*Give us the data!*
Triggered by the economic contraction that most local, state, and federal agencies and foundations face, data management plans have become an important component of some grant proposals over the past few years. Of course, it would have been helpful to have had such plans in place in years past, but it became apparent that much of the data generated from federally-funded (and other) research did not fit any particular plan, may not have been organized, tagged, stored, or secured properly, and had not been submitted to available data repositories or was otherwise unavailable for full and exhaustive use.
The data management plan is a detailed description of all the types of data expected to be produced from a research project and of the researcher’s plans to manage and share data derived from grant-funded projects. Data described in a data management plan could include notes, samples, collections, software, reports, surveys, journal articles and other items that might otherwise languish in obscure locations, never to be analyzed at all or never provided to others who might benefit from access to it.
The DMP should describe 1) the types of data (and metadata), 2) the format of the data, 3) mechanisms of data dissemination (journal articles, web sites, or other mechanisms), and 4) how the data will be maintained and archived. The goal of the NSF is to comply with federal guidelines to understand the kinds of data that will be collected during the research that it funds, the physical data storage resources, what data will be shared with other researchers, guidelines for public access to data collected, and what will happen to the data after the funding period ends. The NIH notes that data sharing is particularly important for data from research work that is difficult or impossible to reproduce (due to costs, etc). Some foundations now request data management (data sharing) plans.
There are some online tools to assist you with the development of your data management plans. The University of Minnesota has posted an outline for such a plan that is available to anyone with a web browser. The University of California Curation Center of the California Digital Library offers the DMPTool requires an institutional login, but offers publicly available examples of data management plans (here). Other online tools can be found and your institution may offer some guidance.
There are numerous benefits to a data management plan. First, it is another component of the grant planning process; if the details of a data management plan are specified (or at least outlined) early in the grant development process it will help investigators, co-investigators, and other participants to visualize the project goals. Second, it provides interested scientists and researchers with opportunities to enhance and expand their own research and that of others. Third, since federally-funded research is completely subsidized by the public, citizens should have the option to access and understand the data generated from research projects they are invested in.