RDAP 2015

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This year (several months ago, ahem) I presented at the Research Data Access & Preservation Summit, held in nearby Minneapolis. I led a panel focused on different RDM collaboration and service models at institutions. I was joined by Cynthia Hudson-Vitale from Washington University in St. Louis and Amy Nurnberger from Columbia University. Our abstract:

Research data services is not just a library issue. Experience and scholarship has shown that given the complex nature of research data services, various units and departments across an institution must work together to provide appropriate services. One component of the solution is to form a research data services advisory committee or working group. This panel will focus on the various organizational structures in place at different institutions, addressing change management /transition issues and roles this committee may play.

If you’d like to breeze through my slides, here they are:

But like I’ve done with other slide decks, I thought I would also annotate what I covered in my talk to make it more understandable.

First came an explanation of the basics of RDS

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what we do…

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how we’re organized…

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… and of course, our sponsors.

As I explained to the RDAP audience, that’s more or less what I learned about RDS when I first interviewed and then got my job in June 2014. I was excited and impressed that UW-Madison already had a group focused on research data. I even wondered at several points why they were hiring me.

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I started to understand what I was facing a bit more, though, when I began conversations with different groups around campus.

To my surprise, nobody seemed to really know about RDS.

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Slowly but surely I was becoming aware of a lot of unforeseen challenges that spiraled out every which way.

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The challenges originated at every level of the university – from upper administration to the libraries to individuals like me. Layer by layer, the challenges racked up…

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decentralization…

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the fact that RDS began as a grassroots effort on campus, which has meant that we’ve seriously lacked…

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a champion! Someone to guide us…

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and to help provide a vision for the future.

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For too long, RDS had sort of been set on the shelf, untended.

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We lack the infrastructure to provide a data repository…

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and given the extensive budget cuts facing my state, it’s doubtful that this will change anytime soon. Beyond lacking resources, the cuts have had a devastating effect on morale.

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There’s a history to RDS, one I learn more about each day. It affects everything we do in a way I hadn’t imagined. It makes me constantly wonder how we can change and evolve and sustain what we want to provide.

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My colleague Jan jotted these key data management concepts down when we were brainstorming for a project. They stuck with me. Could it be that we’re better off when we stick to these, rather than trying to be the hub for everything data-related?

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I find myself often stuck in the middle. I am a cheerleader. I advocate upwards, to my boss and my boss’ boss and so on. I try to diagnose and identify and articulate what we need. But I’m also trying to pour energy back to my team and my colleagues. I am pleading for them to care, to help, to participate. I chill in my halfway zone and try to graciously thank both when they give energy to RDS.

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l tried to write a strategic plan but it fizzled. I didn’t have the authority to make anything in it happen. For a while, I was gutted that it wasn’t addressed. In moving on, I focused on the things within my reach, our reach. I tried for tangibles.

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I decided if I could remind my institution that we existed, I had done my job.

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I continued to prioritize pushing new ideas, moving and grooving along.

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And building things. (Flip through my slides to see some examples of things RDS is building: a new website, a digest, a toolkit.)


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All in the name of creating a buzz about RDS.

Some key takeaways in this whole business of inheriting/reviving/sustaining/strategizing for a research data service?

  • Define roles.
  • Ask pointed questions (charmingly)
  • Make new things
  • Give old things a makeover
  • Cultivate relationships with wild abandon
  • + DO WHAT YOU CAN DO
  • Then just…


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I closed my talk by discussing some positive directions that UW is moving in. I’m happy to say that over the summer the WID Research Project Resource Guide project went live. The new RDS website is now up as well and I couldn’t be happier.

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