What is a data management plan good for?


A data management plan (DMP) is a term that we hear quite often nowadays. It is not uncommon outside Sweden that researchers have to submit a DMP to be able to apply for research funds. This will probably be the case in Sweden as well in the future, and it is therefore of importance that researchers in Sweden are informed what a DMP is and how they can use it for their own benefit.

A DMP is pretty much what it sounds like – it’s a document describing how you plan to manage your data during and after a research project. The document describes things like how the data will be stored, if and how you are going to make the data freely available, and what kind of data you are working with. But a DMP is more than just a document for administration. Foremost it’s a document for the researcher to simplify the process of research. If you use it, many tasks relating to your research will gain from it.

The most important aspect of the DMP is that it significantly simplify for the researcher to return to a research project at a later point in time. A well structured and documented DMP makes it possible for you to get an overview over what data you have used before, what role they have in the research, and why you have made certain decisions.

What does a data management plan contain?

There are several guides to what a DMP should contain. Digital Curation Centre has a checklist, for example, that lists questions regarding administrative aspects, data collection, metadata and documentation, and more. By going through the checklist and answer the questions you will take a stance on several important issues regarding your research.

A living document

A DMP is not supposed to be just an administrative task when applying for research funds. You should update the document regularly when you make new decisions in your research. If you for example make changes in your data, removing or adding a column, or changing a definition, you should write this down in your DMP. This way you can always go back and check the exact process of your work.

Why should you write a data management plan?

There are several reasons why to write a DMP, except the obvious one that it might be needed to require funding. A DMP is a good way to structure the research process and ahead of time reflect on several important decisions about the research. If you work in a research team a DMP can be a way to help distribute fields of responsibility between the team members. The DMP also makes the task to describe and make a plan for your research data, both for making them freely available and to make sure you yourself can re-sue them at a later time. If someone questions your research, you have a document where every decision is recorded. This makes it very easy to defend your choices during the research, even several years after the project has ended. Lastly, you may want to return to a research project a couple of years later. A DMP makes it easy to read up on everything that you did, and makes sure that you don’t forget anything important concerning the project or its data.

Kristoffer Karlsson