If you work in a team, we recommend you read this page carefully. Here, we highlight solutions and considerations specific to teamwork, which differ from non-collaborative projects. Broadly speaking, there are two possibilities when collaborating in a project:
- Your team is located within your organisation
- Your team includes external collaborators (e.g. researchers at other universities, commercial partners, etc.)
Approaches to data sharing in collaborative projects
The first option is simpler, as the organisation can provide a research data management infrastructure. On the other hand, for dispersed teams the project leader(s) will have to decide whether:
- The project should be supported by a single participating organisation’s data management infrastructure, or
- A custom shared data management infrastructure should be used.
The benefit of using an existing infrastructure, including methods and standards, is that you will be able to use existing documentation to describe the approach used. However, some project members might not be familiar with your choice or prefer a different one.
Custom shared spaces include popular services such as Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive or Box and advanced options such FTP servers, virtual research environments, content management systems (e.g. SharePoint), and more. Note that some institutions offer accounts with the above cloud service providers. If available, we recommend you use these rather than a “personal” account with the same providers, as institutional subscriptions would typically include more advanced functionality and more storage space.
Online repositories are viable as well, although they tend to be better for long-term storage. Alternatively, you can use Jisc’s Open Research Hub if your institution is a subscriber. When using custom solutions, remember to document your approach to research data management. While an organisation would most often have guidelines, a team spanning several ones or even different countries will need shared guidance that is easy to consult.
Platforms and tools to support collaborative projects include:
Security in collaborative projects
When choosing collaborative platforms, you should think carefully about data security. If security is a concern (e.g. if you collect personally identifiable information), we recommend using encrypted storage areas as opposed to cloud-based services like Dropbox and Google Drive. Should you need to set up encrypted storage areas, we recommend you get in touch with local IT specialists to see what is available in your organisation.
You should also remember that the system used for day-to-day file storage must be different from the one used for backups: the former can be online and in the cloud, while the latter should preferably use offline media.
In addition, international collaborators might be subject to different policy and regulatory requirements. Therefore, you should ensure that data security considerations take into account all the appropriate policy landscapes and that personally identifiable information is protected. Particularly, you should be careful when transferring data beyond national boundaries .
Do ensure that all team members are up to speed with file versioning, too. Cloud-based systems commonly include file versioning in their paid-for editions, but this can also be done manually by team members. There is no right or wrong approach here, as long as one approach is used consistently and is well documented. As an example, you could add a version number at the end of a filename, such as “InterviewTra07JD20180214v2”, meaning”Interview Transcript 7, written by John Doe, on 14/02/2018, version 2”.