Plan how to manage your research data

Modern research can often generate large quantities of research data and could involve many researchers. A crucial part of staying organized during the research process is to plan how this data will be managed and structured, and who takes responsibility for different aspects of the project.

Although it is a good idea to create a plan at the start of your research project, it is never too late to benefit from developing a systematic process for managing your research data.

What is a data management plan?

A data management plan (DMP) is a document you develop at the start of your research project and possibly modify through the life of your project that outlines all aspects of your data. Developing a data management plan is a vital part of your research process that helps you ensure your research data are accurate, complete, reliable, accessible, and secure both during and after your research.

Good data management benefits researchers in several ways: 

  • contextualizes your research and assists in recognizing any potential gaps/roadblocks before you start
  • improves access to or re-use of data, if relevant
  • increases visibility of your research
  • ensures data integrity.

Is a data management plan a formal requirement for my research project?

Canada will soon require grant recipients to curate and actively manage their research data.

Funding agencies such as the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR), the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSRC), and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) will shortly require grant recipients to adhere to a number of requirements supporting management of their research data. By spring 2022, the agencies will identify an initial set of funding opportunities that will be subject to the data management plan requirement. Before this, the agencies will pilot the requirement in targeted funding opportunities. See the Tri-Agency Research Data Management Policy for more information.

What key elements should my data management plan include?

Your DMP should typically describe:

  • what policies (i.e. funding) will apply to your data
  • how the data will be organized (folder structures, file naming conventions, file versioning)
  • how the data will be documented during the collection and analysis phase of your research
  • what practices will be used to store, backup, and secure your data
  • what facilities and equipment will be required (hard disk space, backup server, repository)
  • who will have ownership and access rights, particularly if your research involves work with Indigenous peoples.
  • how the data will be preserved and made available in the long term once your research is completed.

Planning tools and examples

Portage DMP Assistant

The DMP Assistant is a bilingual tool for preparing data management plans developed for the Canadian research context by the Portage Network for data stewardship, 

The tool follows best practices in data stewardship and walks researchers step-by-step through key questions about data management. Draft DMPs can be shared with local research support units (e.g., research ethics, research data librarians) who could give domain-specific suggestions and feedback). 

a list of sample digital management plans on the portage site

SFU Library Template

The SFU Library Template is a Word document that assists researchers in composing a data management plan, whether your project is in the initial stages or already underway.

Sample data management plans: Portage Network exemplars and DMPonline

For the Canadian context, the Portage Network provides access to a growing list of DMP exemplars. The UK Digital Curation Centre's DMPonline tool provides publicly available data management plans submitted by other researchers working in a variety of disciplines.