News 04 March 2021

Data Management Roadmap: Hear from the Expert!

Nowadays researchers rely increasingly more on digital data to do their work than on physical data. RESILIENCE decided to get in touch with them and offer a template for a Data Management Plan (DMP) that could meet their needs. To know more, Michiel De Clerck from KU Leuven agreed to answer some questions and help us shed a light on this important step.

Michiel, What is a Data Management Roadmap?

A Data Management Roadmap describes the goals of the long-term strategy for data management practices in Religious Studies and the RESILIENCE infrastructure. Studying the current state-of-affairs of data management based on a survey and some in-depth interviews about the handling of data by scholars in Religious Studies, RESILIENCE wanted to propose some technical solutions as well as training and guidelines that could help researchers find, store and share data more effectively. The Data Management Roadmaps describes the goals for the long-term strategy for these data management practices.

Why is it important to have such a Roadmap?

RESILIENCE, while not being the first to address the topic of Research Data Management – in general or even from a Humanities perspective – takes the general guidelines already provided by other initiatives and focuses them on the specific aspirations of the RESILIENCE stakeholders. Designing a FAIR-compliant data repository – FAIR referring to the principle of data being Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Re-usable – for Religious Studies requires insight into what constitutes research data for scholars and how they currently discover, use and preserve it. The roadmap is thus a reference work and initial starting point for the steps RESILIENCE plans to take to improve RDM for its specific public.

Which trends do you notice in the use of physical and digital data?

Two major trends are now visible both in Religious Studies and in general.

The first trend is that researchers have to spend less time and effort on finding and accessing data and can find data previously difficult to discover. Most of the research conducted on digital data is not very different from research conducted on physical data. Digitization and improved online access help researcher in discovering things they would not have easily found or accessed otherwise: from rare manuscripts to recent research publications that are suddenly available online. The online search platforms that allow researchers to discover that data, such as ReIReSearch, are becoming more common. They offer an immediate tool that helps ease the discovery of data. Managing digital rather than physical data means that researchers have changed some of their data management habits because storing and easily retrieving digital data is different from working with physical data.

This is even more true for the second trend that involves new research practices. Digital Humanities techniques can be applied to digital data in ways in which physical data never could be. DH scholars can process large amounts of data in an automated way. Obviously, this requires easy access to digital data but also reliable online storage and the use of digital tools. Researchers can benefit from more training and support in the use of those tools and the data management challenges that they bring.

How can RESILIENCE respond to these trends? 

First of all, tailoring a data repository to the needs of the Religious Studies community can make digital data more accessible to openly share, discover and access. For example, researchers will not necessarily have to create new datasets by organising their own surveys. They will be able to access the research results of others and apply them in their research.

However, a Religious Studies data repository results in new challenges. Cultural heritage institutions such as libraries and archives play an important part in the licensing and privacy issues that the sharing of data comports. RESILIENCE can help bring researchers closer to these other essential stakeholders. Researchers also bear their own responsibilities in making their data FAIR and thereby shareable and re-usable during every step of the research data lifecycle. RESILIENCE proposes to offer training and guidelines that assist scholars in this process.

By designing a template for a Data Management Plan (DMP) for Religious Studies, RESILIENCE creates guidelines that specify how scholars should handle research data, both during and after a research project. The DMP template is one of the first concrete steps by RESILIENCE regarding research data management.

Michiel De Clerck, (KU Leuven)