Visual arts research data or what makes a cake?

With thanks to Robin Burgess, KAPTUR Project Officer for The Glasgow School of Art for this blog post.

At the KAPTUR Research Data Management workshop held at The Glasgow School of Art (GSA), in response to the question

“What information should be kept?”


the analogy of baking a cake was given i.e. the end product (research output/s) being the cake and the “research data” being the ingredients – but you wouldn’t necessarily want to keep the dirty mixing bowl as you have now got the finished cake?

The group discussion dwelt upon the value of research and the information being collected. It was felt that research data needs to be determined and managed by the individual researcher; that they should ultimately have the control over their information.

The group went on to discuss specific research types and issues were raised in relation to whether the information was being seen as primary or secondary data; how it would be selected for data curation; and finally the distinction between the data and the actual research output.

Defining visual arts research data

Another theme from the day was defining visual arts research data. Laura Molloy offered Leigh Garrett’s working definition for discussion in her presentation (see the bottom of this blog post: What is visual arts research data? revisited).

During the workshop research data was discussed using examples. This raised a lot of questions, debate and conflict in relation to the interpretation of research data including:

  • there was little consensus on a definition for research data as it would depend which discipline and department you were working for;
  • research data should be a ‘thing’ rather than a ‘thought’;
  • the process of research is essential and therefore should be recorded and documented as part of the research lifecycle as research data;
  • the effects of research and the evidence of research were seen as being important within the definition of research data;
  • the importance of expression and reflection were also discussed.

AHRC award VADS grant to develop researchers’ data skills

Visual Arts Data Skills for Researchers (VADS4R)

In partnership with University for the Creative Arts, The Glasgow School of Art and University College Falmouth, the Visual Arts Data Service has been awarded funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to promote good research data management practices within the visual arts. Research data is a valuable resource and, with appropriate curation and management, it has much to offer learning, teaching, research, knowledge transfer and consultancy across the higher education sector. However, in the arts, its complex and diverse nature presents numerous challenges to practitioners, researchers and research teams, and their institutions.

Building upon the work of the JISC funded KAPTUR partners (Goldsmiths, University of London; The Glasgow School of Art; University of the Arts London; University for the Creative Arts) VADS4R seeks to repurpose and extend our emerging knowledge to create a tailored programme of study to support the appropriate curation, management and preservation of research data. The 18 month programme will also consider aspects such as discoverability and the potential of reusing research data in the visual arts to increase value and impact. Learning outcomes focus on supporting and enabling researchers to understand the nature of research data; understand its value and potential for reuse; and embed the basic principles of appropriate curation, management and preservation of research data in the visual arts.

Leigh Garrett
Director, Visual Arts Data Service Research Centre
Principal Investigator, Visual Arts Data Skills for Researchers
Library and Student Services
University for the Creative Arts

JISC RDM Training Workshop, 26th October 2012

With thanks to Jacqueline Cooke, Librarian (Acting), Goldsmiths, University of London, for the following blog post. This workshop was held primarily for the new JISCMRD Research Data Management training projects (2012-13), however other JISCMRD projects were invited to attend, and Jacqueline Cooke kindly represented KAPTUR.

The themes of the day were:

  • Librarians’ role in RDM training
  • design of training sessions
  • advocacy
  • components of good research data management
  • options for publishing data

The first presentation was from the Digital Curation Centre’s (DCC) Research Data Management Skills Support Initiative – Assessment, Benchmarking and Classification (DaMSSI-ABC)  project (2012-13). This project has an overarching brief to support and improve coherence in the development, dissemination and reuse of research data management training materials developed by the JISC RDMTrain projects (2010-11). They will also make links with existing initiatives that promote information literacy for researchers, such as the Research Information and Digital Literacies Coalition (RIDLs) and Vitae, referring to the Vitae Information literacy lens (PDF) on the Vitae Researcher Development Framework.

On a practical level they will support classification and deposit of projects’ training materials into JORUM so they are more easily discoverable for reuse through a JORUM ‘lens’. They will also work strategically to:

  • make links with relevant professional bodies
  • develop criteria for ‘peer review’ of training courses
  • add RDM training to the career profile of librarians

Librarians’ role in RDM training

The strand supports the role of librarians in RDM training, as an extension of their information literacy portfolio and building on their professional ability to act as signposters. See also the Reskilling for Research (PDF) report by Mary Auckland for Research Libraries UK.

