This spring, 107 librarians, administrators, and staff from the 29 universities participating in Ithaka S+R’s Building Campus Strategies for Coordinated Data Support project began to identify barriers to streamlining their research data support services. The project’s first two meetings brought together representatives from university units involved in supporting academic researchers: librarians, senior administrators, research officers, and research computing staff. Working primarily in small groups roughly divided by professional capacity, participants described the ways that different university units—and different institutional types—conceptualize and identify challenges associated with coordinating research data support services across campus.

Each group offered distinctive perspectives on which of these challenges were most significant. For example, computing personnel were particularly attuned to the costs associated with data storage. Librarians highlighted disparities in workplace norms between units as potential obstacles to cross-campus coordination, especially when scaling up labor-intensive but high-impact service offerings like individualized consulting. Senior administrators, on the other hand, expressed more concern about the financial sustainability of services that require coordination across multiple units. Institutional affiliation and size also had some impact on participants’ perception of these challenges.

Despite the slight variation of priorities, participants shared a broad consensus that there were several questions they need to answer in order to successfully offer more effective support to their researchers:

  • What services are currently offered? Few campuses have a comprehensive picture of what services are being offered across campus and by whom. Gaining clarity about existing data support services is essential to making strategic decisions about funding and staffing models, guiding researchers to appropriate resources, and identifying gaps in offerings.
  • As offerings become more centralized, what funding models will support them? How will staffing, technology, and overhead costs be sustainably distributed across units? Where will they exist within the university org chart? How can institutions make staffing decisions that will ensure they have the expertise to meet current and future support needs?
  • What are users’ experiences accessing existing data support services? How well aligned are these services with researchers’ needs?
  • How can institutions create a clear workflow for liaising between different researchers, different campus units, and different funding agencies? How are multidisciplinary and multi-institutional research projects best managed?
  • When developing research data services that effectively serve diverse needs across campus, what lessons can universities draw from other institutions? Is it possible to avoid making obvious mistakes?

Over the next few years, our partnering institutions will develop institutional-level answers to these key questions by mapping existing data service offerings and engaging with faculty and students who use them. Ithaka S+R will periodically report findings from the project to the academic community, including an update to our 2020 research data service inventory late this year.