New data system will ease work

The University is changing how its data is stored so people can access and share research more easily.

by Taylor Nachtigal

New University of Minnesota initiatives will soon allow researchers to better catalogue and share their work.

Through changing how data is stored and the way researchers record their findings, the school hopes to preserve its research and create a better system for accessing and sharing it across the University and other higher education institutions.

To establish a standard for how the school deals with research data, the University Senate Committee on Information Technologies developed a new policy that clarifies researchers’ responsibilities for recording data, who owns it and how it is stored and transferred.

“It’s a policy that was long overdue,” said Jim MacDonald, chair of the committee.

Though the policy is still getting reviewed, leaders of the initiative say it will likely be implemented early spring semester.

Claudia Neuhauser, one of the policy’s main creators, said the new guideline identifies the principal investigator on research projects as the person responsible for instructing all project collaborators on how to record and store their work.

“This is the first time, I think, we have had a clear articulation of who is responsible for what,” said John Butler, associate University librarian for data management and technology.

In addition to the policy, University libraries and a University group charged with the task of improving research data management are aiming to make it easier for researchers to store their data through resources like classes or one-on-one training.

“Our knowledge stands for a lot. To be able to publish data, just like other forms of scholarship, only helps to reinforce the reputational base of the University,” Butler said.

How the data will be stored, however, will depend on individual colleges and departments, Neuhauser said, because data and its storage systems vary across disciplines.

The new data system will also make the University’s research more widely available to the public and researchers at peer institutions, Butler said.

Like the University, he said many colleges are investing in full-time support, like the help of library curators, to ensure their data is properly archived and easily accessible.

Many researchers have adequate storage methods in place, MacDonald said. But policy changes in the past few years by federal award agencies, like the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, now require more stringent management of data, he said.

In addition to publishing journal articles, Butler said, researchers are often expected to publish the entirety of their findings, which will be easier with more support services.

“I think we’re seeing a lot of attention on this because of [this] emerging compliance requirement,” he said. “It’s a good thing to do any way in the spirit of open scholarship.”

Requiring researchers to store and make their findings from federally funded research more accessible is also something President Barack Obama’s administration has pushed for in recent years.

But the push for increasing data transparency comes with some concerns.

Because many researchers use human subjects, Butler said, researchers will need to exercise caution when storing those subjects’ data to ensure their privacy is protected.

“We are working to ensure that there are no legally private data in these sets,” he said. “We don’t want to expose private data.”