A difficult question in the research data management landscape is how to account for costs. This is often required in data management plans and should be kept in mind when applying for funding. There are two main approaches to costing:
- Calculating the cost of ALL data-related activities, including generation, curation, sharing, access, and preservation
- Costing only the activities needed to preserve data and make it shareable. Note that this approach would exclude anything related to the research itself (e.g. generating data).
The first approach would return a larger figure and document the full costs from data creation to sharing, while the latter would only consider the activities required to manage, document, organise, store, and share data. The last approach is perhaps a more precise measure of research data management costs, but disentangling research data management activities from research is a complex exercise.
It is also worth noting that, even within these approaches, there are different methodologies in use: in particular, we highlight bottom-up costing and top-down costing (also known as Activity Based Costing (ABC) and Traditional costing, respectively). The bottom-up approach adopts an activity-based costings framework, which breaks the broad services into detailed activities (for example ingest, access, acquisition, disposal ) and identifies the various labour and capital costs associated with each of them. The top-down approach identifies broad research data management services (for example data management planning, data cataloguing and registry services) and the various labour and capital costs associated with them. In both cases, assumptions about data volumes are used to scale up and derive a total cost at the institutional level.
While more accurate costings result from the bottom-up method, it is more resource-intensive and demanding with regard to data collection and monitoring requirements. The cost data for the top-down approach can often be drawn from existing cost data collected by institutions. Jisc is currently piloting a Financial X-Ray for Research service (a variation of the successful Financial X-Ray service already on offer), which will help institutions identify, measure and optimise the costs of research data management.
The RCUK Common Principles state that “it is appropriate to use public funds to support the management and sharing of publicly-funded research data”. You should check with your funder(s) whether these are going to be met as part of the research grant.
Getting help to cost your data management activities
To cost research data management you can list all relevant activities and estimate the time and resources each activity needs. The UKDS released a costing tool with a checklist of activities and clear recommendations on expected costs. When costing research data management you should check what your organisation already offers. For example, some research performing organisations have systems in place to store and backup data, which can decrease the cost of research data management, even significantly.
Costing research data management in research performing organisations
Costing is a pressing matter at a higher level, too. Higher education institutions and online repositories deal with data curation and preservation on behalf of researchers and data users. These costs are difficult to analyse because cost models often do not apply to different organisations. To bridge this gap, the Curations Costs Exchange platform was set up to understand and compare the costs of curation and preservation.
Finally, keep in mind that not all organisations are funding digital preservation at the moment. If your organisation wishes to commence such activities, the Digital Preservation Coalition prepared a business case toolkit . In addition, CESSDA released a cost-benefit advocacy toolkit , which outlines how different factors can affect the costs of curation and digital preservation activities.