29 June 2014

Looking to Canada for data management ideas

Here in Australia, we often look to the UK and the US as sources of inspiration about data management initiatives. I wonder why we don't look more to other countries. There is some great work happening in Canada at the moment that I think is worthy of more attention.

I am especially impressed at the level of library collaboration that is going in to building staff capability. In Australia, efforts to raise awareness and skills have been largely led by the Australian National Data Service through a program of webinars, regional 'roundtables,' and workshops, not all of which are targeted at librarians. While these are well-organised and well-attended, a more community-driven model in which everyone contributes to and benefits from programs more or less equally as a set of 'members' rather than as 'ANDS partners' (with the division between the hub and spokes that phrase implies) might look quite different. If that is the case, it will be interesting to observe how the development of data management services in Canadian research libraries progresses.

It seems that Canada's research funding councils currently do not ask for a formal data plan as part of the grant applications process; however many of them require (rather than just encourage, as the Australian Research Council does) data to be deposited in a repository at the end of a project [1]. There are signs that this is changing. As described by Michael Steeleworthy (Data Librarian at Wilfrid Laurier University), in 2013 a group of Canadian funding councils published a consultation paper that 
ask[ed] the nation’s scholarly community to develop a collaborative framework that encourages data sharing and invests in digital infrastructure... They also made three recommendations for RDM stakeholders that underscore the need for a holistic view of RDM’s people, processes, and technology: establish a culture of research data stewardship based on existing structures and practices at Canadian and international institutions; coordinate stakeholder engagement among all research partners, including libraries; and develop funding and resource capacity. [3]
In the absence of a centrally funded agency driving infrastructure development and providing project grants (such as ANDS here in Australia and Jisc in the UK), Canadian organisations seem to be building their data management capacity and capability more from the ground up. In the quotation above, the phrase "based on existing structures and practices" really jumps out at me as a key difference between what is happening in Australia and what is happening in Canada. While Canadian organisations are being asked to collectively develop the plans and funding models to achieve good stewardship of research data within the existing system, the establishment of ANDS in Australia has led to the development of a model in which large amounts of capability (in terms of staff with data management expertise) are located in a new lead agency, which partner organisations look to for vision, advice, training and community development. Neither model is more 'correct' than the other but they are certainly different approaches and must each come with benefits and drawbacks. 

Research Data Canada is described as "a stakeholder driven and supported organization dedicated to advancing the vision for research data in Canada." Individuals and members are encouraged to contribute, both financially where possible (though there is no membership fee) and through in-kind participation in working groups, projects and events programs. A very broad range of organisations is involved, not just as stakeholders who are consulted as required by a lead agency, but as active contributors to committees and working groups. This includes funding agencies, research infrastructure providers (for compute and academic networks), technology providers from industry, universities, government research organisations and a range of other government departments. 

Libraries also seem to be collaborating effectively by using existing channels for cooperation such as the Canadian Association for Research Libraries (CARL), rather than by devolving responsibility for capability building. Governance  is provided by the CARL Data Management Subcommittee (along with the the Research Data Canada Education & Training Subcommittee). As Steelworthy notes, data management competencies were made explicit by CARL in 2010, "including knowledge of data management and institutional repositories within scholarly communication, developing partnerships and collaborations with stakeholders, and understanding leading practices for digital curation and preservation". Recently a Canadian Community of Practice for Research Data Management in Libraries was established; this seems to be a real community effort that is sponsored by CARL and is being facilitated by seventeen staff across a range of institutions. This community emerged from a 2013 CARL training workshop in research data management services which invited institutions to send two participants to a four-day workshop. The course was co-developed by staff from seven organisations and was delivered by these staff as well as invited guests. The goal of the course was for participants to take back to their organisations an action plan for research data service development. 

A new project (Project ARC) started in March 2014 will build on these activities. The goal of this project is to build "a library-based research data management network" in Canada. Again, this project has been initiated from within the library sector by CARL. In the latest update for this project, Kathleen Shearer has described the design and population of a national information resource for data management planning and an automated data management planning tool that can help researchers create their data management plans. The project also plans to deliver a version of the MANTRA research data management training tutorial developed by the University of Edinburgh. [4]

To an outsider at least, it seems that existing library structures for cooperation are being used effectively in Canada to build research data management capability. Bottom-up initiatives that are developed and delivered within the community and for the community are the norm, and seem to be gaining great buy-in from the member organisations and the staff within them. There could be valuable lessons here for Australian research libraries and the agencies that support cooperation between them, such as the Council for Australian University Librarians (CAUL) and regional groups such as the Queensland University Libraries Office for Cooperation (QULOC).


[1] Steve Marks, Amber Leahey. 2014. Guides. Resarch Data Repositories. Data Management Plans. http://guides.scholarsportal.info/researchdatamanagement.

[2] Steeleworthy, Michael. 2014. “Research Data Management and the Canadian Academic Library: An Organizational Consideration of Data Management and Data Stewardship.” Partnership: The Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research 9 (1) (June). https://journal.lib.uoguelph.ca/index.php/perj/article/view/2990.

[3] CARL Library Education Working Group and the Building Capacity Subcommittee. 2010. Core Competencies for 21st Century CARL Librarians. Canadian Association of Research Libraries. http://www.carl-abrc.ca/uploads/pdfs/core_comp_profile-e.pdf.

[4] Shearer, Kathleen. 2014. “ARC Project Update.” Canadian Community of Practice for Research Data Management in Libraries. http://data-carl-abrc.ca/2014/06/24/project-arc-update/.