Umeå University takes a holistic approach to open science

Published: 2022-04-04

A Holistic approach with a capital H. That is what Umeå University aims for in their work with open science. Beginning the first of January this year, this university-wide project for how to manage research data throughout their lifecycle will run for four years.

Portrait of Katrine Riklund, Umeå University
Katrine Riklund chairs the steering committee of the university-wide project for research data management at Umeå University.

—Research data management has been on the agenda for a long time. Data management plans, GDPR, FAIR, etcetera and more. We’ve discussed these issues with the faculties and in the university management council, and what we came to realise was that we tend to start working with pieces of research data management in various places, or with the same piece but in several places. After some discussion, we came to the conclusion that it’s better if we can take a holistic approach and connect all faculties, instead of coming up with different solutions for different parts of the university, says Katrine Riklund, Pro-Vice-Chancellor and responsible for research and doctoral education at Umeå University, and chair of the steering committee for the new project.

Work in three main areas

In their efforts to find a good holistic solution, there are several things that the project needs to consider: the Swedish government’s objective for open science no later than in 2026; the national roadmap and coming action plan for open science from SUHF; the FAIR principles; the General Data Protection Regulation; the research data lifecycle; national and international initiatives and collaborations (to name a few). The project description is general, but the work will be done on a year-by-year basis in three main areas:

  • Support in the form of administration and training, led by the University library
  • Support in archiving and legal matters, led by the Legal Affairs Office
  • IT infrastructure, led by the ICT Services and System Development (ITS) department.

—In the steering committee we have management representatives from all these areas, plus management from all faculties and the Umeå School of Education. We also have a collaboration with Region Västerbotten, as well as a reference group of researchers, and will need more temporary groups as the project progresses. Taking research as our starting point is incredibly important, as it’s research that generates research data, says Katrine Riklund.

A needs inventory among the university’s researchers has just started, to give the project a solid foundation from which to analyse and discuss in what order they shall start various initiatives. Some researchers have already given their feedback of what they miss and what needs to be updated.

—Researchers’ needs cover a wide range of most everything from a wish to transfer storage from computer hard drives to the university’s IT system, to a need for high-speed connection to large amounts of data that they will be working on for a time and then submit to international repositories. Of course, some issues will be super easy to resolve, such as if certain hardware is missing somewhere, whereas other, like policies and work processes, will require significantly more work. One important need that we have already identified is support and assistance, and we will also plan for training in various aspects of research data management, says Katrine Riklund.

The system will contribute to better research

A central objective for the university’s work with open science is that it shall contribute to better research. Katrine Riklund explains how this can, in practice, mean several things for the researchers in Umeå:

—If you have a better system for how to manage, preserve, process, and share research data, it makes it easier for researchers to collaborate as well as to do research. With better systems and better structures, you get to spend less time on managing research data and more time on actual research. I also believe that a well-functioning system leads to less worry, speculation, and frustration. Many researchers worry about how to take care of their research data, especially if they have sensitive data. Data disclosure is another difficult field. Here we can see that there are actually some collaborations that aren’t possible today, because we don’t have the system that we want to end up with.

At the end of March, the three work areas will present their preliminary plans for activities and initiatives during 2022 to the steering committee. Out of the SEK 32 million that have been allocated to the project, resources will be used in parallel across the three areas. The reference point for the priorities will be, for instance, the SUHF roadmap and their action plan.

Important to coordinate across HEIs

Katrine Riklund emphasises how important she thinks it is that Swedish HEIs try to coordinate and collaborate in matters of research data management.

—The fact that Sweden isn’t particularly large and that there’s not so many of us should be a good starting-point for making this journey with certain national collaborations. One way is to actually try to follow the SUHF roadmap, where the national working group for data management has also come up with a suggested action plan. I think that if we in the various HEIs strive toward the same goal, and with the same action plan, it might make it easier to work together.

The final year for the project at Umeå University is 2025, and by then the steering committee hopes to have implemented some of the new activities that will be completed during the project and turned them into work processes.

—This is an elephant that we need to eat one bite at a time. We’re dealing with the whole now and will then divide it into pieces that can be solved at different paces. But of course, it’s a challenge to take on such a large and overreaching project, concludes Katrine Riklund.