RDMRose is looking at taught and CPD learning for information professions. Initially they suggest that librarians have the potential to carry out RDM training but will need to extend their professional identity and build on their existing roles and skills. Many lack knowledge of research culture and need to understand this in order to be trusted.

At the University of East London (UEL) the RDM project builds on the Library’s established lead in RDM. They point out that the Library has a reputation for collaborative projects, they’re credible, they have proven expertise in collecting and cataloguing, compliance (copyright, managing the CLA licence), they value sharing, care about impact through citation and run the repository.

Design of training sessions

The SoDaMaT (Sound Data Management Training for electronic music) project, Queen Mary, University of London and UEL talked about the design of training sessions. There was general discussion as many attendees had previous experience. All were cautious about generic workshops, as researchers in different disciplines or departments will work in different contexts and environments and so advised considering who the training is aimed at.

Tips from the experienced ones:

  • keep it short (1 hour optimum)
  • include technical basics, formats, storage, use of folders as well as theory
  • attach it to other training that is seen as essential or valuable
  • don’t call it ‘digital preservation’
  • fit it into existing research skills programmes especially for post-graduate researchers
  • check consistency of advice with other training on RDM e.g. qualitative data training
  • provide online as well as face-to-face sessions and integrate them


Buy in from your institution’s senior management team is essential; they are now more likely to be receptive due to the current high profile of the Finch report, Open Access agendas and the impact on research funding. SoDaMaT suggest that researchers are engaged by evidence. They use dramatic stories of data loss, and point out the IPR consequences of ‘curation in the cloud’. The University of Leicester’s RDM web page is presented as a scenario:

“What would you do if you lost your research data tomorrow? RDM isn’t principally about complying with policy. It means helping you to complete your research, share the research and get credit for what you have done.”

Effective advocacy emphasises the value of RDM to researchers to make the business case for introducing training:

  • saves researchers’ time looking up previous work
  • helps you get funding
  • it is like ethics, doing it well will enable you to do your research better (UEL)
  • sends your research into the future, enables citation of data along with articles

Components of good RDM

Good practice in RDM has usually been boiled down to four steps, variously

SoDaMaT Preserve Document Organise Publish
Incremental Plan Store Explain Share
University of Leicester Create Organise Access Look after
IHR/JISC Start early Explain it Store it safely Share it

Further details from: SoDaMaT’s wiki ‘Online training materials’, University of Leicester’s RDM page, the JISC ‘Incremental’ project page, LSE/Cambridge/IHR/ULCC’s ‘Sending your research material into the future’ project.

Options for publishing data

The trainer needs to ask questions about the data and about working practices and agree a definition of data, because “researchers have many ways to approach RDM on their own terms” (UEL).

  • What data is available? (e.g. in science raw data/usable data/datasets/supporting material/all worked data)
  • Who decides what data to save and give access to? (Referee? RCUK? PI?)
  • Where can data be published? (national data archives/learned societies website/institutional repositories/journals). Not all of these will be available in all disciplines.

There was a discussion of data publication issues, covering:

  • Culture change, how much awareness is there of the issues of RDM?
  • Citation of data supporting published articles works well if publishers hold it, then the data package gets a doi (see Dryad project)
  • Publishers/learned societies say they will do what communities want, therefore there is an opportunity to influence development of other players
  • Publishers should not take IPR of data, advise use of a CC-BY licence if possible
  • EPSRC institutional ‘Roadmap to research data management’ includes training

Getting to grips with research terminology (MRes Creative Practices)

With thanks to Dr Robin Burgess, KAPTUR Project Officer, The Glasgow School of Art, for this blog post.

On the 4th and 5th of October I taught 10 MRes students a session titled ‘Getting to grips with research terminology’, this was to present methods and methodologies to prepare them for their Masters research projects.

The first day comprised of a lecture about different aspects of research, terminology that the students might be faced with and the decisions they might have to make when managing research data. The second day comprised of a workshop enabling the students to put into practice the information they had learnt the day before and apply this to actual research situations.

