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Video to kill the long project report?

I recently spent an interesting day at Newcastle University at a Jisc Netskills course intriguingly titled “Storytelling Techniques for Project Dissemination”.

Yes, the title baffled me too.

A benefit of the Transformations programme is that I’ve been pushed towards certain things, including attendance at this event – otherwise I probably wouldn’t have seen it or thought of taking the long trip up north.

As it transpired I’m pleased I went.  Initially it was the best chance that I’ve had so far to talk face to face with others running Transformations projects and to share experiences.  From this it doesn’t seem a unique experience to find that such a project has unearthed a broader/greater/longer-term theme or challenges/problems that there is a need to look at.  The flip side of this positive is of course the challenge for a Transformations project manager to try to reign in “enthusiasm” and remember what the original project was, and what they are expected to deliver.

Anyway… the course itself.

Usefully Lawrie Phipps (Lawrie is the programme manager for the JISC Transformations Programme) was present for part of the day and was able to bring in the perspective of someone who has to wade through long project reports which often shine little light on matter such as what they are about, why they exist and what they have changed.  The purpose of the course was to present the alternative approach of using stories – in the form of short audio and video – as a communication device.

My conclusion was that there is definitely a point to this.  Having spent so many years around IT folk in particular a purely personal view is that communication with humans/the outside world is often not a strength (diplomatic enough?).  Thanks to all those involved in running the event, and to those who attended for the open minded approach they all took.

From a personal perspective, I must admit that love writing long reports and often they are what is needed… but equally recognise that this is not always the right communication tool.  I was definitely “out of my comfort zone” (apologies for the cliché) during the day but glad I attended and left determined to follow up on the aims of the event to prompt these alternative communication tools.  Yes, sometimes, in three minutes, with audio/video you can communicate far more effectively.

The particular link to Transformations is the following requirement:

…required to create a brief audio and/or video description of their project; what it has achieved and the main findings from their work by the Business Change Manager/Project Sponsor.


Benefits, Contacts and Surveys (not necessarily in that order)

Contacts Report
What do all our contacts with researchers regarding data, research data management, and IT mean?  What do they tell us about what requirements are at the university, the problems and concerns that exist, what people think of IT services, appreciation of data management planning etc.?

As one of the project deliverables I have been pulling together results from the last year from a number of planned and ad-hoc exercises and normal working activity.  This includes a University-wide sensitive data holding survey, DMP-Online Data Management Planning piloting, research funding contacts, and ad hoc researcher contacts.

I’m hoping that will combine to provide some insight and guide RDM development.

Benefits Management
Before Christmas the Transformations projects were contacted regarding the need to work on identification of benefits.  Although very helpfully a structure was provided for this by Jisc I’ve tried to do a similar exercise by applying a combination of a couple of things:

  • Cranfield School of Management Benefits Management techniques, and
  • Analysis from my previous research which examined the progression through, and links between presupposition, attitude, behaviour and practice.

The link between these I have been working on is the path from objectives for RDM work through to linked action required to achieve this, and the related benefit.  The steps in between require an understanding of why things might or might not happen.  In other words I’ve been linking objectives, actions required, benefits and measurables, but adding the angle of “why will this happen?” – what is the understanding, and related attitudes that may exist or need to be encouraged, and how will they influence action towards or away from the intended objectives and benefits.

In other words… why?but why will that happen? … but does a and b also imply or cause c?

RDM Surveys

A next step …

A number of UK Universities have conducted survey exercises regarding researcher IT requirements, and research data management.  Some of these have used a common or similar approach, often using the DCC Digital Asset Framework (DAF) methodology.  I want to see how the survey findings compare and contrast and what we can learn from them.

No doubt there are more but a first sweep has including finding the following:

Has anyone done a meta-analysis?

Launching into 2013

 Returning back to work after the Christmas break all things RDM related have picked up pace and urgency.

 Things to report include…

… or to put it another way, the University was represented at the recent International Data Curation Conference in Amsterdam.  Jonathan Tedds took along our RDM poster to be included in poster presentations there and was happy to report that it was judged by attendees as number 3 amongst approximately 50 posters from around the world –  The poster features the question “What would you do if you lost your research data tomorrow?” as featured on our website and leaflets.

“RDM User Group” Launch
On 22 January we held a launch event for what may or may not henceforth be called an “RDM User Group”.  In other words we invited researchers from across the University to attend an afternoon of presentations by internal and external speakers to look at the broad RDM context and what is happening here at Leicester.  This is with a view to creating an on-going relationship and communications channel with and between all Departments and corporate functions that have a concern for RDM issues.

We were very pleased with the turnout from the University, and many thanks to Veerle Van den Eyden (UK Data Archive – “Best Practice in Research Data Management for Data Sharing”) and Alex Ball (UKOLN, University of Bath – “Tackling Challenges in Research Data Management”) for making it from long distance across the snowy wastes to Leicester. Importantly I can report that the sandwiches were really good.

RDM Sustainability
Like many other institutions we are currently considering long-term sustainability of RDM improvement efforts, and defining and implementing an RDM Support Service.  As and when progress is made I will post information.

