“The Big Ask”: Securing Recurring Campus Funding for a Research Data Service at the University of Illinois

Research data management (RDM) has quickly grown in interest in higher education, with significant investment in services, resources, and infrastructure to support researchers’ data management needs. While libraries are natural stakeholders in RDM, the development—and financial support for—research data support services requires significant social interoperability, the creation and maintenance of working relationships across individuals and organizational units that promote collaboration, communication, and mutual understanding.

A recent OCLC Research Library Partnership (RLP) Works in Progress webinar presentation entitled Developing and sustaining RDM services at Arizona and Illinois through partnership with the Office of Research provides two rich case studies for how libraries are optimizing social interoperability to support local RDM services. I urge you to watch the entire webinar—it’s time I promise you won’t want back.

In this blog post I’m focusing on how the University of Illinois Library secured funding from the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research (VCR) to provide ongoing support for a campus Research Data Service. OCLC Research has previously highlighted the efforts at Illinois in our Realities of Research Data Management report series.

Securing buy-in. . . can take (a lot of) time

There were many efforts at Illinois that laid the groundwork for the establishment of the Research Data Service. As far back as 2010, the campus wide Stewarding Excellence strategic planning effort noted that while several “stand-alone” activities on campus were supporting data management, there had been “very little campus-level planning for a coordinated data stewardship program,” which would require the addition of capacity, infrastructure, and policies. The subcommittee examining this service had been charged with exploring opportunities for campus-wide coordination, outsourcing, and external funding—in order to achieve savings in an insecure state funding environment.

However, it reported that cost savings were unlikely, instead articulating that

“. . . there is high risk associated with the status quo. Significant concerns include data quality and loss, liability related to funding agency requirements for data sharing and publication, and risk to future grants that require detailed data management plans and compliance.”[1]

As a result, two working groups were formed, including a Data Stewardship Committee, which was comprised of senior level stakeholders from the University Library, Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research (OVCR), Campus IT, National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), the Graduate College, and the iSchool.

In 2011-2012, this committee organized the Illinois Research Data Initiative, which included a number of events featuring prominent speakers and panels to raise awareness on campus of issues related to RDM practices, explore disciplinary-specific challenges, and to identify infrastructure and service needs.

As this outreach and needs assessment activity was taking place, there were also other external happenings that added urgency to the effort. Beginning in January 2011, the National Science Foundation (NSF) began requiring supplemental data DMPs in NSF grant proposals. These DMPs were expected to describe how investigators would responsibly manage and share the results and data from NSF-supported research. In February 2013, the Obama administration’s White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released a public access memo directing federal agencies supporting research to develop a plan to support increasing public access to publicly supported research—including research data.

Timing—use it to your advantage when you can

When a new Vice Chancellor for Research began work in 2012, the committee members of the Illinois Research Data Initiative were ready with a proposal on his desk shortly after he arrived. The proposal was to launch a campus Research Data Service that leveraged existing research infrastructures and added new services that would include:

  • data curation and technical professionals with oversight by a director
  • data storage services
  • a research data repository
  • consultation services
  • close collaboration with central service units
  • interaction with governance groups

Offering concrete solutions to institution-wide problems

The proposal wasn’t cheap, with a total  asking cost of $800,000 per annum, in order to cover eight staff members, necessary memberships in DataCite and ORCID, and additional storage, software, and licensing costs. As you can see from the image here, they didn’t receive everything requested, but the Vice Chancellor of Research committed to recurring support in the amount of $400,000 annually to launch and sustain a Research Data Service to be housed in the University Library. Reductions were largely tied to medium scale storage, which was handled with one-time start-up funds instead of being part of the reoccurring allocation.

Stewarding relationships and building trust

In the time since, the Illinois Research Data Services has made it a priority to continue to steward the strong relationships and trust established during the initial efforts with the Office of Research, campus IT, and other RDM stakeholders. The library provides quarterly updates, advice and recommendations related to opportunities of interest or service challenges to the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research. In return, the OVCR looks to the library not only for the RDM services it provides, but also for valued expertise on campus committees, support for RFIs, and more. The relationship is reciprocal, trusted, and respectful.

An exemplar of social interoperability

The recent OCLC Research report Social Interoperability in Research Support: Cross-Campus Partnerships and the University Research Enterprise documents strategies and tactics that libraries need to leverage in order to develop relationships, secure buy-in and financial commitments, and sustain resource support services in the highly heterogeneous higher education landscape. This case study from the University of Illinois exemplifies many of the strategies and tactics discussed in that report, from securing buy-in, investing time and energy in relationships, offering concrete solutions to institutional problems, and being tactical about timing—patiently waiting for the right moment and being prepared when it comes. I encourage you to read the report after finishing this blog—and put a note in the comments below if you have your own social interoperability story to share!


[1] Report and Recommendations, Stewarding Excellence @ Illinois IT Project team, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2010, https://web.archive.org/web/20151228161659/http:/oc.illinois.edu/budget/it_project_team_report.pdf, 41-42. The section on research data is a worthy read, and it could be a resource to buttress your own institutional ask.

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