Colloquium at IBI, Humboldt University: “Its all about Data” with Peter Schirmbacher, Maxi Kindling and Elena Simukovic (Tues 21 May 2013)


This week I attended this event about data management in Berlin, or “digitalen Forschungsdatenmanagement”: it was all in German! I understood more than I thought I would, probably because I recognised a lot of the issues that the presenters raised. And because the speakers used helpful slides.

An interesting aside: at the end of the talks, I waited for the usual applause but was taken by surprise when everyone knocked on the tables instead: apparently, that’s the German way. Also, Humboldt Uni is very close to Museum Island in Berlin and pretty easy to find!

So, this blog post has the highlights that I understood: I’m sure there were more significant aspects, but I still need to learn more German to get the most from such events.

Professor Schirmbacher had a great slide describing the organisation of information as the large bubble containing smaller concepts, including knowledge production, communication and distribution. He spoke about various aspects of those three bubbles and I picked up on the communication one where he mentioned the issues around quality and reputation measurement. Probably because these are issues I’ve always been interested in, or perhaps because “Qualität” is an easy word to pick up!

Here is a lovely sounding German word that I didn’t know before: “Nachnutzung”. It means re-use and it reminded me of the phrase that Simon Hodson opened Warwick’s recent event on data management with: “the first person to re-use your data is your future self”. Evidently it’s an issue in Germany as well, but I didn’t pick up on all the issues. The seminar touched on the legal aspects associated with information, but again, the detail eluded me.

I made a note of the examples of best practice from the UK that Maxi Kindling mentioned: University of Cambridge, University of Glasgow and Imperial College. Other examples from the USA and the rest of Europe were also examined as part of Maxi’s work, and I note in the booklet that I took away that the University of Edinburgh also provided a useful example.

Elena Simukovic presented details of a survey: they used Lime Survey ( to run it, in German and in English. The survey was open for six weeks and there were 490+ respondents.

Results from the survey were broken down by discipline and/or by career stage in the presentation. Researchers were asked 24 questions about things such as:

  • The characteristics of their data gathering, whether they might be observations, experiments, simulations, etc.
  • Media of data held, eg pictures, audio, video, text, etc.
  • Specific types of data, eg sequential measurements, topological information, satellite pictures, etc.
  • How the data is archived/stored.
  • Would their data still be available in 10 years time? 

There was quite a bit of discussion about the longer term availability of data: apparently there has been a principle in place that this should be ensured, for more than ten years, but 20% of respondents didn’t know about it and more professors than lecturers knew of the expectation.

When asked whether they would deposit data, 60% answered positively to some degree, and of the data that they would deposit, 50% would be under 100GB in size. I wanted to ask a follow up question to that one, about how often they would deposit such files: it may well have been asked but I didn’t pick up on it.

Researchers were also asked about the support they might like, and it seems that there’s not so much call for help with data management plans (DMPs) in Germany as for other aspects, but then it seems that there’s less imperative here for researchers to write them. In the UK, the Research Councils examine DMPs at the grant application stage but that’s not the case with German Research Councils. Even so, 125 respondents did tick that option, and the most popular support chosen (275) was for “Speicherplatz”, which I take to mean storage space.

The next stage in the research at Humboldt will be interviews with researchers. It occurred to me that another approach to researching this topic could be an examination of data management plans.

This event was part of a series called BBK, or “Berliner Bibliothekswissenschaftliches Kolloquium” ( Gosh, I hope I spelt it right: it’s easy to get lost in these compound German words!

Finally, my confession & thanks: I spoke to Maxi Kindling after the event, in English. My German has a long way to improve! Many thanks to Amber Thomas, now at the University of Warwick for putting me in touch with Maxi Kindling in the first place, and to Maxi for inviting me along.


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