Presentation to JISC Managing Research Data Programme Progress Workshop – 25 October 2012

I attended this event, in Nottingham, alongside my colleague Jonathan Tedds.  We both found it a very useful couple of days with lots of contacts, information and resources to follow up on.  On the second day we delivered a brief presentation in the “Training and Guidance” session, focussing in particlular on the RDM website we recently delivered – I did a live thrash around the site.

Thanks for all those that provided feedback on what we have done so far and the positive and encouraging comments – they were very much appreciated.

Presentation: UoL_RDMGuidance_JISC20121025
Poster: UoL_RDMPoster2012_landscape


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.

Happy to announce the arrival of an RDM Leaflet

Further to previous posts, priorities and deadlines in the project have been changed somewhat due to the Research Computing Management Group here at the University taking a keen interest in making rapid RDM progress.

A first deliverable to be delivered is a University of Leicester RDM leaflet. Sounds trivial when you write it.  In reality it has been an interesting exercise as it has been produced by a small group including people from IT Services, Library, Academic Practice Unit and Research Support Office.  What exactly to say in such a small document was a challenge.  In the end we decided upon a question – “What would you do if you lost your research data tomorrow?” – and a challenge – to take a “research data health check”.

Visually we are pleased with the result – its not the easiest thing to make research data management an eye-catching thing. What we did was to define phases of the research cycle (like a number of the University RDM websites) and associate them with an image and a colour.

We are now starting to distribute the leaflets to researchers and research students and looking at how to measure impact.

The University of Leicester RDM leaflet can be found at


Designs on RDM

Things have reached an interesting stage.

I have been working with the University Research Computing Management Group, and have established a Working Group under this to pull together some of the relevant functions involved in RDM related work.  This includes IT Services, Academic Practice Unit, Library and Research Support Office (with additional liaison with Information Assurance).  Whilst there is no central RDM function this has revealed the various pieces of work, responsibilities etc. each of the above has.  Part of my work therefore has been to start to join things up, for example looking at specifically labelled RDM elements within training/induction events, and considering a strand of an existing research lecture series to focus on RDM within the various colleges here.

Of most pressing concern has been the need to focus on creation of an RDM website and an awareness leaflet/brochure for the start of the new term – 1 October. In terms of the website this has been quite a challenge in relation to the mechanics of establishing, within a short timescale, a living breathing site which will do a job but also meet the necessary corporate branding and style. Without neither a large team or specific funding for this it is quite a challenge balancing the need to do liaison/co-ordination work, set up, attend and generate useful notes from a variety of meetings, source available external resources for the website, develop original Leicester material, agree precise wording for the communications material, and to some extent become a designer (hoping to hand that over to the professionals when mock-ups are agreed).

I imagine similar challenges arise across most if not all of those with Transformations projects. Being successful in the bid was very useful for me as a means to raise the profile of the objectives of this project and link them very closely with the ambitions of the existing Research Computing Management Group – to develop Research Data Management within the University. That has helped to justify some of my time being dedicated to this work, and more than would have otherwise have been possible.  There is still the inevitable issue though of being pulled between this and other priorities and projects. How many of us were actually employed to do the work we want to/feel we should prioritise… and how feasible is it to move towards doing what it seems would prove most useful?

Untangling the RDM Web

The current priority with the project is working with the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research on agreeing a number of pretty urgent RDM deliverables needed by the University.  At the top of the list is creating a definitive University RDM web presence in time for the opening of term – 1st October.

This will be a case of,

  1. Establishing the site to raise researcher awareness of RDM and the University’s developing approach to it,
  2. Pulling together/signposting current resources and support available in various parts of the Universtity,
  3. Referring (linking) to a host of existing good quality external resources.

The aim therefore is to have an initial early presence, and then to look at a good deal of refinement and development.

The move from successful bid to “doing some Transforming”

As someone who is new to bidding for (JISC or any other University related) funding this is a particularly interesting stage of the process.  The bid documents have been completed, confirmation of success has been received, and the due date for the start of the project has arrived.

So what happens now…?

It was useful to get a meeting last week with Rob Bristow, Programme Manager for Transformations.  As everything has been done via email so far, it has all seemed a little abstract – to get a face to face meeting is re-assuring, allowing you to ask the question “What exactly do I need to do to make JISC happy?

This project is really about providing a focus for the development of the University’s approach to RDM, and co-ordinating some of the various parts of the University that already have a stake in aspects of what can to a lesser o greater extent be regarded as “RDM” – given that it is such a broad area is it feasible to expect everything to be in one place?

The main thing to report thus far is that we have successfully managed to tie in this project with the existing University “Research Computing Management Group” – pretty much an essential step here to move the project away from the realms of the theoretical.  As a result the last two meetings of the group have pretty much been dedicated to broad consideration of the development of RDM here.  Within this the much debated, EPSRC demanded “Research Data Roadmap” has been generated and approved, and this particular project has been recognised as providing impetus towards RDM development.

Always happy to receive comments or questions.

Andrew (

Hello world!

Welcome to JISC Involve.

This is the blog for the University of Leicester JISC Transformations project “University of Leicester RDM Support Service: RDM@UoL”.  In the next few days I will write some information about what the project is about. I will attempt to make it informative, interesting and stimulating… but can’t promise.

(Andrew Burnham, Senior IT Research Liaison Manager, University of Leicester –