In August of last year, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy issued a memo on “Ensuring Free, Immediate, and Equitable Access to Federally Funded Research.” The crux of the message was that openly sharing research data is the best way to maximize the potential of new knowledge and benefit the most people possible. And as the memo points out, COVID-19 offers a convincing case study on this being a practice that should be embraced with open arms.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH), part of the US Department of Health and Human Services, was ahead of the curve.
Released October 29, 2020, the NIH 2023 Policy for Data Management and Sharing (DMS) is an entirely new set of guidelines and requirements for managing and sharing research data generated by work funded wholly or partially by the NIH. Previously, under the 2003 policy, only grants seeking $500,000 or more in direct costs needed to describe how data would or could not be shared. The new policy, which only applies to new applications, went into effect on January 25, 2023.
It might go without saying, but the NIH’s DMS policy isn’t optional. A researcher’s failure to follow guidelines and meet the requirements could result in their grant receiving additional terms and conditions or being outright terminated. That’s not something an institution can take lightly, especially if it receives hundreds of millions of dollars in funding from the NIH—like the University of Rochester.
According to a report of sponsored program activities from the University’s Office of Research and Project Administration, Rochester received more than $188.7 million in funding from the NIH in the 2021 fiscal year. A figure of this magnitude is reason enough to take the NIH’s DMS policy seriously; however, the aforementioned White House memo on federally funded research is likely a harbinger of similar DMS policies to come from other federal agencies, such as the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Given that the federal government is the University’s primary source of sponsored program funding—a total in excess of $350 million—looming changes in data management and sharing policies stand to affect a significant amount of Rochester research.
A new service from the University of Rochester Libraries is ensuring that Rochester’s researchers understand and comply with federal DMS policies and don’t have to face them alone.
One-stop to manage, preserve, and share scientific data
The new Data Management and Sharing Service is a joint effort between the River Campus Libraries (RCL) and the Edward G. Miner Libraries at the University of Rochester Medical Center. Led by Ehsan Moghadam, the data librarian for Miner Libraries, and Heather Owen, the data librarian for the RCL, the service has given Rochester’s researchers a multifaceted resource to help them create a data management and sharing plan (DMSP) as part of their NIH grant proposal.
A DMSP is a document that outlines how a research team intends to manage, preserve, and share the scientific data associated with the proposed work. For these purposes, “scientific data” is any data that the scientific community considers to be of sufficient quality to validate and replicate research findings.
“Right now, we’re focused on NIH proposals, but we can help create plans for any funder,” says Owen on the service, which is still in its pilot stage. “We’re also here to help people manage their data in a way that ensures compliance with their plans and enables them to easily share their data at the end of the proposal process.”
Owen and Moghadam are currently focused on four kinds of support: online chat or email, DMSP review, consultations, and training. These services might involve advising on data management, organization, and documentation, choosing the right data repository, or assisting with University tools, including Figshare, LabArchives, and the DMPTool.
Experts that are only an email away
Daniel Castillo, head of scholarly communication and research initiatives for Miner Libraries, explains that researchers could do this independently, but using the library service puts them in a much better position to obtain the grants they’re competing for.
“Sometimes it’s helping to write a data management plan, and sometimes it’s answering a couple of questions,” says Castillo on the range of the service. “A lot of researchers just need a little extra guidance, and Ehsan and Heather have been doing a fantastic job. I’ve talked to many Medical Center faculty members on the side and gotten rave reviews.”
Count John Ashton, PhD, an associate professor and director of the Rochester Genomics Center, among the rave reviewers.
Ashton sought out Moghadam for help with how his team provides the University community with resources related to genomics data. He also needed Moghadam to review and refine the genomics DMSP template and help his team through confusing aspects of the proposal process. “I find our partnership extremely valuable,” he says, “and look forward to working more closely together to help increase transparency for researchers and provide additional useful resources for all.”
Christie Petrenko, a research associate professor in psychology and pediatrics, is another satisfied patron. Petrenko was submitting grant proposals to the NIH and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) to develop and test a person-centered planning intervention for young adults with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. The intervention aims to improve the quality of life and social support during the transition to adulthood.
The NIAAA already has existing mechanisms and requirements for archiving data and meeting DSMP requirements, so Petrenko only needed a second set of eyes. However, with the NIH grant, because the DMSP is a new requirement, Petrenko welcomed Owen’s expert insight.
“Many teams do not yet have the infrastructure or procedures to ensure requirements are met successfully,” Petrenko says. “Having a service to address questions and get one-on-one support to brainstorm solutions is really helpful. And having Heather read over my DMSP and provide edits gave me more confidence that I was on the right track.”
Helping researchers meet the new NIH requirements has put Owen and Moghadam face-to-face with dozens of exciting and promising research projects underway at Rochester.
“It’s one of my favorite things to do now,” says Moghadam on helping researchers with their NIH grants. “I read the data management plans and just think, ‘Wow.’ Seeing our researchers’ ideas and the connections they make is fascinating.” ∎
To learn more about the Data Management and Sharing Service, email firstname.lastname@example.org.