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Rethinking how we work

Dušan Barok on RDM and figshare, interview

4 July 2017

Dušan Barok is a PhD candidate at the Department of Media Studies and one of the ‘early adopters’ of the figshare software for research data management (RDM) at the UvA/AUAS. In September 2017, figshare will be available to all researchers at UvA and AUAS. Barok holds master degrees in information technology from the University of Economics in Bratislava and in media design and communication from the Piet Zwart Instituut in Rotterdam. His project titled Database for Documentation of Contemporary Art is part of the research programme New Approaches in the Conservation of Contemporary Art (NACCA). What are his expericiences so far with RDM and figshare?

How did you become involved as an early adopter for figshare?

My PhD is part of a larger collaborative research and training programme funded through EU's Horizon 2020 programme. The network consists of eight European universities and two museums as core partners, plus dozens of other institutions. The universities admitted 15 PhD candidates altogether, three of us are at UvA. One of the conditions for our researchers is to keep their research data available for inspection if necessary. It is part of my PhD to implement and maintain a research data platform where this data would be stored. In early 2016 I did a user study to determine requirements for its structure and functionality and a benchmark study from which figshare, in its free version, came out as the best option for our group*. Other candidates included Dataverse and Drupal. Soon afterwards I learnt our University Library was considering acquiring figshare as the research data platform for the whole university. Mariëtte van Selm from the Library’s RDM support staff invited us to become one of the early adopters. Our data were transferred to UvA’s new institutional version of figshare this May.

Could you describe your research briefly in layman’s terms?

In my PhD research I examine the practices of documenting contemporary art from the perspective of conservation.

Museums acquire increasingly more ephemeral works such as multimedia installations, performances and software-based works. Rather than painting and sculpture, some of these works may only be experienced as unfolding over time, they might be originally created for a particular site and some of their components may be more important while other may be replaced or even discarded.

Conservators rely on artists and are expected to understand their intentions more than ever. It is crucial to ask them the right questions while they are around and document artworks accordingly so they can be installed in the future. In this way, documentation is becoming a central activity in the care of collection and one of the aims of my research is to develop a conceptual framework for documenting complex artworks using databases.

What kind(s) of research data are involved in your research?

So far I have done a user study based on questionnaires, benchmark study, a number of interviews, and plan to do more. Obviously, over the past year I have also amassed research notes, photographs, email correspondence and other materials.

What expectations do you have of figshare?

I expect figshare to stay committed to promoting open science, develop better infrastructure for collaborative work and, in a longer run, hopefully to allow for more distributed development of its platform (i.e. by open sourcing its code).

What do you see as the biggest challenge in managing research data?

Data come in highly diverse formats and there may be compatibility issues, which is why I prefer to store everything in open formats. 

Could you name some early findings on figshare?

Figshare has managed to offer a mix of values that makes it an ideal RDM solution across academia: strong support for open science and sharing knowledge, a complex technical infrastructure (including support for a wide spectrum of formats, notably ipynb), a user-friendly interface and web-savvy implementation. On the other hand, it requires substantial improvements in taxonomy, advanced search and support for intra- and inter-institutional collaborations.

Do you have any personal observations on the RDM programme?

My new experience with RDM has made me realise the importance and value of research data beyond the scope of one’s work. I have considered research data as something to be shared alongside books and articles before but it was as if I lacked appropriate means to do so. Figshare assigns each published item a unique digital object identifier so it is not merely packaged together with a relevant paper but stands on its own. Considering research data as a relevant candidate for academic self-publishing may be inspiring for rethinking how we work.

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Published by  RDM support