Administrators and the Responsible Conduct of Research
Data Management:
Opening Case

Whose Data Is It?

Prof. Faith Promise has taken a faculty position at another institution. Upon learning of her final decision to leave, her Department Chair, Duncan Pheef, asks her whether she will be taking the original data generated under her Department of Defense contract or whether she will be taking a copy. Promise is confused and says, "I'll be taking the original, of course. It's my data! DoD expects me to keep it so I can continue my work." Pheef explains that the university has the responsibility to retain the data generated under the contract. Promise can take a copy and leave the original, or she can take the original and leave a copy. If she takes the original data, then she has to promise that she will give the university access to the original data if it needs such access. Promise becomes increasingly irritated and says angrily, "Look Duncan, this is my contract and my data! I am not going to copy all of my data just so you can file it away or maybe even give it to someone else. I'm taking my data and if anyone needs it, they can call me and if I have time, I'll make them a copy!"

This case illustrates common assumptions and problems involved in the management of data resulting from the conduct of sponsored projects. Discussions over who owns and who has access to research data can be very contentious. As will be seen in this tutorial, research data is only one of three types of information that institutions must manage appropriately, responsibly, and in compliance with both their own and sponsors' policies.

How is data defined?

The word Data is defined in Webster's 11th Collegiate Dictionary as "factual information (as measurements or statistics) used as a basis for reasoning, discussion, or calculation." That definition confirms what is commonly thought about data when referring to research projects. That is, "data" means the all of the information collected and generated in the course of a research project.

When dealing with sponsored projects, however, we are concerned with more than just research data. We also need to consider financial data and administrative data since they are also the subject of retention requirements imposed by sponsors. Financial data includes budget information and the record of expenditures incurred in the performance of a project. The term administrative data pertains to other information related, for example, to project proposals, required approvals, and subawards. Administrative data also pertains to the reporting of such things as the inventory of equipment, the management of select agents, the documentation related to export controls, and the intellectual property records.

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