Create, organise, keep and find: Data management practices of health and medical researchers

Dr Michelle Krahe1, Ms Julie Toohey2, Mr Malcolm Wolski3, Professor Paul Scuffham4, Professor Sheena Reilly1

1Health Group, Griffith University, Gold Coast, Australia,
2Library and Learning Services, Griffith University, Gold Coast, Australia,
3eResearch Services, Griffith University, Nathan, Australia,
4Menzies Health Institute Queensland, Griffith University, Gold Coast, Australia,
5Health Group, Griffith University, Gold Coast, Australia,



Research data is a highly valuable resource, requiring much time and money to be produced and often having a significant value beyond its original use. Therefore, caring for research data is essential to its integrity. Research data management (RDM) is part of every research process and concerns the organisation of data, from its entry to the research cycle through to the dissemination and archiving of valuable results. This includes: how you create data and plan for its use, organise its structure and maintain integrity, keep it stored securely and well preserved, and ensure others can find, access, integrate and reuse the data.

RDM best practice is of particular interest to higher academic institutions involved in the development of training programs that support researchers [1, 2]. Therefore, understanding researcher practices will help articulate planning strategies for Institutional services and support, and outline essential areas for future investment in data management. The evidence to date identifies the complexities in developing RDM programs. This project sought to understand the current RDM practices of health and medical researchers from an academic institution in Australia. The results of this evaluation will assist in designing interventions for future RDM skills training and development, process and policy and support services.


This project employed a cross-sectional, observational study design and sampling technique. Participants were drawn from a research institute at Griffith University, Australia and invited by a number of internal broadcast emails to complete an anonymous online survey.

A 37-item survey was constructed based upon an iterative process between the study investigators, in consultation with research leaders, and a review of the published literature. Survey questions included five key categories: (i) researcher characteristics; (ii) RDM practices; (iii) data storage and retention; (iv) data sharing practices; and (v) RDM training and development. Participation in the study was voluntary and approved by the Human Research Ethics Committee (GU/HREC#2017/457) of Griffith University.


A convenience sample of 81 members of a research institute (68 academic staff; 13 post-graduate students). Our evaluation indicated that RDM practices varied greatly, which is likely to be influenced by the researcher’s level of experience or the RDM practices carried out within their teams or by their supervisors. A selection of results are described below.

Create: Only 30% of researchers used data management plans (DMP). The top reason for having a DMP was: ‘it is good research practice’, and the top reason for not having a DMP was: ‘I’m unsure of what a DMP is’.

Organise: Data was typically sourced from surveys, interviews and experimental studies and the majority of respondents indicated that either the university, their research team or they themselves owned the data. Most researchers (86%) were responsible for the day-to-day management of the data, while others (42%) indicated that they had a designated person, such as a research manager of research assistant. Planning for the reuse of data was explored through patient consent and data format collected in clinical research (Figure 1).

Figure 1. The level of consent and data format collected by health and medical researchers. *according to the NHMRC National Statement of Ethical Conduct in Human Research

Keep: The storage of research data at three key time points is illustrated in Figure 2 and indicates that personal devices; in particular removable media such as USB and hard drives, are the most popular storage solution for research data.

Figure 2. The data storage practices of health and medical researchers at three time points (T1: Create – during data collection; T2: Organise – during data analysis and write-up; T3: Keep – long-term storage and archiving), categorised by storage facilities (personal, institutional, external).

Find and Share: The majority of respondents (65%) had never used data from existing datasets, databases and/or repositories, only 35% had ever shared their data outside the research project and only 16% had made their data publically available. The barriers and facilitators of data sharing practices is explored in more detail using a theoretical framework for behavior.


Evaluating the data management practices of health and medical researchers, contextualised by tasks associated with the research data lifecycle, is effective in informing RDM services and support. This study recognises that targeted institutional strategies will strengthen researcher capacity, instill good research practice, and overall improve health informatics and research data quality. Acknowledging this gap in practice is especially important given that national investment primarily focuses on down-stream activities, such as building sophisticated data storage and access facilities, e-research tools, and high-performance supercomputing.


  • Surkis, A., et al., Data day to day: Building a community of expertise to address data skills gaps in an academic medical center. J Med Libr Assoc, 2017. 105(2): p. 185-191.
  • Whitmire, A.L., M. Boock, and S.C. Sutton, Variability in academic research data management practices: implications for data services development from a faculty survey. Program, 2015. 49(4): p. 382-407.


Dr Michelle Krahe is a research professional with a passion for strategy, development and innovation in health. She is a Senior Research Fellow within the Health Executive at Griffith University and a Visiting Research Fellow with Gold Coast University Hospital. Michelle is responsible for the development and management of research initiatives for the Pro Vice Chancellor (Health) and has over 12 years’ experience in clinical research, working in academia, health services and research institutes.

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