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Planning 3: Managing and Sustaining the Project Assets

November 4, 2019

This the third of three posts meant to help applicants start planning and writing a Digital Humanities Advancement Grant proposal. 

In this post, we will help you think through issues around how to manage data and how to plan for long-term sustainability of your project. In doing so, we address the sixth and final review criterion that evaluators will be considering

The quality and appropriateness of project plans for data management and (if applicable) sustainability.

Data Management Plans

When the Office of Digital Humanities introduced the requirements for a separate data management plan (DMP) in 2011, we knew that developing a data management plan would be a challenge for many applicants.  But we are pleased to report that the field has responded well.  

We aligned our data management plan instructions with those of the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences to enable applicants to take advantage of data management resources that their institutions may have already developed for NSF applications.

You will find instructions for preparing a data management plan for projects seeking funding from the DHAG program in the current Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO).

So, how do you go about responding to this particular application component, particularly if you are not an expert in data management?

First, depending on your project and its planned final products, consider including someone with data curation and preservation expertise as part of your project team and budget for their activities.

Some of our applicants also use the DMPTool as they begin preparing their data management plans. The DMPTool is a service of the University of California Curation Center of the California Digital Library. If you’re using DMPTool, note that the DMP it produces usually requires some revision. Other applicants work with the designated data manager at their institution who is likely found in the library or information services department. 

Once you have a draft of a data management plan, review it with your entire project team to ensure that it covers all of the elements detailed the in the data management plan guidance in the NOFO. (Take a look at Attachment 8, in the Content and Form of Application Submission section.)

Keep in mind that a data management plan for a project requesting Level I funding will be different from a project requesting Level III funding. A data management plan should be tailored for the specific project and address the project outputs described in the Final Products and Dissemination section of your project narrative. A more mature Level III project with a variety of activities and outputs will most likely have more complicated data management issues than a Level I project proposing to host a workshop. For example, those proposing Level I projects might think about how they want to preserve event proceedings, tweets, livestreamed videos, or workflow documentation and experimental results. Those proposing Level III projects, in contrast, will need to think carefully about the long-term management of all project outputs. This category might include: software, websites, pre-prints or other gray literature, metadata, workflows, and more.  

For all data management plans, it is important to be clear who on the team is responsible for the data management needs of the project and where the data produced will be stored and made available once the award is complete.

We’ve also posted the data management plans from ODH-funded projects as (quite large) .ZIP files for the years 2011-2014 and 2015-2018 as part of NEH’s Freedom of Information Act Library for you to get a sense of how past projects have responded to data management requirements. They are useful examples, but be sure to develop your own plans responding to the current Notice of Funding Opportunity requirements as good data management practices for humanities projects have evolved over the years.

Sustainability Plans (required for Level III applications)

Because Level III applications are the largest awards available in the Office of Digital Humanities, we require sustainability plans to ensure that NEH’s investments have a long life and reach as many users as possible. Sustainability and data management are complementary, but are not the same. Sustainability includes data management, but also refers to the long-term financial and staffing needs to maintain the project, often within a larger ecosystem of digital scholarship support at an institution.

We recognize that Level III projects are more mature in their life cycle and have a community of users already deeply invested in their success. As such, NEH requires sustainability plans to ensure that you start (if you haven’t already) considering how and where your taxpayer-funded project will be available after the period of performance is complete.

You should carefully review the available instructions in the Sustainability plan guidance in Attachment 9, in the Content and Form of Application Submission section of the NOFO.

As with data management plans, sustainability plans will vary tremendously by project type, institutional policies, and user communities. 

The NEH staff understands that long term sustainability for digital projects can be challenging and so we have supported projects that tackle this very issue.  Additional resources resulting from these efforts that you may find helpful in preparing your sustainability plan include the following:

You might also find the sustainability plans available in Sample Application Narratives section of the program resource page to be helpful as models.

But much like the data management plans, use these resources as starting points and then consult with additional experts at your institution (and beyond) to develop a project-specific sustainability plan.

Reviewing Data Management and Sustainability Plans

Since data management and sustainability are such thorny topics for humanities projects, we specifically recruit reviewers for our panels who have experience with developing data management plans or work in data curation and preservation of humanities-focused software and collections. Even those evaluators who lack specific expertise in these areas have experienced the disappointment of visiting a project that they rely upon for their teaching and research needs and finding it no longer available or starting to degrade in such a way that it is less useful. Thus, all of our reviewers want to see robust and thoughtful data management plans and sustainability plans (if required) that are integrated well with the other components of the application.

Some common questions our panelists raise when reviewing data management and sustainability plan are often along the lines of the following:

  • They are unclear who on the team will be responsible for the data management activities.  And they want evidence that this person or persons are integral members of the project. 
  • They want to see plans for ensuring that any software that is developed is not only made available on code-sharing site such as GitHub, but also stored (and periodically updated) in location controlled by the applicant institution.
  • And for the sustainability plans for the Level III, reviewers want to see evidence of true institutional commitment to the project. Reviewers would like to see plans described to periodically review the project’s needs for updating both the underlying infrastructure and the project data (perhaps as part of an institution’s internal policy for sustaining digital work). 

Now that you’ve had an opportunity to read the Notice of Funding Opportunity, the Frequently Asked Questions and other resources on the program resource page, review these three blog posts (post 1, post 2), and then re-read everything on the program page again, we think that you’re ready to begin preparing your application to the Digital Humanities Advancement Grant program!

Check back to the DHAG program page for a recorded webinar after November 21, 2019 that will provide an overview of the application process.

Remember, staff members from the Office of Digital Humanities are available to help answer your questions (@email), and given enough time before the deadline, review a draft of your proposal. 

We look forward to reading your proposals to the Digital Humanities Advancement Grants program.