Data management plan
A data management plan is a formal document that outlines how you will handle your data both during your research, and after the project is completed. The goal of a data management plan is to consider the many aspects of data management, metadata generation, data preservation, and analysis before the project begins; this ensure that data are well-managed in the present, and prepared for preservation in the future.
Preparing a data management plan before data are collected ensures that data are in the correct format, organized well, and better annotated. This saves time in the long term because there is no need to re-organize, re-format, or try to remember details about data. It also increases research efficiency since both the data collector and other researchers will be able to understand and use well-annotated data in the future. One component of a good data management plan is data archiving and preservation. By deciding on an archive ahead of time, the data collector can format data during collection to make its future submission to a database easier. If data are preserved, they are more relevant since they can be re-used by other researchers. It also allows the data collector to direct requests for data to the database, rather than address requests individually. Data that are preserved have the potential to lead to new, unanticipated discoveries, and they prevent duplication of scientific studies that have already been conducted. Data archiving also provides insurance against loss by the data collector.
Funding agencies are beginning to require data management plans as part of the proposal and evaluation process.
Information about data & data format
- Include a description of data to be produced by the project. This might include (but is not limited to) data that are:
- Raw or derived
- Physical collections
- Curriculum materials
- How will the data be acquired? When and where will they be acquired?
- After collection, how will the data be processed? Include information about
- Software used
- Scientific workflows
- Describe the file formats that will be used, justify those formats, and describe the naming conventions used.
- Identify the quality assurance & quality control measures that will be taken during sample collection, analysis, and processing.
- If existing data are used, what are their origins? How will the data collected be combined with existing data? What is the relationship between the data collected and existing data?
- How will the data be managed in the short-term? Consider the following:
- Version control for files
- Backing up data and data products
- Security & protection of data and data products
- Who will be responsible for management
Metadata content and format
Metadata are the contextual details, including any information important for using data. This may include descriptions of temporal and spatial details, instruments, parameters, units, files, etc. Metadata is commonly referred to as “data about data”. Consider the following:
- What metadata are needed? Include any details that make data meaningful.
- How will the metadata be created and/or captured? Examples include lab notebooks, GPS hand-held units, Auto-saved files on instruments, etc.
- What format will be used for the metadata? Consider the metadata standards commonly used in the scientific discipline that contains your work. There should be justification for the format chosen.
Policies for access, sharing, and re-use
- Describe any obligations that exist for sharing data collected. These may include obligations from funding agencies, institutions, other professional organizations, and legal requirements.
- Include information about how data will be shared, including when the data will be accessible, how long the data will be available, how access can be gained, and any rights that the data collector reserves for using data.
- Address any ethical or privacy issues with data sharing
- Address intellectual property & copyright issues. Who owns the copyright? What are the institutional, publisher, and/or funding agency policies associated with intellectual property? Are there embargoes for political, commercial, or patent reasons?
- Describe the intended future uses/users for the data
- Indicate how the data should be cited by others. How will the issue of persistent citation be addressed? For example, if the data will be deposited in a public archive, will the dataset have a digital object identifier (doi) assigned to it?
Long-term storage and data management
- Researchers should identify an appropriate archive for long-term preservation of their data. By identifying the archive early in the project, the data can be formatted, transformed, and documented appropriately to meet the requirements of the archive. Researchers should consult colleagues and professional societies in their discipline to determine the most appropriate database, and include a backup archive in their data management plan in case their first choice goes out of existence.
- Early in the project, the primary researcher should identify what data will be preserved in an archive. Usually, preserving the data in its most raw form is desirable, although data derivatives and products can also be preserved.
- An individual should be identified as the primary contact person for archived data, and ensure that contact information is always kept up-to-date in case there are requests for data or information about data.
Data management and preservation costs may be considerable, depending on the nature of the project. By anticipating costs ahead of time, researchers ensure that the data will be properly managed and archived. Potential expenses that should be considered are
- Personnel time for data preparation, management, documentation, and preservation
- Hardware and/or software needed for data management, backing up, security, documentation, and preservation
- Costs associated with submitting the data to an archive
The data management plan should include how these costs will be paid.
NSF Data Management Plan
All grant proposals submitted to NSF must include a Data Management Plan that is no more than two pages. This is a supplement (not part of the 15 page proposal) and should describe how the proposal will conform to the Award and Administration Guide policy (see below). It may include the following:
- The types of data
- The standards to be used for data and metadata format and content
- Policies for access and sharing
- Policies and provisions for re-use
- Plans for archiving data
- Promptly publish with appropriate authorship
- Share data, samples, physical collections, and supporting materials with others, within a reasonable time frame
- Share software and inventions
- Investigators can keep their legal rights over their intellectual property, but they still have to make their results, data, and collections available to others
- Policies will be implemented via
- Proposal review
- Award negotiations and conditions
ESRC Data Management Plan
Since 1995, the UK's Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) have had a research data policy in place. The current ESRC Research Data Policy states that research data created as a result of ESRC-funded research should be openly available to the scientific community to the maximum extent possible, through long-term preservation and high quality data management.
ESRC requires a data management plan for all research award applications where new data are being created. Such plans are designed to promote a structured approach to data management throughout the data lifecycle, resulting in better quality data that is ready to archive for sharing and re-use. The UK Data Service, the ESRC's flagship data service, provides practical guidance on research data management planning suitable for social science researchers in the UK and around the world. 
ESRC has a longstanding arrangement with the UK Data Archive, based at the University of Essex, as a place of deposit for research data, with award holders required to offer data resulting from their research grants via the UK Data Service. The Archive enables data re-use by preserving data and making them available to the research and teaching communities.
- Michener,WK and JW Brunt. 2000. Ecological Data: Design, Management and Processing. Blackwell Science, 180p.
- ESRC Research Data Policy 2010
- Prepare and manage data: Guidance from the UK Data Service
- SAGE handbook: Managing and Sharing Data: A Guide to Good Practice
- UK Data Archive: Who can deposit data?
- SAGE handbook: Managing and Sharing Research Data: A Guide to Good Practice
- DMPTool: Guidance and resources for data management plans
- California Digital Library, University of California Curation Center (UC3)
- University of Virginia Library
- Digital Curation Centre
- University of Michigan Library
- NSF Grant Proposal Guidelines
- Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research
- LTER Blog: How to write a data management plan
- More information about data management plans at GESIS – Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences
- UK Data Service: Prepare and Manage Data: Guidance and tools for social science researchers