The aim was to provide an overview of aspects related to research terminology that students studying within an Arts context might encounter; quantitative, qualitative and mixed method terms were explored alongside approaches to data capture and analysis terms. I drew examples from the social sciences and mathematical sciences, discussing how these could be applied in the context of arts based research.

Three principle areas were covered:

  1. Philosophical worldviews: Investigating the concepts of postpositivism, constructivism, advocacy/participatory, and pragmatism
  2. Selected strategies of inquiry: Quantitative, qualitative and Mixed methods
  3. Research methods: The actual approaches that could be used for gathering and analysing information

A fundamental area considered was the criteria which might influence the research design being undertaken, such as understanding the research problem, the effects of personal experience, positionality, and the actual audience for the research. This proved to be very topical and raised many questions from the students.

As part of this area, the following quotes were discussed:

“I don’t have to concern myself with how I’m going to analyse my survey data until after I’ve collected my data. I’ll leave thinking about it until then, because it doesn’t impinge on how I collect my data”

“every research tool or procedure is inextricably embedded in commitments to particular versions of the world. To use a questionnaire, to use an attitude scale, to take the role of participant observer, to select a random sample, to measure rates of population growth, and so on, is to be involved in conceptions of the world which allow these instruments to be used for the purpose conceived”

Dissemination and presentation of information was commented on, highlighting the need for good communication of data and the importance of data management during research projects. This is where I discussed the work of KAPTUR and the need for data management policies.

The workshop session consisted of three tasks that were undertaken individually and in groups. Firstly I wanted the students to think about the research plans they had and apply the information they had learnt so far to this research proposal, thinking about the data they might collect, how it might be stored and analysed, determining the audience for the work and what worldview they might look at adopting. The students then reported back to the rest of the group and I gave suggestions and advice for further considerations. As a class we then looked at art work by two unknown artists (myself and a friend of mine) to determine the merits of the work and try and understand what could be deduced from the work. Looking at what analysis could be applied, such as the type of art – conventional and digital – and the colours used etc. This proved insightful as the students really began to delve into the art and explore the meaning of the pieces, looking below the surface. We then looked at works by established artists – Rothko and Magritte – and reviewed them in the same way. The final task was looking at two poems written by Wendy Cope. I wanted the students to critically review these, to determine the nature of the poems, look at the wording and language used, think about the audience and the message being conveyed. This task proved to be very enjoyable and highlighted much debate with regard to the audience for the pieces and who had potentially written them. Conflicting ideas were expressed and argued with sound evidence on both sides, illustrating how written text can be interpreted differently. It was great to really see the students engaging with the task.

All in all the two sessions (lecture and workshop) were successful and the students provided positive feedback.

KAPTUR Steering Group meeting, HEFCE, 18th July

View from HEFCE, 12th Floor,
Centre Point, London. Photo: MTG

Key points from the meeting:

  • It was noted that there was diversity among the four institutions in terms of drafting the RDM policies – we can still collaborate and learn from each other – but the approach is necessarily different at each institution.
  • University of the Arts London are really benefiting from their participation in the DCC University Engagement programme; the UAL Project Officer is working an extra day per week on this and as a result has been able to revisit and extend the KAPTUR Environmental Assessment through 20 x 5 minute telephone calls which will be followed up with 1 hour in-depth interviews with visual arts researchers.
  • There was discussion about a definition for visual arts research data and how this might be constraining, but was needed at the same time in order to be able to move forward with the RDM policies. A working definition was presented to the KAPTUR Steering Group 3 months ago in response to questions raised by the UAL working group:
  • Feedback on training/support and the KAPTUR toolkits: recommendation to create KAPTUR videos about visual arts research data instead of hosting workshops at each institution (we already had plans to re-use content from the previous JISCMRD programme e.g. I still think the face-to-face aspect of the workshops would be useful, but maybe there is a way to incorporate shorter sessions and use the videos as part of these? We will discuss at our next project team meeting in September.
  • The Steering Group liked the Figshare interface and thought it would be appealing to visual arts researchers as well as easy to use; there were lots of questions about both DataStage and Figshare.
  • Feedback on Sustainability: recommendation to get an idea of costs of the proposed technical infrastructure to include estimates of staff time required for ongoing support of the systems.

