Living Data Management Plans

It’s well past time we discuss living data management plans (living DMPs). Somehow, I’ve been running this blog for over 10 years and I don’t have a post specifically discussing this important document type. I obviously need to fix this right now.

You’re probably wondering what a living DMP is and how it differs from a more “traditional”, grant-related data management plan. Honestly, the two-page document you turn in for a grant application is important but it’s often treated a box you have to check to make sure your grant submission is complete. A living DMP, on the other hand, is an evolving document that actually helps you manage your data during a project.

A living DMP describes how you will organize, name, store, and handle your data during a research project. While this is helpful for single-researcher projects, it’s invaluable for research done by a group. The living DMP makes sure that everyone is in agreement about how and where data will be stored and used. When someone needs to know where a find a specific dataset collected by someone else on the project, the living DMP should be the map for finding the file.

What makes this DMP “living” is that it should be updated whenever data handling practices change. A living DMP should accurately reflect the current data practices in the research project and should be added to when new procedures are developed.

The idea of a “living DMP” has been around for a while (I’m not sure who first came up with the term but I would love to give them credit for it) and it’s a document type that I’ve used several times. I made a living DMP for when generating files for my first book. More notably, I created three living DMPs for the Data Doubles project, one for each of the research phases of the project; we actually wrote up an article about the process of creating these DMPs and made the DMPs themselves publicly available.

So how do you create a living DMP and what should you put into it? To get started, see the Write a Living Data Management Plan (DMP) exercise in The Research Data Management Workbook. After that, add any data handling information you think is beneficial to record for later.

DMPs don’t have to just be boring documents for grant compliance. They can be helpful maps for decoding data practices when used as living documents. I hope I’ve convinced you to give this type of DMP a try in your next research project.