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Research Data Management

Introducing Research Data Management

Research data management (RDM) is defined as the active and ongoing management of data “from its entry to the research cycle through to the dissemination and archiving of valuable results” (Whyte & Tedds, 2011)​. RDM is an overarching term encompassing​ the organisation​ of the data, their storage​, their documentation​, the curation of active research data and the long term preservation of no-longer-active research data. 

Data are a valuable resource that often require a great deal of time, effort and money to create. Like journal articles, research data are a scholarly output, however data are much more fragile and vulnerable to being lost.

There are a huge number of very good reasons why research data should be managed: 

  • Research Quality: Good management helps to prevent errors and increases the quality of your analyses by outlining the steps and quality control measures put in place.
  • Data Security: Good research data management helps you to establish appropriate data storage, back-up and management protocols, reducing the risk of data loss through accidents and neglect
  • Research Integrity and Validation of Results: Accurate and complete research data are an essential part of the evidence necessary for evaluating and validating research results and for reconstructing the events and processes used to generate them.
  • Research Impact: Research data, if correctly formatted, described and attributed (such as persistent identifiers), will have significant higher visibility and ongoing value, and can continue to have impact long after the completion of a research project.
  • Scientific Inquiry: Good research data management reinforces open scientific inquiry and can lead to new and unanticipated discoveries. Sharing well-managed research data and enabling others to use it will also help to prevent duplication of effort.
  • Funder Requirements: An increasing number of funding bodies (e.g. Health Research Board, Irish Research Council) request or require that their funding recipients create and follow plans for managing data, storing or preserving it in the long term, and sharing some, or all data products with the public. A comprehensive data management plan will help ensure that all of your funder requirements are met. 

Research Data Lifecycle

Where do you start with Research Data Management? It can be helpful to think of research data management in terms of a research data lifecycle and the data-related activities that take place at stages during this lifecycle. The diagram below from the University of Reading illustrates the research data lifecycle in seven stages.

Plan: Identify the data that will be collected or used to answer your research question. This is the stage at which the data management plan is created. Many funders ask for a data management plan to be submitted as part of a research application or within the first six months of starting a new project. 

Collect: Data are collected, via experiments, observations, surveys, secondary materials etc. depending on your methodology. You should be actively documenting your data collection, including information on instruments and methods - anything that's necessary to interpret and use the data.

Process: Once data have been collected they are processed in order to be usable. This might involve cleaning data to eliminate noise, combining data from multiple sources, transforming data from one state to another (e.g. by format conversion), and using procedures to validate or quality-control data. Any data processing will need to be documented, such that the end result can be replicated from the raw data.

Analyse: The raw materials of research are interrogated to produce the insights that constitute the research findings, which will be written up and published in research outputs. Instruments and methods used for analysis should be documented; code written for purposes of data analysis and visualisation may need to be preserved and made available in support of research results.

Preserve: Towards the completion of your research you will select the data that is needed to substantiate your research findings, or those with long-term value, and you will preserve these data for the long term. For data to remain accessible and safe in the long term, it must be prepared for preservation and deposited in a suitable location such as a data repository. Preservation activities may involve quality assurance of data, file format conversion, creation of metadata records with assignment of Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs) to datasets, licensing datasets for re-use, and putting in place any required access controls. If the data is confidential or non-digital, it may be held locally, in which case they should be managed by an accountable person or group, who can ensure they are stored and preserved properly.

Share: Publications based on data should include a data citation or a statement indicating where and on what terms the data can be accessed. A data repository will enable discovery of the data in its care by exposing the metadata online, and will provide access to the data when this is permitted. Data may be made publicly available, or restrictions on access may be imposed where data are of a sensitive or confidential nature. Data held locally or in non-public locations should be managed in such a way that others can discover and apply for access to the data.

Re-use: Data that are available for discovery and access may be re-used by other researchers, either to substantiate the findings of the original research, or to generate new insights through further interrogation and analysis. At this stage the data may become raw materials collected within a new cycle of research. Research data may also have other valuable uses, e.g. in policy-making, development of commercial products and services, and teaching.

