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Every Research Group Should Develop and Update Standard Operating Procedures for Research Data Management

Whereas JHU owns research data, the principal investigator (PI) is responsible for the conduct of the research, including all data management and retention. Recent events of academic research misconduct elsewhere and data loss close to home highlight the need to keep resilient records of research data. Our core systems provide an increasing array of storage options, with varying suitability to different types/sizes of data.

As we noted in September of 2016, research teams should carefully consider how and where they store their data. This message was reinforced in a May 2017 article from the Office of Johns Hopkins Physicians that highlighted the value of transparency in data-focused efforts to improve reliability and reproducibility in research; that same month, Mark Anderson and I published an article in Circulation Research that discussed some considerations for storing research data.

Given concerns about risk of loss/breach and challenges to research reproducibility, the requirements for data storage are increasingly stringent and rapidly evolving. The NIH increasingly emphasizes planning for data management and sharing, and biomedical journals increasingly encourage retention and may request original data during peer review or in response to concerns about data integrity.

The SOM’s Advisory Board of the Medical Faculty recently discussed the value of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for research data management from initial collection to long-term retention (analogous to SOPs for any key research procedure), that address the following questions:

  • How will the SOP be propagated, refreshed and assessed for compliance?
  • How will research data be stored? Who will oversee implementation?
  • How will the laboratory establish an organized archive of primary data supporting publications?

To assist in the development of these SOPs, the Office of Policy Coordination’s Division of Research Integrity (overseen by Assistant Dean for Research Randall Reed, Ph.D.) provides resources, including example language, for developing these SOPs.

We recognized that secure systems that are cumbersome tend to encourage workarounds; conversely, system usability and availability contribute to security and efficiency. There is no single “right” solution for the data storage SOPs discussed here; rather, research teams should consider and discuss alternatives, develop a suitable SOP, keep it refreshed as needs/resources change and assess team members’ activities for compliance.

-Stuart Ray, vice chair for data integrity & analytics


Kelsey Bennett