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New web tool helps researchers manage their data

A new online tool that was developed in large part by a team from the UCLA Library is helping researchers and principal investigators at UCLA and more than 250 institutions across the nation lay out their plans to manage the research data they will collect and share with others.
 
data-sharing
More and more funding agencies are asking researchers to have a plan to preserve and share their data in a systematic way in order to quicken the pace of discovery. A new web tool is helping them do that.
To quicken the pace of discovery and encourage collaboration, the National Science Foundation and other U.S. funding agencies are requiring that researchers show how they plan to share the data their projects will produce and how they will archive it for the future.
 
The Data Management Plan (DMP) Tool created primarily by the UCLA Library information technology group, working in partnership with the California Digital Library at UC, assists researchers from a wide range of disciplines — from the humanities to the health sciences — in meeting those new requirements.

Since becoming publicly available on a California Digital Library website three months ago, more than 1,200 unique users across the nation have gone online to create plans for managing their research data. The UCLA Library is just beginning to roll out the tool campuswide, but already more than 30 people here have used it.

The tool is expected to be especially useful on this campus because of the volume of NSF research done here. In 2010-11, UCLA researchers were awarded more than $84 million in grants by the NSF, an amount that represents almost 8 percent of the funder’s total research dollars.

“We are a hugely important part of the NSF research landscape,” said Sharon Farb, associate university librarian for collection management and scholarly communication, during a forum for research administrators hosted earlier this month. Farb participated in the project, which was headed by Todd Grappone, associate university librarian for digital initiatives and IT. “So a lot of researchers and PIs are impacted by this new requirement. This tool is going to make everyone’s life a lot easier with respect to complying with the new NSF requirements.”

scientistThe tool was designed to guide researchers through the process of creating a data management plan that will meet each funder’s particular requirements. The NSF, for example, requires a plan that is no more than two pages long and conforms to the agency’s policy on disseminating and sharing research results.

On the DMP Tool website, users can view sample plans; look up the requirements of specific funders; create, edit and save a plan; and return to the website at any time to retrieve it. Completed plans can be archived, said Grappone, whose work group will also keep the tool up-to-date by incorporating any changes the NSF and other funders make in their requirements.
 
Each plan for archiving data, samples and other research products and for preserving access to them could include a description of the types of data, samples and other materials that will be produced from the research project. Also, researchers can include the policies for access and sharing data at each institution as well as the policies and provisions for the re-use and re-distribution of data.

UCLA and other participating institutions can also use it to post their own information and policies on data management for the benefit of other institutions and researchers.

The need to preserve and share data in a systematic way lies at the very heart of research and discovery, librarians Grappone and Farb said. New advances can be made much more quickly and effectively if researchers share their data openly and collaboratively. “It’s our mission to make sure that all the fundamental building blocks of knowledge are present and available for current and future students, faculty and researchers so they can create new discoveries,” Farb said.

Other federal agencies — including the National Endowment for the Humanities — are moving in the same direction, requiring the research community to be more transparent and more accountable in terms of preserving and sharing research funded by taxpayers. The giant NIH already has data-sharing requirements.
 
Keeping up with these new requirements “is going to take a team approach, and that’s why the library is really excited to help with this,” Farb said. The UCLA Library, principal investigators and research support staff all have a part to play in data stewardship, she said.
 
The tool is free to use and can be configured to reflect any institution’s local policies and information. At UCLA, the library team plans to observe how campus researchers use the tool and then make further enhancements to customize a campus-specific version.
 
“The more UCLA use it gets, the more specific we can make it to fit our context,” said Grappone said.
 
While the DMP tool helps streamline the process of creating a plan, the question remains as to where exactly to store what could be massive quantities of data. Grappone and his team are working with the Office of Information Technology to address that question.
 
“We’re trying to get a sense of what researches need in terms of data storage,” said Farb, adding that the DMP tool will help determine this. “Without this tool, it would take longer to get a broad picture of that.”
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Have questions? Need assistance with the tool? Email data@library.ucla.edu. See the DMP tool at https://dmp.cdlib.org.