What Is a Data Management Plan? Do I Need One?

A recent survey revealed that most researchers are not experienced in writing data management plans, nor are they getting institutional support or training on the topic. Never fear—tools and resources are freely available to your research team!

DMPs outline how data from a funded study will be collected, stored, archived, and shared, and they are now required as part of funding applications by funders (public and private) around the globe. Each funder has its own requirements and expectations, and institutions have additional guidelines for their researchers. Some researchers may find they have copyright or ethical issues to consider, and private companies applying for funding will likely have their own guidelines and prohibitions against sharing proprietary data.

In other words, writing a DMP is not, in most cases, a simple matter of filling out a template. Developing and writing a thorough, competitive DMP can be a challenging task, especially for those who are unfamiliar with the process (whether they are a seasoned researcher or a newbie).

If you are applying for research funding, a DMP plan is most likely in your immediate future. If institutions are not providing training and guidance to researchers on how to develop a DMP, what is a research team to do? One tool that will get you started is the DMPTool. The tool includes templates and sample DMP plans, with a wizard that will walk you through the writing process and offer strategic advice as you progress through the process. Importantly, over 200 institutions are working with the DMPTool and integrating their guidelines into the tool, so research teams can develop a plan specific not only to the agency to which they are applying but also to their institution’s guidelines.

Still unsure of how it all fits together? Although there have been many useful articles written on the topic in the past few years, Nature published a great article this month titled Data Management Made Simple (by Quirin Schiermeier), and its 12 tips for writing a DMP plan will provide insight to all but the most veteran DMP writers. I have also posted a page of DMP development resources the DMP writer may find useful (links to data sharing guidance, data sets, data standards, etc.) on the Strategic Grantsmanship blog and will be adding to the list as new resources become available.

In my experience people can be in quite a rush to get their research going and they tend to “black box” the things they don’t understand or want to deal with, like the DMP, for as long as they can in the hope that things will magically work themselves out as the research moves forward. Sometimes it does, but more often researchers find themselves with unhappy biostatisticians and archiving issues. Writing a DMP plan while simultaneously writing a research plan can feel overwhelming, but for research teams that take advantage of the new tools and myriad resources now available for DMP development and writing, the process is faster and easier than ever.

This article originally appeared in the Strategic Grantsmanship blog’s newsletter, Strategic Grantsmanship News (15 March 2017 issue). If you found this article informative, subscribe to Strategic Grantsmanship News by joining the mailing list and receive the latest strategies and information directly to your Inbox.