Friday 1 May is a date that is probably circled in red on this year’s planners in many UK research institutions.
It is the date by which the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council's (EPSRC’s) policy framework on research data management (RDM), published in 2011, takes formal effect.
Understanding the policy framework
The EPSRC approach to research data management (RDM) policy is unique, explicitly outlining the responsibilities it expects qualifying institutions to fulfil in support of their own academics. These include the promotion of best practice and the provision of systems, tools and support services to enable researchers to meet the required standards.
While the policy’s focus is on management of EPSRC-funded research data, it has had the wider effect of stimulating universities to think about RDM and the research data lifecycle in a way that goes beyond the requirements of a specific funder.
The EPSRC’s policy is deliberatively non-prescriptive so that universities have flexibility over how they opt to address the funder’s expectations. That makes it more challenging but it is necessary, allowing for differences in size, research profile, culture and organisational structure.
And the stakes are high. The EPSRC is a major research funder for many universities. It invests round £800m per year in research and postgraduate training; universities that can’t demonstrate compliance risk losing their share of that funding in the future.
Helping you meet the EPSRC's expectations
It’s not long now until the start of May and so we have put together a guide that suggests approaches to enable universities to meet the EPSRC's expectations. It also provides lots of examples from UK universities and signposts readers to helpful resources.
For example, policy expectation VIII calls for effective data curation throughout the research lifecycle, so there must be appropriate services available throughout the ‘active research phase’ – data collection, capture, interpretation and analysis – when data is still a work in progress and there is often a lot of collaboration between researchers.
During this period researchers often use third party cloud services but is this appropriate? Not in all cases, as the EPSRC mandate requires that data must not be held in any jurisdiction where the available legal safeguards provide lower levels of protection than are available in the UK.
The guide shows how the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) has responded with practical guidance for researchers on when use of cloud services is suitable – and for which kinds of data.
It also reveals that other universities are trying out open source solutions or corporate solutions like SharePoint and OneDrive through the Microsoft Office365 suite. It describes the File Sync and Share services that we have brokered, in which commercial providers deliver a catalogue of syncing and sharing products that are capable of meeting the requirements of universities and their researchers.
If the active research data is very large, or if it needs to be next to cloud computing capabilities, a solution like the one we have negotiated with Amazon Web Services might be more appropriate, providing European economic area based storage and being peered to the Janet network for faster data transfer.
We also ran a workshop in February 2015 to consider what challenges remain in meeting the EPSRC policy framework, and what lessons can be learned from other universities.
The workshop included a useful discussion about how compliance will be monitored and it is worth taking a look at the slides and other resources that are now available.
After the summer break, the EPSRC will be ‘dipstick’ checking the availability of data that underpins research published in papers on or after 1 May 2015, and asking suitably qualified people to assess whether the right data has been provided.
And in the longer term the EPSRC aims to establish a more formal self-assessment via the research councils’ Audit and Assurance Services Group with a view to the expectations becoming ‘business as usual’ by 2016.
My team will continue to support the implementation of RDM solutions for UK universities under the umbrella of research at risk, which aims to develop shared infrastructure, services and advice.
If you have any questions please contact me.