Sarah Middleton

Sarah Middleton

Last updated on 5 July 2017

Even having been part of the DPC for 4 years now, I still consider myself a relative newbie to the digital preservation world, and I’ll certainly never consider myself a digital preservation ‘native.’ That is to say my background is not archiving/information management/digital preservation/IT or any of the ‘usual’ routes into this weird and wonderful community.

So, I’ll openly admit I’m even more of a novice when it comes to the Research Data Management (RDM) game. I thought I knew what research data is/was (stay tuned for an imminent blog post from William Kilbride on ‘what is data anyway?’), I thought I understood why we look after it, and I thought I was beginning to understand its huge potential.

But, attending the Jisc Research Data Network (RDN) event in York last week made me realise I had a whole lot more to learn.

Incidentally, for anyone else like me, during Daniela Duca’s fantastic Queen Bee[i] networking session, the question ”where can I find an ‘technical RDM for dummies” guide?’ was asked. And in gathering the answers, I scribbled down these resources:


What struck me throughout the course of the day I was there though, was that Research Data Management could actually be the simplest or the most complex thing. I didn’t actually need to understand the nuts and bolts of it to see that the challenges faced by research data managers mostly seemed to boil down to advocacy…or a lack thereof.


Internal advocacy appeared to be the key to unlocking an awful lot of challenges faced by an awful lot of institutions trying very hard to do what’s best for the research data – or conversely, was the thing standing in the way of a whole lot of progress.

Throughout the day I heard from:

  • Matthew Dovey, Rachel Bruce from Jisc and Juan Bicarregui at Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) talk about the European Open Science Cloud, and how it requires buy-in to get the best out of this fantastic platform,
  • Stephen Grace from London South Bank University and Sarah Jones at Digital Curation Centre introducing a group of other speakers to share ‘What I wish I’d known at the start! Lessons learned the hard way when setting up RDM services’ most of which pointed to bottom up advocacy as the best way to succeed in this task,
  • Jonathan Rans, Digital Curation Centre (DCC) and David Young, University of Northumbria introducing the DCC developed the Research Infrastructure Self-Evaluation framework (RISE), a tool designed to facilitate collaborative RDM service development, and explaining how they too need buy-in for users to realise all the benefits this tool offers.

Even in the Queen Bee session, where I wondered whether I’d have much to contribute as RDM-super-novice, I was surprised how much commonality there was between the challenges faced by the broader digital preservation community and the specific problems that needed solving by the RDN. I thought they would all be super technical problems, but the answers to most of the questions asked were ‘advocacy’:

  • How can I get researchers to deposit their data → advocacy
  • How can I get my IT department and researchers to understand each other → advocacy
  • How can I get my 14-year-old son to do his homework → advocacy (and bribery!)[ii]


The RDN has clearly got the technical stuff sorted, and if the sessions I attended on EOSC and RISE were anything to go on, I’d say they certainly have.

But advocacy remains a common theme. The Digital Preservation Coalition exists to ‘help create a political and organisational climate responsive to the need for digital preservation,’ to quote the current Strategic Plan. And this requires a commitment to advocacy on behalf of the broader digital preservation community, encompassing all other keepers/collectors/curators of data – whatever that may look like.

As part of this commitment, members help each other, and help key decision-makers and opinion-formers understand the opportunities and challenges of long-term access to digital collections. They encourage them to act, ensuring that public and institutional policy, legislation and regulation enable robust digital preservation infrastructures. And that’s just what the RDN is trying to do too – just with a more particular focus.

We help members make the case for digital preservation in their organisations, by developing and providing resources (like the Award Winning Digital Preservation Handbook) to help with educating ourselves and our colleagues on the benefits and practicalities of digital preservation (also known as building an Army of Advocates!)

On the DPC website, you can also find a link to the super-practical Digital Preservation Business Case Toolkit which provides an array of helpful information to assist in the construction of a business case. The Toolkit provides guidance from planning and preparation all the way through to polishing and communicating the finished case for digital preservation in your organisation.

And soon to come, there will be an Executive Briefing Pack: a pick-n-mix bag of resources to help organisations convince their senior leaders that digital preservation is a good thing to do.

Not forgetting the biennial and very prestigious Digital Preservation Awards of course! - the most prominent celebration of achievement for those people and organisations who have made significant and innovative contributions to maintaining a digital legacy. Whether it’s research data, cultural memory, commercial data or any other data for that matter the work of our Award winners demonstrates the real benefits digital preservation can offer. And stayed tuned for much more campaigning in the pipeline.

Is all this even vaguely helpful or relevant for a research data manager though? I did wonder how being a member of the broader digital preservation and DPC community might translate into the specifics of the Research Data Management community. But I think the answer is yes, it is relevant, it should be helpful and it should translate, and that’s because of the community itself.

And the thing is, a community like the Research Data Network is already advocating.  Just by existing they are doing great work, together they are an Army of Advocates for each other’s work. And that is invaluable.

[i] For anyone who wasn’t there, or hasn’t done this before, the Queen Bee session was essentially a way of solving our own problems whilst making new friends along the way. And it was good fun!

[ii] My colleague Sara Day Thomson point out that bribery would be pretty effective for the other two points as well!

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