Monthly Archives: May 2013

Research funder proposal success rates – a driver for RDM improvement?

Research funder panel

These people fund research

During the last week I have been thinking about possible drivers for improvement within research data management. This links to the requirement for Jisc project evaluation work – a subject I have blogged about previously – and the focus on questions such as “what is it that can prompt change?”, “what are the issues which will grab attention within the University?”, and “beyond the many sticks, what are the carrots?”.

Having attended a recent DCC/Jisc funders’ event at Aston ( it was good to see a conversation starting regarding the funding of RDM and the potential impact of poor RDM and IT practice demonstrated within the bid process and within project.

This has led me to think about the issue of research proposal success and failure.  Coming at the subject from a perspective of ignorance (not a first) I have pondered – what do we know about the success and failure of research proposals at this University and across the country?

With a little digging I have managed to locate details of success rates over the past 5 years or more for AHRC, BBSRC, EPSRC, ESRC, MRC, NERC, STFC.  In addition I have some information from Wellcome Trust and also The Times Higher has provided RCUK wide data for the last four years.

As I said above, from my perspective of ignorance, I am wondering how institutions use such data alongside the specific feedback provided to PI’s within the proposal process.  The issue then is to consider how bid support, whether it be, for example, by contributing to or reviewing data management plans (alongside other proposal elements) does/can contribute to the success (or avoidance of failure) of research proposals.

So how do you think we are doing?

OK, we’ve done some work to raise the profile of research data management, it’s being talked about a lot at our Research Computing Management Group, and we’ve created communications material.

But, what difference has it made? (cue the sound of The Smiths in my head).

Like Ian Hall at University of York who is undertaking a similar project, I have been looking at putting together a survey to provide some feedback about our efforts.

In doing this I’ve drawn the conclusion that whilst the Transformations project is drawing to a close, the position of RDM within the University is that it is not so mature as to make a general impact survey a worthwhile effort.  I think that in reality we are on a fairly long journey with this and it would be unrealistic to expect researchers in general to be able to provide meaningful feedback.  So, do I think that we have had an impact on all researchers? No, clearly not.

There have been and continue to be difficult challenges in this area as to how best to approach RDM improvement – raising general awareness, reaching and attempting to achieve ownership and engagement by senior staff, creating pilots, targeting individual researchers or all PGRs, using existing and ad hoc researcher contacts (in my case through work in IT) etc.  Of course there are also various local variables to take into account such as financial support for the work, what local priorities are currently and so on.

So, it’s not going to happen over-night – there simply isn’t the motivation or resource – and there are many individual steps, none of which will be revolutionary.

In terms of a survey then my conclusion is that to take a realistic approach I will be initially targeting those most involved with RDM work.  I’ll be asking about both impact and quality of our RDM output (and comparing the responses), and knowledge, attitude and practice changes (personal, and with regard to others).

Benefits of Collaboration

I recently spent a day with colleagues from The University of York (thanks Ian and Liz – and Mark – “Critical Friend” for our group of projects (the enigmatically titled “Black Cluster”) talking about our Transformations projects.

It was the first opportunity to do this during the year-long project.  On reflection I think it was a very useful way to spend a day.  I think we all agreed that we have found considerable benefit from the structure of this and related Jisc programmes (particularly MRD – Managing Research Data) whereby a number of universities have been supported to do complementary work, and to produce output which is designed to be shared and re-purposed.

It was particularly refreshing to spend a day in a small group setting with people open to share experiences and reflect on their own and others’ work.  I think this is particularly valuable as RDM is a subject where much of the interest and expertise sits with colleagues at other institutions rather within our own.

I am hoping that this will lead to collaboration between us.