Organisations and researchers get a better grip on data management

Ingeborg Verheul on the national coordination point RDM

18 May 2017

Since September 2015, Ingeborg Verheul has been working at SURFsara. She was commissioned to set up a national coordination point for research data management (RDM) and to direct it. The coordination point is now in full swing: the LCRDM.

“During the last few years, libraries have become far more active with respect to research data management. At many universities the libraries have taken the lead in supporting research and taking the weight off the shoulders of researchers. I think it is because library staff know the questions researchers have from close up. They are also good at involving IT or legal departments.
In the world of higher professional education, too, people have become more aware of data, urged on by the National Plan Open Science.”

Why does the coordination point come under the VSNU?

“The idea was originally put to the VSNU by the Executive Board of Radboud University. The VSNU asked SURF to see into this. SURF, the ICT organisation for higher education and research, already intended to create such a platform for its members. In the end, the LCRDM came under SURFsara, a subsidiary of SURF. Sara used to be the computer centre of the UvA and the VU and also manages a large archive for the storing of research data.”

How does the community function?

"There are working groups of about 15 persons each, not only people who support research, but also from IT departments and management. There is, for example, a working group Facilities and data infrastructure, a working group Awareness and a legal one. I see to it that they are not just discussion clubs, for there are so many of those already. Each group has a real agenda and yields results, such as a decision tree for storing privacy-sensitive data. Why should each organisation have to think this out anew? Besides university staff, there are also people from higher professional education, the KNAW and NWO institutes and the university medical centres in the working groups. There is a direct connection to the consortium of university libraries and organisations in the field of data storage.
Researchers themselves are not taking part, but we are going to keep in close touch with the different research communities in the Netherlands.
There are also people from the faculties, ICTS, the UvA/HvA Library and Innovation Exchange Amsterdam who take part in the working groups. For everybody, this is something they do besides their ordinary jobs, often from a fundamentally idealistic attitude. People bring their own expertise into it and take back new expertise to their organisations."
For the exchange of information and documents the coordination point has a wiki and knowledge platform [Dutch].

Why is national cooperation important?

"The wishes vary per faculty. Therefore national management is necessary. Researchers know that research data management is important, since for each funding request there are also questions about the data management plan, but often they consider it as so much lumber. By cooperating, you discover colleagues elsewhere in the country with valuable initiatives, who are just one step ahead or have a different perspective. The many initiatives each contain parts of the answer.
There will come a moment that the coordination point is no longer necessary. I hope that within a few years research data management is part of the normal process at a university or college."

Have you ever done any research yourself? And how did you manage your data?

"My Master’s thesis – I studied Dutch at the Free University and book studies at UvA – and the data that went with it I stored on a floppy disk in the 90ies. I have never transferred these data to another medium. That taught me a lot… In 2003 I did research into digital durability at the Royal Library. Since then I have been storing my own data securely in several places and I still check regularly if they can still be read by current software.
And in my job as head of collections at Atria, what used to be called the IIAV, I often had to do with oral history, for example interviews with victims of sexual abuse. When storing and making the interviews accessible in digital form, it was imperative to guarantee anonymity, and this required guidelines."

The UvA and HvA are starting to work with figshare for RDM

"Yes, they are the first organisation in the Netherlands to do so, exciting! Figshare is easy to use and each organisation can customise it completely. And the know-how will become available to other organisations."

What was your last working week like?

"I am always on the road a lot. This week, for example, I had an introductory meeting with someone at TNO who is working on research data management, together with the chairperson of the legal working group. And I visited the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science for the National Plan Open Science. It was about the reuse of data and about a better assessment of data use in research evaluation systems."

Who would suffer if there was no coordination point?

"Organisations would find it harder to get a grip on implementing the process of the reproducibility of research. It would also become more difficult to explain the necessity of research data management and a national policy in this area."

How do you see your transition from heritage to the data sector?

"Any item in the collection of a heritage institution is potentially also research data. In my view the sectors are quite close already. It is my ideal to bring the world of museums and libraries closer to the academic world. They still don’t know each other well enough."

What is your message to the staff of the UvA and HvA?

"To researchers I would like to say: don’t be afraid to say you need help with RDM and don’t wait too long with asking your questions. You don’t have to know everything as a researcher. And to support staff: do approach IT people and policy makers."

Interview: Alice Doek

 - Extra information -

Taking part in the working groups of the national coordination point RDM are, among others:

  • Renze Brandsma (Library UvA/HvA, working group Facilities & data infrastructure)
  • Marion Leenen (IXA, working group Legal aspects & ownership)
  • Joyce Nijkamp (ICTS, working group Facilities & data infrastructure)
  • Jeroen Roodhart (FEIOG, working group Facilities & data infrastructure)
  • Mariëtte van Selm (Library UvA/HvA, working group Support & advice)
  • Saskia Woutersen-Windhouwer (Library UvA/HvA, working group Legal aspects & ownership)

Published by  Library UvA