Deliberative Lab Conversations

Are you interested in engaging your whole lab in a better understanding of your research practices?  

There’s an exciting opportunity underway for labs on the Illinois campus to participate in an evidence-based research project as part of a collaborative Illinois-UC Riverside NSF funded grant; CK Gunsalus [director of the National Center for Principled Leadership and Research Ethics] and Dena Plemmons [director of research ethics education programming at UC Riverside] are the co-PIs.

This project will examine the effectiveness of a deliberative communication approach for lab-based conversations about research practices in STEM; for this project, the specific practice is data management.

Several Illinois labs and a number of other labs across the country have already piloted this approach and found it to be both useful and effective:

“I think this hour was a better stimulus for better data management in my lab than a top-down approach.”

"I thought it was quite useful. I think data/code sharing is a topic many of us had thought some about in the past, but it was good to have an explicit discussion with everyone about this. I enjoy discussing the philosophy of how to do science, and I think it makes everyone more thoughtful."

"At the end we also briefly talked about how to make use of what we learned in the hour spent with you…We will take up data management again in a group meeting… Some are recurring topics, others are new and have not previously been discussed."

The Approach

This study uses a deliberative communication approach that is based on a research project that was specifically designed to support laboratory groups—lab members and the PI—to have facilitated and intentional conversations together. The topic of the discussion for this collaborative project will be the data management practices of the lab, both broadly, and for specific lab projects. During the conversation, labs will communally discuss the norms and practices of the lab, and have space to reflect on the norms of their discipline as a whole.

Many data stewardship approaches are legacies, often rooted in ad hoc practices. A deliberative lab communication approach, in which all voices and all experiences are part of the conversation, increases the chances that all members of the lab will share an understanding of and commitment to data management in that lab, in part because they have been part of the process of communally crafting those data management practices.

The Project Phases

The project has two phases: a research phase and a resource development phase.

In the research phase, members of participating labs will engage in one informal, facilitated conversation about the data management practices of that lab; the facilitator will guide the process of the communication, and the lab members will provide the content, sharing the data management practices for the projects in that lab.

Once enrolled, members of participating labs will devote about two hours total over the course of a few months:

  • Completion of a pre-survey of about 20 minutes looking at the quality of lab communication and detailing data management practices
  • engagement in a 90 minute facilitated lab-wide conversation about data management practices in that lab, and
  • completion of a post-survey.

You will also be asked to share your lab’s current written data management plan (if any) before and after the intervention.

In the resource development phase, we will create engaging, relevant video and written case study materials for supporting labs for using this deliberative communication approach, including for topics in addition to data management, such as authorship. This will include a range of openly available introductory and just-in-time practical resources to support adoption and ongoing lab use.

The Conversation

In advance of the session, we will ask lab members to think about, and be ready to share, the kinds of data generated from the lab’s research, and the issues encountered with data management in areas such as data collection, and, processing and organization, and accessing/sharing, and archiving.

The expectations for this conversation are minimal, but important. Everyone will:

  • Participate respectfully and thoughtfully.
  • Listen carefully to what others are saying, and know that you will be listened to, as well.
  • Feel free to respectfully disagree, or offer alternative viewpoints.
  • Ask questions.

The hope is that each member will contribute equally to the conversation, asking questions, probing and respectfully challenging where necessary, as we discuss areas to consider in the lab’s data management practices. For more information contact Dena Plemmons, PI, or CK Gunsalus, PI.