ZBW MediaTalk

we were talking with Romain Féret

The University of Lille has set up a service supporting researchers (Link in French language; short service description in English language) with their research projects from the beginning. We talked to Romain Féret who is in charge of open access and research data management at the library of the University of Lille.

Your library has set up a special open science service dedicated to research projects. What are the service’s goals?

The first goal of our service is to increase the quality of our researchers’ grant proposals and to improve their projects’ feasibility. It is a way to increase their projects’ chances to be funded. The second goal is to improve the level of compliance of our researchers’ projects with their open science requirements and to help coordinators to make it in a more efficient and relevant way.

Why do you support research projects during their initial stage? What problems do you address in doing so?

We support researchers when they write their grant proposals. Both H2020 and the main French National funder (ANR) do not require that project coordinators describe precisely how they will manage their data during their project as soon as the pre-award submission stage. This often causes a lack of anticipation regarding open science. We want to help our researchers plan how they will meet their open science requirements and to take open science activities into account when planning their workload.

Lack of anticipation can among other things cause problems between partners. For example, we met a researcher involved in a European project in social sciences in which researchers were collecting survey data in different countries. The partners had different national and methodological backgrounds and also different approaches regarding the level of data sharing among partners. Some wanted all project data to be shared, while others were much more reluctant. If this is discussed during the writing of the grant proposal, we have more time to avoid misunderstandings and to formalize the rules, in the consortium agreement for example. This way we make sure that no researcher thinks his or her data is stolen by his or her partners. Once the project starts, time is running out, the pressure is stronger and it is much harder to find common ground.

Consulting firms bring their expertise in writing European grant proposals but also participate in projects as administrative coordinators. Often, this role includes executing tasks related to open science such as writing the Data Management Plan (DMP). One problem is that they are not experts in open science. They often adopt standard procedures without involving researchers or putting into practice what is written in the DMP.

I know the example of a researcher who was partner in a H2020 project. During an interview, I asked him if he had taken part in the writing of the DMP of the project. He did not know what a DMP was. Several weeks later, he discovered that a DMP had been written for this project but he did not understand what had been written about the data for which he himself was responsible. This example may seem extreme, but I am afraid that it is pretty common. Even coordinators are sometimes happy to fully delegate open science aspects of their project to an administrative partner. If we do not want these partners to be responsible for the open science aspects of projects, we need to help researchers as soon as they write their grant application.

What problems do project coordinators face during later stages of the project and how do you address those?

We support coordinators throughout the lifetime of their funded project, from the kick-off meeting to the final report. We want them to improve their level of compliance with their open science requirements. Most researchers are only partly aware of their funders’ obligations. Sometimes they are convinced that, due to the H2020 requirements, they have to publish in gold open access and they do not want to pay for it, so they prefer not to do any open access at all.

Also, coordinating a research project is a really complicated task and coordinators are not always well informed about what their partners do. For instance, the vast majority of coordinators I have met so far were not aware of all the articles which mention their project as a funding source. For reasons I will not develop here, some researchers acknowledge projects they are involved in, in all their publications. Since these publications have sometimes a very tiny link, or no link at all, with the project, they do not mention it to the coordinator. But, if a project officer finds out that such a publication acknowledges the project and is not in open access, it may be a problem for the coordinator.

I once met with an H2020 coordinator who was convinced that only two publications acknowledged the project, while I had found more than twenty publications which did so. Researchers do not know the tools to collect data about their projects’ outputs or they do not have the time to use them. So we help them to monitor the compliance with their open science requirements in a more systematic way.

Last but not least, even if the coordinators are aware that their partners do not comply with the open science requirements, the coordinators do not always feel the legitimacy to ask them to do so. They think that their partners have a good reason to do so or they fear not to be able to answer their partners’ questions such as: where should I upload my publication? Am I allowed to make it open? So, coordinators write to their partners with us in copy, and we answer this kind of questions.

What exactly does the service offer?

