Data stewardship at TU Delft

From The Embassy of Good Science

Data stewardship at TU Delft

What is this about?

This initiative to foster RI by providing researchers with guidance about data management, is in some sense unique. Although it is quite common for a university to have a data steward, at the Technical University (TU) Delft, each faculty has their own dedicated data steward. Currently, there are eight data stewards forming the ‘Data stewardship’. The data stewardship was initiated as a two-year pilot in 2017 by the former-rector Karel Luyben, who is an advocate of research integrity and open science. Through funding from the university library, the pilot started with one steward. Gradually during the year more data stewards joined in other faculties. For a poster summary see here.

Data stewardship aims at changing the research culture by raising more awareness of good data management, good science practices and good behavior. In the beginning, data stewardship was mostly concerned with researchers in need of consultation about their data management plans. However, gradually, data stewardship realized that the line between students and researchers is blurred, since students often partake in research projects. Therefore, anyone involved in research projects at the TU Delft is allowed to consult the data stewards. Data management mostly consists of research data, educational data and administrative data. Usually research data has a higher priority since they are most directly connected to research projects.

For whom is this important?

What are the best practices?

The data stewards

All the data stewards at TU Delft have a different background. They are either familiar with the faculty by having a research background as a PHD-candidate/Postdoc or by using similar methodologies. A coordinator assures good communication and oversight between data stewards and research teams at the TU Delft. In this way, data stewards function as a ‘gear’ amongst different research support service teams.

The task of data stewardship has extended from only consultation for data management plans to a wide scale of diverse tasks. These tasks include, for instance, implementation of research data policy, training (workshops), information sessions, creating pilots and course education materials. All these things rely on the data stewards’ ability to translate data management literature studies into concrete actions. Sometimes, a ten minutes talk is enough and other times it requires continuous support during a research project. When more assistance is necessary, data stewards support each other via meetings or chat platforms.

Evaluation

According to Yan Wang, the current data steward at the architecture and building faculty, Data Stewardship has become popular at the university. The role of data steward has proven to be very diffuse. For instance, the data stewards realized that everything about data management is also connected to research ethics. Yan Wang believes that during the pilot, a relationship started to develop in which researchers came to the data stewards for all sorts of things.

Of course, every faculty has a different work environment. Yan Wang believes that data stewardship in the science and engineering faculties is slightly more formal than in the social faculties, possibly due to the faculties’ different extent. There are annual surveys on the awareness of data management per faculties, perhaps indicating how the role of data stewards differs amongst the faculties. These findings are to be found in a blog post, which is regularly updated by the university.

In Detail

Bottlenecks

According to Yan Wang, data stewards at the TU Delft have been very lucky, because all the necessary resources, such as the funding, positions and material were provided by the university. Although there haven’t been any urgent issues during implementation, there are /were a few points of attention. Sometimes, data stewards have so much work that they need to limit their role. They cannot provide as much support as they would like to. Luckily, the university has agreed to recruit eight data managers that can specifically help with the data, thereby giving space to the data stewards. Moreover, some requests are too technical for data stewardship. In those cases, they send out the researcher’s request to the ICT board. Lastly, Yang Wang expressed that it took time to get adjusted to the university structure.

Future scope

The pilot of the data stewardship will finish at the end of 2020, along with the funding. Meanwhile, data stewardship has proven to be successful and therefore, in the future each data steward will be paid by the faculty, thereby becoming a permanent employee at the faculty. In this way, the initiative remains sustainable.

The TU Delft data stewardship likes to create awareness about data management. One way to approach this is by going to external events, such as the INSPIRE symposium in January 2020. The university supports these events as long as it is related to data stewardship or if it is good promotion.

Any tips?

The most important thing is to really translate the objectives into the perspective of the researchers. For instance, if there is resistance to the word integrity, then use it in another way. There is always a way to work around it. And always reflect on the initiative itself.” From an interview with Yan Wang, current data steward at the architecture and building faculty at TU Delft.

Other information

Virtues & Values
Good Practices & Misconduct