The presentations are available from SlideShare.

The Triumphal Quadriga or Horses of St Mark, facade of St Mark’s Basilica in Venice.
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

It was great to welcome Laura Molloy, Researcher at the Humanities Advanced Technology and Information Institute (HATII), to the Steering Group meeting. After the meeting Leigh, Laura and I met to discuss the project from the perspective of her role as JISCMRD Evidence Gatherer. As well as discussing impact and gathering evidence about benefits, Laura also came up with the concept of the chariot (KAPTUR project) being pulled by four horses (our four institutions). I really liked this idea of the race and also the need for collaboration to be well-matched in order to make the project successful.

#jiscmrd – Day 2 – session report on ‘identifying and supporting researcher requirements’

This session was presented by Jonathan Tedds, Senior Research Liaison Manager (IT Services) at University of Leicester and Meik Poschen, Manchester eResearch Centre (MeRC), Requirements and Evaluation Lead from the University of Manchester. Both presentations were interactive, so the key points in this blog are a mixture of points from their slides and from general discussion. The group raised the issue of commonality in terms of approaches and methodologies to identify researcher requirements; an outcome for the programme could be projects sharing what they are doing in this area. The Sustainable Management of Digital Music Research Data project have written a few blog posts about their methodology.


MaDAM Key points

  • researchers themselves were a useful source of information but it was also important to talk to experimental officers, other PIs, other research groups in order to view the institution’s wider picture
  • for user group scoping try and select groups where there could be mutual benefit – researchers should also get benefit from taking part and giving their time
  • they used an iterative approach; developers and users had a lot of meetings; the project team observed researchers’ work practice; then involved them with the evaluation of the technical system and soft infrastructure
  • funder requirements are now clearer – over the course of an 18 month project things change with researchers and funders
  • one of the huge benefits of MaDAM was awareness raising – at the beginning it may have initially been perceived as increasing researchers’ workload but this perception changes over time as funder requirements have changed – now data management is viewed favourably
  • cultural change is needed, high level institutional support is crucial too
  • importance of personal contact and observation of researchers’ day-to-day research practice
  • some questions:
    how much storage will researcher need over time? how long has data to be kept in an active or easy accessible state for re-use or sharing? how will the relationship between new policies and research practices develop? how will dissemination practices and hence scholarly communications be effected?

The group felt that although researchers were getting more engaged in this area, the research councils need to do more to enable cultural change with researchers i.e. there is a sense that the research councils have panicked the institutions rather than the researchers. One institution mentioned that a major grant was rejected on the grounds of the technical appendix; the group agreed that researchers need to know about this.

Research Data Management at Leicester – key points

  • professorial level champions are good, but also good to get those who are more technically engaged within researcher groups – engaging at different levels
  • in the past a project like HALOGEN would have used in-house IT expertise, but would be a one-off solution; they wanted to be able to re-use the infrastructure for future inter-disciplinary and inter-institutional projects
  • Tedds raised the importance of ensuring that requirements analysis is iterative – continuous engagement
  • challenges included: retro-fitting data to make it interoperable (versioning and provenance issues)
  • key thing is to provide something that is less effort for researchers as it is more standardised
  • there was a great slide on ‘direct benefits’, this included 1.3 million pounds worth of funding from the Leverhulme Trust
  • another great slide on ‘indirect benefits’, which included costs avoided
  • Tedds recommended recognising the different cultures and mindsets – the research liaison role helped with this
  • top tip: grab researchers’ attention when they are applying for funding – system now includes some checkboxes they have to select when applying for funding e.g. ‘do you need support?’ – this also provides a record of demand
  • Leicester’s research computing management group will be chaired by the Pro Vice Chancellor for research so this will feed back to senior management

There was some discussion about the use of SharePoint in the group – the educational pricing for SharePoint in the Cloud is not going to be released now until next Summer.

The group talked about the issue of researchers’ understanding of what research data is; terminology and disciplinary challenges. An example was given of a ‘fabrics database’ which was accepted by an institution – however there was a misunderstanding about what constituted a ‘database’ – an articulated lorry of wool fabric samples turned up = ‘the database’.

