Is Democracy the Right System? Collaborative Approaches to Building an Engaged RDM Community


When developing new products, tools or services, one always need to think about the end users to ensure a wide-spread adoption. While this applies equally to services developed at higher education institutions, sometimes these services are driven by policies and not by the needs of end users. This policy-driven approach can prove challenging for building effective community engagement. The initial development of Research Data Management support services at the University of Cambridge was policy-driven and subsequently failed in the first instance to engage the community of researchers for whom these services were created.

In this practice paper, we describe the initial approach undertaken at Cambridge when developing RDM services, the results of this approach and lessons learnt. We then provide an overview of alternative, democratic strategies employed and their positive effects on community engagement. We summarise by performing a cost-benefit analysis of the two approaches. This paper might be a useful case study for any institutions aiming to develop central support services for researchers, with conclusions applicable to the wider sector, and extending beyond Research Data Management services.