Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Thomas Hobbes and the preservation of research data.

Thomas Hobbes had a bleak view of humanity to put it mildly.
He considered that the state of nature - competing desires amongst essentially equal human beings for the limited supplies, generate conflict and, in Hobbes' most famous phrase, the life of man is 'solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short'.

Let's say we apply this to data management and why not? I am not a philosopher but if his idea is true then we would think that people are not interested in sharing resources or thinking beyond their immediate desires and needs. This research data is mine, hands off!

I am pessimistic at the best of times but after running our training on the preservation of research data entitled 'What's in it for me?', I felt less so by the end of the day. It seemed that people do want to share their research data after publication, as they want to enhance existing research and contribute to the body of work which is essential to the understanding of the thought processes involved in research output. And yes there is the unaltruistic side to us all, a bit of appealing to the immediate desires and needs as ultimately sharing your research data will enhance your standing in the community of expertise if it is well and often cited.

The premise of our training on March 14th was to lure folk in to speak about their experiences of preserving research data in the course of their research while we learnt a whole lot from them and what they need so we can best plan and design an online course on this for the great History Spot site at IHR. Our cohort of people attending our training day came from a variety of research backgrounds and made it a rich day for information gathering about their needs and 'desires'.

'I lost my data in a USB key which fell into a cup of coffee' - Anonymous.

So why did people come to our workshop? People spoke about various drivers which brought them to us. Experiencing the loss of data seems to sharpen the mind somewhat when it comes to preservation of data. People also spoke about being 'swamped with data and the information overload', wanting to take care of the material they had gathered over the years and worried they might loose it. Language struck a chord with many around the table. a lot of people don't use the word 'data' to describe their research material. The term 'data' is regarded as scientific and as a result people in the Humanities ofen feel alienated.We also reflected on the project so far, the knowledge base which we are gathering based on legacy data assessment and interviews.

The good, the bad and the ugly of research data

We thought that it would be good to show them examples of what I had found in the assessments and what I had heard in the interviews. Feedback was without exception good for the whole day and people seemed to take to this particular session! It demonstrated a variety of practical examples of documentation for research data from well documented examples to inadequate to nothing. Lack of documentation about research data is a severe inhibitor to allowing access to it in the future. If the researcher does not write down information both descriptive and technical about the data we will loose the capability to access it both intellectually and literally. Lack of safe storage was another point, people often didn't back up and relied heavily on the cloud for storage not really knowing what they were agreeing to when they signed the terms and conditions of cloud services. However some were well advanced in good storage solutions and backups and used good formats for preservation and consideration of how to future proof their material.

Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) rears its inevitable head and as Kit Good has rightly pointed out Data Protection and Freedom of Information can affect research data. Some people had data on living individuals and this would have implications in relation to data protection. Many people interviewed simply did not remember what permissions they had regarding use of the primary material they had copied or recorded. They had signed a piece of paper in the library or archive but didn't remember what it said. As a result they would not be able to share this data in the future as copyright and usage was not clear.

Four good ideas

We gave an overview of Four things which they could all do to enhance the preservation of their research data. Here are the main ideas for each of which we gave practical solutions.

1. Write everything down.
2. Store your data safely.
3. Interventions are needed, the earlier the better!
4. Consider sharing, the why and how.

Golden Opportunities

A vital part of the workshop had to be participation. we really needed to find out what these delegates thought about the preservation of research data. We gave them six opportunities. These opportunities allowed everyone time to work alone or in pairs to think about various aspects of digital preservation. This was done using the innovative pen and paper method. Everyone had a chance this way to express their opinion as we made them do so! We then wrote up all this feedback and presented it all back to them for review at the end of the afternoon.

These questions included:

1. Why bother keeping research data?
2. What are the risks of not keeping your research data?
3. Give us your examples of good and bad practise
4. What are your storage needs?
5. If you could have a single magic tool to do this, what would it be?
6. Are you comfortable with sharing your data at any time? If yes, why and if no, why?

We got tremendous answers which will guide us while developing our on line course.

What feedback did we get?

The feedback was either 'good' or 'excellent'. What pleases us more though are comments:

'More information on non microsoft software, I use Mac OS and open source which is often space hungry to me.' Patricia Croot

'Very well communicated and outlined, whole presentation extremely helpful and well organised. Look forward to more detailed training'...

'Selection of material for preservation will be necessary, I think, as every researcher generates so much data that preserving it all will be a full time job in itself' Pernille Richards.

Thanks to everyone for such a good afternoon and now to work honing our moodle skills!

No comments:

Post a Comment