(Content adapted from The research data lifecycle by the University of Reading) 

RDM Policy at RCSI

At RCSI, our Research Data Management Policy provides a framework for the management of research data to ensure that research data is stored, retained, made available for use and reuse, and disposed of according to best international practices for data management, as well as in compliance with legal, statutory, ethical, contractual and intellectual property obligations, and the requirements of funding bodies and publishers.

  • The RDM policy applies to all College members engaged in research, irrespective of funding status or career stage.
  • Researchers have the primary responsibility for ensuring research data will be managed in line with funder requirements as well as College policy and other relevant regulations and legislation.
  • Research data must be as compatible as possible with the FAIR data principles, and as open as possible and restricted as necessary.
  • Research data must be preserved for its life-cycle with the appropriate high-quality metadata.
  • A Data Management Plan must be prepared at the start of the project and updated annually.
  • Research data that underpins published results or is considered to have long-term value should be retained (subject to consent) and the default period for research data retention is 10 years from date of last requested access.

 See the current RCSI Research Data Management Policy in full.

What's new in RDM

The European Health Data Space

The European Commission is currently proposing to establish the European Health Data Space. But what will the proposed EHDS mean for health researchers? 

The EHDS creates a strong legal framework for the use of health data for research, innovation, public health, policy-making and regulatory purposes. Under strict conditions, researchers, innovators, public institutions or industry will have access to large amounts of high-quality health data, crucial to develop life-saving treatments, vaccines or medical devices and ensuring better access to healthcare and more resilient health systems.

The access to such data by researchers, companies or institutions will require a permit from a health data access body, to be set up in all Member States. Access will only be granted if the requested data is used for specific purposes, in closed, secure environments and without revealing the identity of the individual. It is also strictly prohibited to use the data for decisions, which are detrimental to citizens such as designing harmful products or services or increasing an insurance premium.

The health data access bodies will be connected to the new decentralised EU-infrastructure for secondary use (HealthData@EU) which will be set up to support cross-border projects.

The EHDS complements GDPR and other data directives. More on the EHDS

National Open Research Forum

The National Open Research Forum (NORF) was established in 2017 to drive the Irish agenda for Open Research. NORF is co-chaired by the Higher Education Board (HEA) and the Health Research Board (HRB), with secretariat from the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation (DBEI) and support from the Department of Education and Skills (DES). It combines the expertise of representatives from policy, research funding, research performing, library sector and other key stakeholders in the research system across Ireland. Individual Working Groups address key areas of open access publications, FAIR research data, and research infrastructure. As of 2022, the Digital Repository of Ireland is the coordinating organisation for NORF.

There are two main strands of NORF’s role:

  • To develop and propose national actions to address the challenges of changing the Irish research system to strengthen, promote or better support open research practices as outlined in the National Framework on the Transition to an Open Research Environment (2019) and the National Action Plan for Open Research 2022-2030. Periodic reviews of the National Action Plan will be conducted to review progress made and release updates with further actions.
  • To oversee and guide implementation of the National Action Plan for Open Research within the context of Impact 2030: Ireland’s Research and Innovation Strategy. NORF’s Open Research Fund, provided by the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science (DFHERIS) through the HEA, supports the delivery of priority actions in the National Action Plan. This fund is managed by the Digital Repository of Ireland (DRI) and is distributed through an onward allocation process overseen by NORF. 

In 2022, NORF awarded funding to six collaborative projects across six priority actions in Ireland’s National Action Plan for Open Research 2022-2030, and in 2023 NORF funded a further 13 consortia-based projects.

The National Framework on the Transition to an Open Research Environment was published in 2019 as the first step in a process to create a National Action Plan for the transition to an open research environment in Ireland, and aligned with European Commission policy in this area.

The National Framework has five thematic areas: 

  • 1) Open access to research publications
  • 2) Enabling FAIR research data
  • 3) Infrastructures for access to and preservation of research
  • 4) Skills and competencies
  • 5) Incentives and rewards






The National Action Plan for Open Research was published in 2022 and outlines objectives and actions, and serves as a roadmap for the implementation of open research across Ireland, outlining national goals and coordinated actions that will assist the national research system as a whole to better support open research practices. The plan covers the period 2022-2030, aligned with Impact 2030: Ireland’s Research and Innovation Strategy.