Every research project that involves the collection and use of research data should have a data management plan (DMP). This is a structured document describing:
- what data will be collected or used in the course of a research project;
- how the data will be managed on a day-to-day basis;
- how relevant data will preserved for the long term and made available for re-use by others on completion of the research and publication of findings.
A DMP can enable you and your project team to work efficiently, to identify requirements and manage risks, and to apply appropriate solutions.
You may have been required to submit a DMP as part of a grant application, and this can be a useful starting point for project planning, but the DMP that is a practical instrument for your project will still need to be developed.
NERC and EC-funded researchers should be aware of post-award DMP requirements:
- NERC-funded PIs must contact the NERC Data Centre nominated on their Outline Data Management Plan within three to six months of the start date of the grant, in order to develop a full DMP for the project in discussion with them;
- Horizon 2020 funded projects (including ERC grants) that have opted in to the Open Research Data Pilot are required to submit a DMP deliverable within the first six months of the grant.
- DMPonline is an online data management planning tool. It provides funder-specific templates for use in grant applications, but you can also select the 'No funder' option when you create a new plan to generate a standard template that is suitable for any project. Plans can be saved, shared with co-applicants, commented and edited, and exported in a variety of formats.
- The Digital Curation Centre (DCC) provides a Checklist for a Data Management Plan. This is broken down into sections, with guidance to help you address all relevant requirements.
- For postgraduate students we provide a PGR Data Management Plan template, with detailed guidance and a review checklist that can be used by supervisors.
You should use a DMP template to structure your plan and ensure you cover all aspects of data management. When writing the DMP for use in the project, you may find a generic template more useful than the funder-specific one used for the grant application, as funders' DMP templates may not cover all aspects of data management. These template tools are recommended:
For projects with substantial and/or complex data management requirements and costs, an activity-based costing approach may be helpful in preparing the budget. A costing tool is provided by the UK Data Service for this purpose. Although the tool is primarily aimed at researchers in the social sciences, the activity-based approach can be easily applied in any discipline.
What does a data management plan involve?
A DMP will generally cover the following:
- the context of data collection: i.e. the research project, and relevant policies and contracts, e.g. funders' and institutional policies on research data, a collaboration agreement or a PhD industrial sponsorship agreement;
- data collection, storage and processing: the data to be collected, methods of collection and processing and instruments to be used, quality control procedures, solutions for storage, backup and organization of data, and relevant formats and standards;
- documentation and metadata: information that will be created and linked to the data to identify them, document the methods by which they were created, and provide you and other people with the means to understand and use the data;
- ethics and legal compliance: measures for the management of data in order to comply with any research ethics and Data Protection Act requirements, including actions to be taken to facilitate data sharing on publication of findings, e.g. securing appropriate consent, anonymising datasets;
- intellectual property rights: who owns the data that will be collected and used in the research, how ownership affects data sharing, and what permissions may need to be sought for data sharing;
- preservation and sharing: what data will be preserved over the long term, what data repositories or other services will be used to preserve and share data, and on what terms data will be made accessible;
- responsibilities and resources: how roles and responsibilities for data management will be allocated, what resources will be required, and what additional costs will be incurred, such as data storage costs, or charges for data archiving.
Tips for writing a Data Management Plan
- Always create a DMP for the project - even if data management seems simple and straightforward. You will find there is a lot more to even basic data management once you start thinking it through.
- If the research is a team project, develop the DMP as a team. The DMP should have an owner (e.g. the project PI) and be developed with the input of everyone in the team who is involved in data management.
- Use a template or checklist to structure the plan and break it down into logical parts. If you have already written a DMP as part of a grant application for the project, this can provide a basis, but you will need to add more practical detail. A standard/generic template, e.g. the DMPonline no-funder template (see above), or the University's PGR Data Management Plan, may be useful.
- Add as much detail as you need. The important thing is that the DMP is a practical resource for the project. This may involve recording considerable detail, e.g. about file organisation and naming, data processing instructions, etc. Imagine what would happen if a key member of the team left and someone else had to take over their data management responsibilities. What exactly would they need to know?
- Make data sharing central to the plan. Your DMP should identify the repository or repositories in which your data will be deposited for long-term preservation and public sharing at the end of the project, and you should factor into your plan time towards the end of the project to prepare data for archiving.
- If you will be collecting data from research participants, make sure that your data management will comply with research ethics and data protection requirements. Ensure that your recruitment and consent procedures maximise opportunities for future data sharing.
- If the research is undertaken in collaboration or partnership with other organisations, clarify issues relating to intellectual property rights and public sharing of data. Most research contracts have standard IP and Publication clauses, vesting ownership of IP in the originating party or parties, and requiring any party to give appropriate notice to the other parties of any intended publication.
- Use the DMP: don't just file it and forget it. Ensure team members are aware of and follow the plan, and review the plan on a regular basis, updating it as the project progresses. It could be a standing item on the agenda for project team meetings.
- If you need help writing your project DMP, or would like your DMP to be reviewed, contact the Research Data Manager.