Data management plans (DMP) help to outline how research data will be handled during and after a project to ensure preservation of the data and their metadata. DMPs are particularly helpful when created prior to data collection to guarantee consistent organisation, annotation, and formatting of the data. They can be used as part of quality and project management.
A DMP, like an electronic laboratory notebook or even a laboratory information management system in chemistry, represents a type of documentation. These different types of documentation must be considered at different levels. A DMP answers the W-questions for documentation.
"In a DMP a researcher or research team describes What data goes into a project (reuse) and comes out of it (potential reuse), How the team takes care of the data, and Who is allowed to do What with the data When."1
In addition, the data management plan also addresses cross-cutting issues such as standards, ethics, responsibilities, and so on. The following elements are included in a DMP:
Benefits of a DMP
In addition to funder compliance, there should be an intrinsic motivation for a DMP. The benefits of a data management plan are obvious in this process. A DMP
- supports your research, because the data is findable and understandable. It is clearly described in a DMP.
- supports the data to be FAIR. In a DMP not only the findability is reflected, but also the accessibility, interoperability and reusability is described.
- saves you time in the long-term, because all necessary information is summarised in a DMP.
- helps you to think in advance and to consider issues connected with confidentiality, ethics, security and copyright directly from the project start.
- offers continuity of knowledge and its transmission when new project members join.
DMP from funders' perspective
A number of research funders require DMPs at different stages of the project. It is depending on the funder. For example, the EU expects a DMP after 6 months of the project start, in the middle as well as at the end of the project. In its Horizon Europe programme, the EU has been offering a new DMP template to support DMP creation since May 2021.
The German funding agencies do not regulate it as strictly as it is by the EU. For example, in certain projects the BMBF requires a so-called exploitation plan or information on the use of the results as part of the application. This requirement is already included in the funding guidelines, for instance in the funding programme of "Coastal Sea Research in the North Sea and Baltic Sea - Coasts in Transition".
The DFG has been offering a checklist for assistance in handling research data since June 2021. This checklist includes the same topics as a DMP template, which are data description, documentation and data quality, storage and technical archiving the project, legal obligations and conditions, data exchange and long-term data accessibility as well as responsibilities and resources. The DFG also emphasises the use of subject-specific recommendations on standards, methods and infrastructures. Furthermore, the DFG makes a clear statement on its website. "… so it must be handled just as carefully and consideration must be given to a technically adequate option for subsequent reuse whenever appropriate and possible. The same applies if software is required for the creation or processing of research data. For this reason, the DFG expects research projects to include a description of how research data is handled. The description should be based on the checklist for handling research data."
The creation of a DMP can be supported by various tools. Some of the most common tools are:
DMPOnline was developed by the UK Digital Curation Centre (DCC). It includes a template for Horizon Europe projects as well as from the main UK funders. It also provides short general explanations for every single question. DMPOnline and DMPTool are based on the software DMPRoadmap.
DMPTool is run by the California Digital Library. Due to the different funding landscape in the US, the tool is only of limited use for German/European projects. One advantage is that DMPTool provides DMP examples on the website. It can be used without using the tool.
Research Data Management Organiser (RDMO) is run at 45 research institutions in Germany and abroad (as of January 2022). It was developed in a DFG-funded project (2015–2020) and is now further maintained by the RDMO working group as an open source software. It offers several "question catalogs" for specific funding programs, disciplines, or research consortia. They enable researchers to organise their data management with the help of precisely formulated questions, help texts, multiple-choice answers. User-created catalogs may be reused and are available for download in a central repository.
To further support researchers in answering the questions, working groups have been formed, e.g. in Science Europe or the Research Data Alliance (RDA). The Science Europe Group is focusing on improving the general help texts, while the working group in the RDA focuses on discipline-specific guidance. Science Europe set up a new version of the practical guide in January 2021.
A comparison of commonly used DMP tools can be found in the DMP-Toolguide.
Sources and further information
- Elements of a Data Management Plan
- DFG guidelines on research data
- Practical Guide to the International Alignment of Research Data Management - Extended Edition
- RDA workgroup on discipline specific guidance on DMPs
- Horizon Europe DMP Template
- German: Indications from the Federal Ministery of Education
- German: Data Management Plans at forschungsdaten.info
- German: Comparison of DMP tools at forschungsdaten.org
- DMP-Toolguide (1.0)