Sep 262011

Below is a copy of a blog entry I put on the DCC website after attending their Roadshow in September ……


As a rather out-of-practice ecologist I was looking forward to the DCC Roadshow with a little trepidation. Would the material be aimed at digital curators writing code to fine tune their repository functionality?  Or would it be of help to someone like me… drafted in from a different area to work for a few months trying to get to grips with the management and sharing of spatial data for the JISC funded IGIBS project.

Well, all concerns were rapidly dispelled as the first day got underway and the programme was delivered with a broad church in mind.  We were accommodated in the rather glorious Wadham college and I began to feel like a well-cared for data object. Securely stored in safe surroundings and my metadata had obviously been carefully read as I was now being professionally transformed into a more up-to-date format just  before my existing file type became redundant.

It  was clear that Oxford had taken data management  seriously and was a centre for developing new ideas and services to aid their researchers and the wider community. Particularly inspiring was a presentation from David Shotton, who had taken his position as Director of the Bioinformatics Research Group to add considerable professional  weight to the importance of developing a professional  data management  infrastructure. He was leading a project to  manage, publish and cite datasets. Using the theme of infectious diseases was the icing on the cake for me. The freeing of data on this subject is providing both an “academic good” and a very obvious “public good”, especially to countries with less ability to access the journals and data than more developed regions  with perversely  less public need for the data.

Themes that came out of the day were the importance of standards in metadata to bridge across disciplines and the need for institutional repositories to hold  the “long tail” data that most researchers produce en route to paper publication.  It wasn’t until later that evening , when I found myself not in the pub but spending an hour watching Bryan Heidorn on YouTube presenting a version of his “Curating the Dark Data in the Long Tail of Science” paper,  that I realised how the day had really got my remaining grey cells up and firing.

Day two comprised mainly of  group work where I began to understand the roles and problems facing many of the different data managers attending the Roadshow. The need for researchers to fully engage with the data management service providers became apparent as the group sessions developed. There are whole armies (well maybe platoons) of professional data experts trying to herd the cat like academic data producers into the pen of good practice. From meeting the Roadshow participants and coming to understand their roles and expertise,  it is hard to understand how there could be a problem with data management.  It was not  until I came back to Aberystwyth’s IGES department and saw individuals trying to finish off theses, and papers as well as prepare for the new academic term that I really understood the problem. As was suggested in day one of the event, it is only the moment when data management arrives at  the top of an individual’s priority list that it actually gets done. I have since been thinking about trying to start a project using “Nudge” theory to try and move data management up the priority tree in an academic department.

Day three was focused on the tools available to aid the  researcher in their data management . The DCC data management planning tool shone out as a valuable asset for  meeting the increasing need of funding bids to meet the demands/requests of the funding councils.  For me it will provide the framework on which to hang my thoughts and conclusions about managing  spatial data and  provides some of the structure for my work on the IGIBS project.

Now back at Aberystwyth and slipping back into my routine, the measure of success, at least from my perspective, for the Roadshow will be both the new sections in my  final report that I feel able to write and  the changes in working practices that come  about as a result of  my attendance.  Well it’s too early to say, but as I have just  moved metadata creation for some  soon to be used images and shape files to the top of my priority tree, maybe the digital curation  my brain received from the DCC is beginning to show.



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Sep 052011

I was fortunate enough to have a meeting with some people from EDINA and the DCC in Edinburgh on Wednesday. The aim of the meeting was to get some input and advice from some experts on the ideas I have for a spatial data management best practice report.  So a big  thank you to Martin Donnelly of the Digital Curation Centre (DCC), James Reid, Stuart McDonald, Chris Higgins and Michael Koutroumpas from EDINA.

I had a long 7 hour train journey from Aberystwyth so my apologies for the overdose of PowerPoint slides that I had time to create before the meeting. It was extremely helpful to talk to experienced and knowledgeable  people about the direction the report, which is one of our outputs from the IGIBS project. My background in environmental science leaves a few significant gaps in my knowledge and, as Chris put it, “a sanity check” on my work was well worth the time needed to attend the meeting. I even had the opportunity for an evening walk on Arthur’s Seat and a lunch hour looking around Edinburgh as a bonus.

Some of the key advice from the meeting centered around the following; INSPIRE and how it will or wont impact on Universities,  insights into the not so obvious but very significant benefits of writing a data management plan and where it fits into good data management, some great pointers to other studies and sources of information that will feed into the report, the need to make the report easily accessible to its audience and some great institutional  case study examples from Australian through Californian to British Universities.

Another theme that emerged from the discussion was how INSPIRE and the need for good data management can be viewed as a threat but it is also a great opportunity for academic staff to gain easier access to the ever increasing amounts of spatial data being created around the Globe. A viewpoint that will help to make the report more appealing to time starved researchers.

We also had talk of semantics and just what do you call a spatial data infrastructure (if you don’t want to use SDI). It was suggested that UK Location has moved towards Location Information Infrastructure as a way of making an SDI label more intelligible to the uninitiated. I found this much more enlightening and useful that the recent update from UK Location on “Data Things” and abstracted “Data Objects”  but a few hours of digestion may make this a little more understandable to my irretrievably ecologically orientated mind.  It reminded me of some reading I had done about old Norse governance and how their aassembly was called the “Thing” and met in the “Thingstead”.  I remember thinking that they didn’t have a proper word for it so just called it the “Thing” but I guess that just shows how language develops over time and maybe we can look back to SDI in a few years with the benefit of a really useful label for it, whatever that may be.

As a result of the meeting I am re writing some sections I had drafted and adding some new summary sheets for subsections of the intended audience and more importantly I don’t feel like my original thinking was miles off the mark, just a bit  under-informed and lacking some focus.  So creating the rest of the report will also be made a little easier once I have digested the new material I have been pointed towards.

So thank you once more gentlemen and I look forward to meeting you again if the occasion arises.