Support for research data management is still a relatively new task for universities and academic libraries, and it continues to take its form. It is important that this new type of work is written out and formatted into services in a clear way, so that those who use and produce the service share a common understanding of it. While many issues are surely already covered in the existing support services offered by universities and academic libraries, there is still a need to rethink the services as a whole. Service design can be a great help in this situation. As an activity of planning processes and interactions of services in a holistic way, service design allows to create new services, or to develop already established ones. For this reason, we at the University of Eastern Finland Library turned to service design in our development project for research data management services (ongoing in 2021–2022).
Open science practices are becoming increasingly integrated into scholarly research. However, the tendency to open research outputs still focuses heavily on the publishing of open access articles. Opening research data is still a relatively new aspect of research practice and hence misconceptions arise about what counts as opening data or where data or code can be made open. Requests to open research data when publishing articles can cause a knee-jerk reaction of doubt or anxiety for the researchers. This can be mitigated by offering support and information for the researchers about alternatives and solutions throughout the research cycle.
As more and more areas of data management are covered, this also necessitates the collaboration of experts of different fields, such as contract law or personal data protection. A robust data support, with services provided by a multiprofessional team, requires well planned internal processes and efficient information flow.
Service design offers a useful process to not only streamline internal processes, but also to develop and describe the different service components of data support in order to make them clear for the end user, in our case, the researcher. Hence, service design was a natural choice to improve the existing data management services at UEF. Service design was delivered as a training package organised by the Centre for Continuous Learning at UEF. Participants were university staff members, who provide services for the UEF data support, including experts from the library, IT services, law, research funding, records management and personal data protection.
Right in the beginning of the training sessions, we recognized three main problems. First, the services and the know-how are scattered around the university, and the roles as well as the responsibilities are not clearly defined among the service providers. Second, awareness of the existing services is defective. Third, there is a lack of skills, time and other resources for managing research data according to the FAIR principles.
Service design offers a set of useful tools and concepts, such as the design driver. The design drivers help in narrowing down the main goals wished to achieve with the design process. We came up with the following central design drivers for the data management support services at UEF: the services need to be appropriately linked to relevant stages of the research process, they should be easy to find and widely known, and they should be delivered promptly and timely.
During the service design training sessions and workshops, we were able to express a shared understanding of why the customers, i.e., the researchers, need the data support services and in what situations. It gave us a better understanding of what we, as the producers of the data support services, mean by a multiprofessional data management support altogether. This was crucial for producing a clear and concrete description of the idea of the service. In the framework of service design, this is referred to as a design concept. Our service description states which experts provide the research data management services, for whom the services are available, and where they can be reached in a concise manner. This is a solid step upon which we can build the service further.
True to the nature of the service design process, we follow the idea that developing a service is a continuous activity. New research data management demands come up, and new expertise is needed. Fresh approaches and collaborations are crucial in keeping the services in pace with the changing research environment.
Read more about UEF’s data management services development project in the UEF Library blog: