Case study – Australian Institute of Marine Science

AIMS Research Data Security Project


National Archives Awards for Digital Excellence commendation 2017

The Research Data Security Project (RDSP) has led the way in promoting digital culture at the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS).

In April 2016, AIMS commenced the project as an initiative to collect, collate and archive research data and records from 326 research projects that were externally funded between 2005-2015.

Research data is of critical importance and constitutes one of the Institute's most valuable assets. Its continued accessibility amid a changing technological landscape is vital, though often overlooked. The RDSP has been successful in refocussing the direction of the Institute’s long term strategy for the preservation of information.

With this project, AIMS has further supported the National Archives Digital Continuity 2020 Policy through the strategic digitisation of hard copy and high risk archival material achieving the digitisation of over 800 hard copied documents. The project has gained the support of senior management at AIMS, and the Information Services Team have successfully applied for internal funding rounds for further training and development. Through the efforts of the RDSP, the Institute is no longer focused on digital compliance, but actively engaged in a productive and growing digital culture.

Agency overview

Timothy Pilgrim and David Fricker accepting award on behalf of Australian Institute of Marine Science
Timothy Pilgrim, PSM, Australian Information and Privacy Commissioner and David Fricker, Director-General, National Archives of Australia accepting award on behalf of Australian Institute of Marine Science .

Established in 1972, the Australian Institute of Marine Science is Australia’s leading tropical marine research agency. Today, the Institute boasts a Data Centre, National Sea Simulator facility and 220 staff operating from bases in Townsville, Perth and Darwin. However, there is a big gap between the paper based working methods of the early 70s, and digital data systems of our modern day facilities.

The Research Data Project is instrumental in capturing historical research carried out before the technological push, and correctly archiving those already digital. With many varied working systems, from science to finance, in-the- field data collection to experimental laboratory records, this project has bridged existent gaps across these departments at AIMS.


AIMS has initiated around 500 research projects during the 10 years from 2005 to 2015. This research has been published in thousands of articles, reports and publications that have been conducted for government, industry, research partners, and public information purposes.

AIMS has maintained high standards in digital compliance and National Archives retention, and AIMS’ Data Centre (ADC) has made available facilities for record/data storage and maintains selected long term datasets. Projects falling outside the scope of these selected databases have relied on the initiative of research teams to lodge and maintain these records.

In these cases, data are usually stored within each department or laboratory and personally by the researchers, under varying identifiers, project names and criteria. The Research Data Project has been able to link all these departments and highlighted the need for a cross platform, integrated operating system that allows the Institute to archive, describe and easily access these records.

Project objectives

The overall objective of the RDSP was to collect, collate and archive relevant research data for the 326 projects funded by external parties between 2005 and 2015.

The desired outcome was an archive of data and resources, easily accessible and cohesive in form, complete with an ISO XML standardised metadata records published via the AIMS website. This would enable both internal and public access to available information, while improving the information governance within the institute. Additionally, the IS team was looking at digitalising all the hard copied material related to these projects.

With the early development of the project the IS team realised that the effort to collect and collate the research data needed to be supported by a long term perspective data management procedures.

Project execution

A simple format was developed to begin recording the location of each data component, listing the administrative information for each research project. The RSDP team recorded the data analysis, publications, reports and research outcomes for each project. This could include observations, measurements, experimental results, including laboratory and field notebooks, multimedia and data describing physical samples and analyses.

Initially, consulting with research project leaders was necessary to outline each project and determine what data needed to be collected. The collected information was then cohesively recorded and stored within the Electronic Records Document Management System.

The beginning of the project also saw over 800 paper articles and reports scanned, which has continued into an agency-wide commitment to digitalisation of hard copy records.

Project outcomes

The RDSP team have successfully completed the collection and collation of data for the 326 research projects; and have created an archive in which these files are stored with appropriate metadata.

In addition, we have digitalised hundreds of folders, articles, documents, preserving information such as hand written notebooks with iconic datasets and descriptions of early research on the Great Barrier Reef.

After the completion of the first stage of the RDSP, the project objectives were expanded to include 187 additional research projects as well as selected pre-2005 research considered as ‘iconic’ historical data. The project now also works towards the digital preservation of AIMS extensive collection of photographs, slides and videos.

Through the findings and recommendations of the RDSP, significant change in information management standards within the Institute has been achieved, with the updating of several policies; including a clear outline of all data storage requirements and information management for future research projects complying with Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research. There is now a push for a clear data management plan and metadata record completed for every research project its initial stages. Additionally, curatorial work would be needed for these Metadata Records when there are further project developments.

Project impact

The broader impact of the project has seen a shift from a compliance focused culture to a growing digital culture with vision and strategies in place. Information is core to the success of our Institute’s research, and this upgrade in digital maturity for AIMS will be a vital step for future research, productivity and data security. The feedback that we have received from researchers and staff has indicated that this project has been successful in raising awareness of the critical importance of information retention and archiving, as well as engaging staff in best practice methods.

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2018