What is a data management plan?
A data management plan, or DMP (sometimes also called a data sharing plan), is a formal document that outlines what you will do with your data during and after a research project. Most researchers collect data with some form of plan in mind, but it's often inadequately documented and incomplete. Many data management issues can be handled easily or avoided entirely by planning ahead. With the right process and framework it doesn't take too long and can pay off enormously in the long run.
Many funding agencies, especially government funding sources, require a DMP as part of their application processes. Even if you are not seeking funding for your research, documenting a plan for your data is a best practice and will help your data comply with Harvard's policies for responsible data management. If your DMP provides for your data to be openly shared, the data necessary for external replication of your research findings will be available to the research community for the long term.
Information contained in a data management plan describes your plan for addressing many aspects of working with data. A DMP need not be lengthy, but it will typically address many relevant aspects of your data, including but not limited to:
- Types of data: What is the source of your data? In what formats are your data? Will your data be fixed or will it change over time? How much data will your project produce?
- Contextual details (metadata): How will you document and describe your data?
- Storage, backup and security: How and where will you store and secure your data?
Provisions for protection/privacy: What privacy and confidentiality issues must you address?
- Resources: Data Security
- Policies for re-use: How may other researchers use your data?
- Access and sharing: How will you provide access to your data by other researchers? How will others discover your data?
- Archiving and providing access: What are your plans for preserving the data and providing long-term access?
A DMP is a living document: Research is all about discovery, and the process of doing research sometimes requires you to shift gears and revise your intended path. Your DMP is a living document that you may need to alter as the course of your research changes. Remember that any time your research plans change, you should review your DMP to make sure that it still meets your needs.
The Dataverse Project, led and developed by Harvard IQSS, has published a Harvard Dataverse sample data management plan (DMP) along with background information that references policies more specific to Harvard.
- Harvard Dataverse Sample Data Management Plan
- Public Data Management Plans from the DMPTool
- NIH Examples of Data Sharing Plans
- ICPSR Sample Plan
- Odum Institute Samples
Harvard currently uses the DMPTool, a software tool in development. The DMPTool is web-based and provides basic templates that can help you construct data management plans. Elements of your DMP could be used over and over in your protocols and in the Institutional Review Board (IRB) and methodology descriptions.