Abstract: Data management plans (DMPs) have increasingly been encouraged as a key component of institutional and funding body policy. Although DMPs necessarily place administrative burden on researchers, proponents claim that DMPs have myriad benefits, including enhanced research data quality, increased rates of data sharing, and institutional planning and compliance benefits.
In this article, we explore the international history of DMPs and describe institutional and funding body DMP policy. We find that economic and societal benefits from presumed increased rates of data sharing was the original driver of mandating DMPs by funding bodies. Today, 86% of UK Research Councils and 63% of US funding bodies require submission of a DMP with funding applications. Given that no major Australian funding bodies require DMP submission, it is of note that 37% of Australian universities have taken the initiative to internally mandate DMPs. Institutions both within Australia and internationally frequently promote the professional benefits of DMP use, and endorse DMPs as ‘best practice’. We analyse one such typical DMP implementation at a major Australian institution, finding that DMPs have low levels of apparent translational value. Indeed, an extensive literature review suggests there is very limited published systematic evidence that DMP use has any tangible benefit for researchers, institutions or funding bodies.
We are therefore led to question why DMPs have become the go-to tool for research data professionals and advocates of good data practice. By delineating multiple use-cases and highlighting the need for DMPs to be fit for intended purpose, we question the view that a good DMP is necessarily that which encompasses the entire data lifecycle of a project. Finally, we summarise recent developments in the DMP landscape, and note a positive shift towards evidence-based research management through more researcher-centric, educative, and integrated DMP services.