How the VU Research Data Support programme helps researchers

VU Amsterdam Professor of Innovation & Organisation Hans Berends explains on which projects the programme team is working.

02/24/2020 | 11:07 AM

'The VU Research Data Support programme helps researchers to be transparent and open where possible, and ensures that their data are well protected if necessary', says VU Amsterdam Professor of Innovation & Organisation Hans Berends. He is the chair of the programme's steering committee. What has been realised so far and on which projects is the programme working?

Research funders place increasing demands on research data management
Berends: 'Funders and publishers place increasingly high demands on research data management (RDM) and expect researchers to work in an increasingly "open" manner; for example, using preregistration, open code and open software. The programme aims to make this way of working both possible and easy. Our guidelines are the FAIR (Findable, Accesible, Interoperable, Reusable) principles for research data management.’

Making a data management plan with DMPonline
The goal is for there to be proper RDM systems (infrastructure) and personal support in all phases of the research cycle, continued Berends. 'Proper data management starts with making a Data Management Plan. VU researchers have been able to use DMPonline for this purpose since September. This tool provides DMP templates for financiers such as NWO, ZonMw, ERC, Horizon 2020 and the Wellcome Trust. Every template comes with an explanation and example answers, while it is easy to log in using your VUnet ID.'

Solutions for storing and archiving confidential and sensitive data
For 2020, the programme will mostly focus on developing solutions for storing and archiving confidential and sensitive data. 'First, we will identify the problems that researchers have to deal with and find solutions for them. We are currently cataloguing which RDM systems are available, what the pros and cons of those systems are, and what level of security they provide. As the needs can vary sharply between faculties and fields of study, there is no universal solution with which everyone will be happy.'

Co-creation with researchers
There are currently two ongoing pilots with online RDM systems: Surf Research Drive  and iRODS/Yoda Co-creation with researchers is a key premise for the programme. 'Large groups of researchers from different faculties are currently trying out these RDM systems with support from the Research Data Support programme. We can learn from their experiences and use them as a basis for further development. At the moment, we have spoken with around two hundred researchers.'

Personal support
It is very important that the researchers have ready access to personal support, Berends emphasises. 'We have already installed data stewards at many faculties. These data stewards have a thorough understanding of the specific needs and wishes among researchers.' Researchers have also been able to take their questions to the VU Research Data Management Support Desk since last December.

The programme team is also tackling issues such as how to offset the costs of storing and archiving data (in other words, 'who is paying?') and how to make proper working arrangements (such as who retains access to certain data after a PhD candidate has left).

Accelerating research
'By stimulating researchers to share their data so they can be reused, we hope to accelerate research. Integrity is also vital: replicating and reproducing research should be possible. This process does raise the question of how to take care of those issues when you are dealing with confidential or privacy-sensitive data.'

Benefits for researchers
'Making research data publicly available can greatly benefit researchers as well. Your publication and your data will be cited much more often, as it makes your research much more visible.'

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Behind the scenes: VU Research Data Support