The birth and early life of the Leicester Research Data Management website

Sometime during the night of 30 September 2012 a new website was unleashed/crept into life – the University of Leicester Research Data Management site –

What we attempted to achieve
By linking a Jisc Transformations project to the University Research Computing Management (RCMG) we were equally cursed and blessed (with apologies to Catatonia). The project was given impetus with a group of senior researchers to become attached to (the RCMG), whilst also being given a series of challenging deliverables and difficult deadlines. For the deadline of 1 October 2012 (or more precisely “the start of term”) the task was to design and implement from scratch a new RDM website.

The brief
The brief was, importantly, discussed in some detail and agreed with the RCMG. To retain a grasp on the feasible it was agreed that the site would have the following characteristics:

  1. At 1 October it would be considered an initial presence – “Phase 1” – a starting point for development, not a finished article.
  2. This would exist to prompt ideas of what should be added and changed.
  3. The site would rely heavily on existing sites and resources already available on-line rather than try and re-invent wheels.
  4. It would have to be developed by a small group of people at “Phase 1”rather than being opened for wide consultation, and potential delay.
  5. From 1 October 2012 we would move to “Phase 2”.
  6. Phase 2 would include widening involvement and developing ownership of the site by researchers.
  7. This would include developing more University specific and discipline specific content.

Our method
Key to progress was forming a small Working Group (5 people) including people from Academic Practice Unit, IT Services, Library, and Research Support Office. Although this group had plenty of personal research experience (and thus scope for varying perspectives and opinions) from its first meeting retained a very focussed and positive, co-operative approach to meeting the objective and deadline set.

This felt like quite a shift from the norm – of wide/long consultation and consideration of many perspectives. It was accepted that to achieve something that was difficult, and in a short space of time (most of the work being done over a couple of months) there would have to be a very structured/regimented way of working. It will be interesting to see the effect of this in the longer term.

Progress was also only possible as I was able to dedicate time – a product of this being recognised as important work, and associated with a funded project – to lead on content development, and passing content to other members of the group to comment on/edit.

In addition it was clear that if one person was expected to both generate structure content and actually develop the site in the local Plone CMS (Content Management System) then it would not be possible to progress as hoped. In funding the assistance of someone to do the latter job, IT Services played a big part in helping to make the site a reality.

Initial work I undertook was to review existing web content and University sites, comparing and contrasting structure, content, look and feel etc. The finished site as a result owes much to content from JISC, DCC, and the UK Data Archive, and to the University of Glasgow, and University of Cambridge in terms of structure and content.

Important decisions included the definition of four major phases of the research cycle around which site structure is organised. After much discussion, including with the PVC Research, we agreed on:

RDM Graphic

Each phase was associated with a colour and an image which are intended as logical and consistent themes – to be used also on our RDM brochure etc.

Thus, having shortened normal development methods, having very clear aims, and with co-operation from a small group of people (in the Working Group and beyond) who were clear in the need to go live to schedule, the site did so on 30 September 2012.

What happened then
On 12 October 2012 the RCMG approved the site and the need for Phase 2 development.

With the website go-live as a clear milestone rather than end point we were left with a very long Issue Log to manage and also an ever expanding website RDM Resource Log of content suggestions to develop or include.

From that point there have been many issues to address as we have looked to personalise the site, develop researcher ownership, create University and discipline-specific content, keep up to date with developments etc.

To avoid confusion, and beyond normal communications channels we set up a single contact point for RDM issues –

Since the site went live we have had some positive feedback both from other UK Universities, and internationally (at the 2013 Amsterdam International Digital Curation Conference).  It is perhaps the biggest challenge though is to communicate with the internal Leicester audience – to find out what is proving useful (or not) and what people would find beneficial to have on the site.

Recently we have completed Data Management/Data Management Planning documents – these should be announced soon and made available via the website. Also we are looking to develop RDM and specific data management planning, and through my Jisc Transformations project I (with considerable and much needed technical and creative input) have constructed/created a ‘digital story’ of the work – RDM in 4 minutes.

So, much more coming soon.


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Andrew Burnham

About Andrew Burnham

Andrew is a Senior IT Partner at the University of Leicester.

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