The aim of JISC Information Environment work with respect to research data is to promote and enable new ways of finding, using and sharing research data. Because there are huge variations in what 'data' is, and in disciplinary cultures and practices around it, there is likely to be a 'mixed economy' of infrastructure and services to support its management.
There has been a large number of reports on data recently, some of which are helpfully listed in a recent presentation by Michael Jubb of the Research Information Network. Three key documents are the report from the then Office of Science and Innovation on 'e-infrastructure', which set out a high-level vision, a set of principles for data stewardship developed by the Research Information Network, and the 'Dealing with Data' report from JISC/UKOLN, which made practical recommendations.
In terms of current practice, two projects promise to paint a clear picture from different perspectives. A study of 'data publication' practice among researchers has been funded by JISC, the Research Information Network and the Natural Environment Research Council. A different project, SCARP, is exploring disciplinary attitudes and approaches to data deposit, sharing and re-use, curation and preservation.
JISC and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council have jointly funded the Digital Curation Centre (DCC), which is a centre both of innovation and of guidance. As well as managing the SCARP project, members of the DCC are developing a Data Audit Framework, which will enable universities to assess what data is being held on their computer systems, and who is responsible for it. The Data Audit Framework will be piloted in a number of universities in 2008.
There is a suspicion that the sector lacks sufficient skilled people to manage research data effectively. A report is due shortly that will review the position and make recommendations on how this might be addressed. The DCC will run a summer school this year to begin to address this issue. Of course, investment will only follow if a business case can be made, and a part of making that case is assessing the costs of preserving data. A methodology is being developed that will enable estimates to be made, though of course without assessing the benefits of keeping data, it is only half the story.
The UK is fortunate to have both the UK Data Archive (co-funded by JISC and the Economic and Social Research Council) and the data centres supported by the Natural Environment Research Council. These services offer expert advice and infrastructure for data management. A feasibility study is underway into the possibility of a UK Research Data Service as a collaboration between some UK universities, to fill in some of the gaps between such data centres. In addition, the DISC-UK Datashare project is looking at how UK higher education can increase its capacity to curate and share research data.
Finally, it is worth noting that JISC also funds work under the heading of 'e-Research', which is also focused on research data, including grid enabling and semantic discovery and access to datasets.