When preparing a proposal to a funding agency, researchers focus on the grant narrative, framing their work in the most innovative and compelling way possible. Crafting a narrative that can stand as a surrogate for a scholar’s research for reviewers to evaluate is itself a time-consuming process; for the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Digital Humanities grants, it’s only one of nine components of the application. Grant proposals must include a data management plan, a document that Assistant Professor of Near Eastern Studies Rita Lucarelli had not encountered prior to preparing her grant submission last fall. “I found the instructions to be clear, but I hadn’t thought about those issues before,” Professor Lucarelli said in a recent Research Data Management (RDM) workshop on DMPTool for the humanities.
The short version of the NEH guidelines states:
Prepare a data management plan for your project (not to exceed two pages). The members of your project team should consult this document throughout the life of the project and beyond the grant period. The plan should describe how your project team will manage and disseminate data generated or collected by the project. For example, projects in this category may generate data such as software code, algorithms, digital tools, reports, articles, research notes, or websites.
In addition, proposals of the type Professor Lucarelli was submitting require a sustainability plan. Following the basic prompts provided by the NEH, Professor Lucarelli drafted a brief paragraph for the data management plan and the sustainability plan, and sent the materials to the RDM team for review.
Starting early proved to be key. By having a draft done two months in advance, Lucarelli was able to send her proposal to the NEH for feedback, where she learned that her proposal -- to fund a workshop, and development of a portal that would bring together a number of Egyptology projects that are building 3D models -- would be eligible for a “level 2” grant, but not a “level 3” grant as Professor Lucarelli originally drafted: “level 3” grants are intended for projects that already had a finished prototype. “It’s important to figure out what level grant you’re applying to early,” Lucarelli reflected. “Deciding on that sooner would have saved me from drafting the sustainability plan that wasn’t applicable to the grant I ended up applying for.”
Involving the RDM team in the process early also allowed Lucarelli to work with an RDM consultant to refine her data management plan. Rick Jaffe, an RDM consultant, met with Lucarelli and talked through the scope and nature of the project she was proposing. After their first meeting, Jaffe logged into DMPTool, the Data Management Planning tool developed and supported by the California Digital Library (CDL), which provides templates and additional guidance for preparing data management plans for most major funding agencies. He pulled up the template for the NEH, and began to organize and expand upon his notes from the meeting, using the headers and prompts suggested by the DMPTool. Jaffe used the DMPTool’s private sharing function to make the draft data management plan visible and editable by Lucarelli and her collaborator at the University of Memphis, Joshua Roberson.
Drafting a data management plan in the DMPTool interface is convenient because it juxtaposes the questions and guidance for each section with a text box where you can write your responses. At a certain point in the process, it may be easier to download your draft data management plan and move it into Microsoft Word for editing. While it may be tempting to answer each of the questions in the prompt at great length, the overall two-page limitation forces grant applicants to be brief and specific. Quinn Dombrowski, another RDM consultant, worked with Lucarelli on winnowing the six-page version drafted in DMPTool into the required two pages.
“Even if I don’t get this grant, it was hugely valuable to prepare a data management plan,” explained Lucarelli. “When you’re working a new project, you never think about things like what will happen if you’re not involved with the project anymore -- it’s hard to even imagine that! But a data management plan makes you think through all the details about what data you’ll actually get in your project, how you’ll store it, and how you’ll manage it in the long term. I was lucky to be working with a collaborator who knew some of the technical details about how to store audio files, because I would have been at a loss, myself. And it was very helpful to be able to sit down with RDM consultants who can help you think through all the issues involved in running a project like this. I feel much better prepared now for the next time I put together a grant application, whether or not a data management plan is required.”