The birth of the Leicester Research Data Management Website

Sometime during the night of 30 September 2012 a new website was unleashed/crept into life – the University of Leicester Research Data Management site –

What we have been attempting to achieve
By linking this Transformations project to the University Research Computing Management (RCMG) we have been equally cursed and blessed (with apologies to Catatonia). The project has been given impetus and a group of senior researchers to become attached to, whilst also being given a series of deliverables and difficult deadlines.  My last blog post concerned one of these – an RDM brochure/leaflet. For the same deadline of 1 October 2012 (or more precisely “the start of term”) the task was to design and implement from scratch a new RDM website.

The brief
The brief was, importantly, discussed in some detail and agreed with the RCMG. To retain a grasp on the feasible it was agreed that the site would have the following characteristics:

  1. At 1 October it would be considered an initial presence – “Phase 1” – a starting point for development, not a finished article.
  2. This would exist to prompt ideas of what should be added and changed.
  3. The site would rely heavily on existing sites and resources already available on-line rather than try and re-invent wheels.
  4. It would have to be developed by a small group of people at “Phase 1”rather than being opened for wide consultation, and potential delay.
  5. From 1 October 2012 we would move to “Phase 2”.
  6. Phase 2 would include widening involvement and developing ownership of the site by researchers.
  7. This would include developing more University specific and discipline specific content.

Our method
Key to progress was forming a small Working Group (5 people) including people from Academic Practice Unit, IT Services, Library, and Research Support Office.  Although this group had plenty of personal research experience (and thus scope for varying perspectives and opinions) from its first meeting retained a very focussed and positive, co-operative approach to meeting the objective and deadline set.

This felt like quite a shift from the norm – of wide/long consultation and consideration of many perspectives. It was accepted that to achieve something that was difficult, and in a short space of time (most of the work being done over a couple of months) there would have to be a very structured/regimented way of working.  It will be interesting to see the effect of this in the longer term.

Progress was also only possible as I was able to dedicate time – a product of this being recognised as important work, and associated with a funded project – to lead on content development, and passing content to other members of the group to comment on/edit.

In addition it was clear that if one person was expected to both generate structure content and actually develop the site in the local CMS, then it would not be possible to progress as hoped. In funding the assistance of someone to do the latter job, IT Services played a big part in helping to make the site a reality.

Initial work I undertook was to review existing web content and University sites, comparing and contrasting structure, content, look and feel etc.  The finished site as a result owes much to content from JISC, DCC, and the UK Data Archive, and to the University of Glasgow, and University of Cambridge in terms of structure and content.

Important decisions included the definition of four major phases of the research cycle around which site structure is organised. After much discussion, including with the PVC Research, we agreed on:

  • Create
  • Organise
  • Keep
  • Find & Share

Each phase was associated with a colour and an image which are intended as a logical and consistent themes – to be used also on our RDM brochure etc. (the images will be applied on the site as part of phase 2 development).

Thus, having shortened normal development methods, having very clear aims, and with co-operation from a small group of people (in the Working Group and beyond) who were clear in the need to go live to schedule, the site did so on 30 September 2012.

What happens now
First there is the need for sleep and to re-charge batteries…

With the go-live as a clear milestone rather than end point we have a very long Issue Log to manage and a Resource Log of content suggestions to develop or include.

On 12 October 2012 the RCMG approved the site and the need for Phase 2 development.

From this point there are many issues to address as we look to personalise the site (including representative researchers to introduce each research phase etc.), develop researcher ownership, create University and discipline-specific content, keep up to date with developments etc.  Key to this will be defining the responsibility for this and allowing effort.

To avoid confusion, and beyond normal communications channels we have set up a single contact point for RDM issues –

We also have plenty of ideas about communicating about the site and RDM in general, and either developing specific training or including RDM issues within existing training.

Thanks to everyone who helped make this possible, either directly and knowingly, or indirectly and unknowingly by providing ideas or resources to link to.