At the pre-award submission stage, we set up a meeting with the coordinators to discuss the project. Based on this discussion, we contribute to their proposals. We help the coordinators to develop a dissemination strategy for their research outputs. We also try to have an overview of which kind of data will be produced during the project and how they will be managed and possibly disseminated. Some researchers have an ambitious approach regarding data dissemination while others have a very restricted approach. We adapt to the researchers’ will while trying to design a strategy as open as possible. If necessary we discuss with the partners to ensure that they all agree on the projects’ data management principles. We may also contribute to the self-ethics assessment if sensitive data are handled during the project.

For ongoing projects, we support the management of their open science activities:

  • We take part in the kick-off meeting and/or other project meetings to inform partners on their open science obligations.
  • We answer the coordinators’ and partners’ questions.
  • We answer the project officers’ requests on open science requirements.

We also offer services to ensure compliance with the open science requirements:

  • We set up alerts in databases (Scopus, Web of Science) to spot publications which acknowledge the project in their funding.
  • We ensure that all the project publications are well reported on OpenAIRE and on the participant portal used for the project reporting.
  • We conduct an interview of about two hours with the coordinator to discuss the data management. Based on the information collected, we produce a basic DMP that the coordinator has to complete. We review the final version of the DMP before it is sent to the funder.
  • We also connect the coordinators to the services of our university (for instance IT services, data protection officer) or to external services (for example platform to store or disseminate data).

These services are only offered to projects in which the researchers of our university are coordinators. Projects in which they are only partners get a more limited support.

What are your experiences so far?

We have more experience with projects at the grant proposal writing stage than with ongoing projects since, as an average, only a fourth of projects submitted are funded. Researchers are often happily surprised when they discover in which way the library can help them with their project. They like to discuss open science questions as soon as they write their proposals, because it makes things clearer and they can play their coordinating role more easily.

We meet regularly with the coordinators of ongoing projects which is a great way to build a strong and lasting relationship. These researchers, who are often widely recognised in their field, are our best ambassadors. Our support helps them to improve greatly their level of compliance with their open access requirements. In addition, researchers understand better what is expected from them.

What are your plans to further develop this service? What is your vision?

We support only a small share of the projects coordinated in our university. We would like to help many more projects if not all. At the moment we are working on different levels of services we could offer to project coordinators. Basic services could be offered to every project while the more advanced ones would be offered only to projects that we supported while writing their proposals and which added us as a partner of their project, with associated resources.

The cost of data management activities is a crucial matter and it is really important that researchers learn to budget this kind of costs if we want to make research data management services sustainable. Many libraries are working on this issue as shown by events such as the RDM Forum 2019 on “Costing Data Management”, organized by the Digital Curation Centre which will be held in London, in September. For instance, we are very interested in the example of the University of Utrecht, in which coordinators can hire data managers to help them. I think this kind of approach can help coordinators implement good data management practices into their daily routines, beyond just writing a DMP, which is not an end in itself.

What advice would you give to other libraries?

Since the beginning of this project, we have learned a lot from project coordinators. I think it is important to ask them how they plan to manage their project, and the level at which they are willing to engage with the principles of open science. If they just want to do the minimum, let us help them to do it effectively. If it helps, then we have a chance to go a bit further next time. This is a step by step approach.

Some researchers are still reluctant to talk about how they manage their data. Talking to researchers about open access to their publications is a good way to start the discussion because they are often more aware of this topic, which is also less sensitive. And making sure that all partners in a multi-year project meet their open access requirements is itself no easy task. This may require the help of a librarian! Once this is done, it is easier to discuss data management topics.

Further information:

Our questions were answered by Romain Féret.

Romain Féret (Twitter: @RomainF, N° Orcid: 0000-0002-1527-1482) is a librarian in charge of open access and research data management at the university library of the University of Lille.

The ZBW – Leibniz Information Centre for Economics is the world’s largest research infrastructure for economic literature, online as well as offline.

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