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First Impressions

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Issue: 
Spring 2010

Philip Tarrant (CAP)

Joining CAP LTER as the new Information Manager in January was a return to familiar surroundings. I worked here as a research technician and I pursued my graduate studies with assistance from CAP. The project is based in a new building now and is part of an expanded Global Institute of Sustainability at Arizona State University, but many of the old faces are still there and the good work goes on.

Now that I have had a few months to digest my new role, I am excited by the tremendous additional value that can be realized by providing public access to these long term datasets. However, a lot of the work I do is at the back end of the process, manipulating data that arrive (if at all!) in disparate forms and sometimes of questionable quality. This begs the question: how can the Information Manager of an LTER encourage the adoption of standards and quality management in the body of researchers with which he/she interacts?

Coming from a background of running business improvement projects, I have been left with the strong conviction that 'process' is everything. Well defined, simple to follow processes, supported by effective productivity tools and clear, sensible standards, have a way of making sense to the people that use those processes. If individuals can see the value of a process and they do not have to 'tussle' with it in order to complete their objectives, they can buy-in to that process as an aid to getting the job done. But it is also true that our researchers have responsibilities in this matter. When they accept funding from CAP they also commit to supply their data for wider distribution. In their role as project managers they should be monitoring the quality of their data and the adherence of the project to any organization defined standards.

Clearly, it would be wonderful to have researchers knocking down my door to get my input and support at the front end of their project and some do ask for help. However, I suspect that I will also have to strongly remind others of their responsibilities. I hope that as a new IM I will be able to generate enough perceived value that my colleagues see me as someone who can benefit their project rather than as the 'old nag' that lives in the office around the corner.

Either way, I have started documenting our processes; aiming to understand how these processes operate today and considering how they should operate in the future. I found the information on the LTER IM website to be very helpful in building this picture and I hope to use this existing material as we continue developing our information management processes. I plan to work with the researchers to see how we can directly support their data collection efforts. My goal is to encourage CAP researchers to deploy the LTER data standards and prepare quality metadata as an integral part of the data collection phase of their research rather than as an afterthought at the end of the project.

Now as I remember it, that's the hard part.