Implementing Data Management Requires Responsible Leadership

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The DMP is done – what’s next for the principal investigator, what does implementation require? The Data Training working group discusses data management for responsible leadership for data management.

A good understanding of data management or a good data management plan will not implement itself – implementation must be managed and led. This enables systematic, smooth and timely data management and standardised practices. Leadership skills and practices help you reduce your own workload and that of your research group.

Data management leadership means that in leading a research project, the data management practices required by the project are identified. Good leadership is based on the researcher’s basic skills in data management. Data management requires both general knowledge as well as knowledge of field-specific practices, but a project leader needs further competences. The Data training working groups have analysed the types of data management skills required at different stages of studies and a researcher’s career. The group analysing the skills needs of senior researchers identified a gap in the data management training supply regarding leadership training.

Get to know data management principles, distribute responsibilities, arrange resources, advocate

What, then, does knowledge of data management principles and data management leadership skills mean in practice for the senior researcher and principal investigator?

Firstly, the PI must understand the measures required by data management at different stages of the research life cycle, ensuring that material generated in the research from the beginning complies with the FAIR principles as much as possible, i.e. the material is findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable.

Secondly, the PI must be able to lead the research project’s data management in practice so that the research group complies with good data management practices and the FAIR principles are met. The PI is responsible for drafting agreements on rights related to data and administration. They evaluate the time and money required by data management and the tools and services that should be reserved for the research. The PI is also in charge of ensuring that all research group members have access to the necessary tools. The PI knows how to distribute data management tasks in the research group and motivates others. They must also acknowledge the special characteristics of data management in Finnish and international consortium projects.

Thirdly, the PI must have the capacity to participate in the development of their home organisation’s research data policy. In practice, this can entail being aware of the ways they can influence the development of their organisation’s data matters. The PI must also be able to take initiative in relation to the researchers’ needs and highlight policy development targets and deficiencies.

Organisations must offer training and support

There is little training or support services available that meet the specific needs of research directors or senior researchers.  Research organisations must indeed support data management leadership by offering tailored support. Each organisation’s data management instructions should e.g. show what to take into account in data management leadership. Data management is not a matter for the individual but the entire organisation, as the life cycle of data usually exceeds that of an individual research project.

The material produced by our working group (in Finnish) is the first initiative in data management leadership in Finland. It acts as an encouragement for organisations to develop support and training in data management leadership. It is a challenging task, since data management leadership training must combine organisation orientation with project leadership and data management skills. Motivating PIs in developing data management leadership may be challenging. How can we inspire the researcher to see data management leadership as an opportunity to facilitate their day-to-day work?

The development of data management leadership first requires acknowledging that data management planning and implementation really requires leadership. After that, you must think of how data management leadership training and leadership support can be arranged in your own organisation. Many organisations already offer leadership and project training into which a section on data management leadership can be integrated. The promotion of training should also entail national cooperation. We hope that our material encourages research organisations to initiate this work and inspires senior researchers to think about their own skills and development needs. 
Authors: Anne Karhapää (University of Eastern Finland), Maria Söderholm (Finnish Environment Institute), Anna Salmi (University of Jyväskylä)
Photo: Unsplash/Nicole Wilcox

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