We need to provide different options for training – not just face-to-face – as time is a big issue even if researchers recognise they need it. It may be that we could also offer a component to plug into existing courses rather than offering something totally new.

The group discussed the importance of extending training beyond researchers themselves in order to provide consistency across the board irrespective of which department the researchers go to – a common language – a shared agreement of what we are all up to in supporting researchers.

UCA Research Supervisor Training, 16th-17th November 2011

The Art Workers' Guild

The Art Workers' Guild, London

The Kaptur Project Director and Kaptur Project Manager attended the University for the Creative Arts (UCA) Research Supervisor Training at The Artworker’s Guild in London. As the Visual Arts Data Service (VADS), is a Research Centre of UCA, we hope to meet the requirements for Research Supervision in the future, and this training course is one compulsory component of this. In addition the two days training were extremely useful for the immediate needs of the Kaptur project.

The training provided a good overview of the requirements of research staff when they supervise PhD students including the various roles and responsibilities across UCA as well as timings throughout the year. This will benefit Kaptur in terms of adding to the list of stakeholders at UCA; discussing and comparing these with the other Kaptur partner institutions; deciding upon the nature and timing of the training and support that will be provided as part of the Kaptur project. For example UCA have recently started to host an event for Research Supervisors that takes place in parallel to the induction event for Research students; the Supervisors attend their own event and then meet up with the students for discussion during the lunchtime session. The Research Degree Committee meets four times a year in September, December, February, and May/June; there are sub-committees, such as for Ethics. Advanced Research Methods training for students is held in November and February, and there are 8 Graduate Forums each year. In addition to in-house tools and services, the Vitae Researcher Development Framework was also discussed.

VADS is situated within the Library and Learning Services (LLS) department at UCA, and several colleagues from LLS are involved in Research support in addition to our colleagues in the Research Office, such as writing workshops led by Study Advisors. It was very useful to learn more about the individual specific roles and responsibilities and this will mean that Kaptur’s efforts can be more targeted in the future. It was also useful to chat to Academic staff, several of whom were very experienced and attending the event as a refresher course.

Finally, the intellectual discussion amongst colleagues opened up another dimension in terms of terminology with artistic research. This is a topic which has been of interest particularly since the JISC funded Kultivate project and is one which the project team has been discussing in relation to managing visual arts research data. The Project Team have already encountered difficulties in terms of terminology in using the term ‘research data’ when speaking about the Kaptur project to others, and we hope that the interviews (which the Project Officers are currently undertaking) will serve to illuminate the views of the visual arts researchers and perhaps provide us with some alternative terms we can use. The UCA Director of Research and Enterprise used the carefully considered phrase ‘Research in the space of art and design’ rather than ‘practiced-based’ or ‘practice-led’ research, due to the different meanings that can be associated with those terms. Other presenters mentioned concepts, models, and philosophies including French philosophers Jacques Rancière, Jacques Derrida, and Jean Baudrillard.

Other considerations

  • Research students can view a PhD as ‘about improving their practice’ but that is not the aim, although this may be a consequence – there is a danger that students can hold back thinking their artwork has to be a ‘masterpiece’
  • We talked about ‘taking risks’ and some interesting stories were shared; particularly in terms of how the body of work is presented as a thesis and the relationship of practice to a written thesis component
  • There is a role for logs and notebooks to inform and evidence working methods
  • Ethical issues require approval from the Institution’s Ethics Committee before research takes place. This includes plagiarism (NB: Spot the Difference, a JISC funded project is researching ‘visual plagiarism’) there are also considerations of how the data will be stored.
  • Of particular relevance to Kaptur, the following document was discussed: AHRC support for Practice-led research through our Research Grants – practice-led and applied route (RGPLA)

    We expect all of our research projects to have some form of documentation of the
    research process, which usually takes the form of textual analysis or explanation to
    support the research’s position and to demonstrate critical reflection.

    One of the presenters provided a really useful analogy: ‘some form of’ documentation compared to going on a walking holiday and suggesting you bring ‘some form of’ shoes. Lots to think about and follow-up on afterwards!