Meet the Digital Research Commons Pilot Team

Meet the Digital Research Commons Pilot Team

The Digital Research Commons Pilot (DRCP) is a three-year initiative to build a more connected, capable, and researcher-focused approach to digital research support. Launched in fall of 2022, the DRCP is led by three sponsoring groups including McMaster University Library, represented by SCDS Administrative Director. We’re thrilled to work alongside the DRCP’s core team Angela Di Nello (Senior Manager), Matthew Burns (Digital Research Technology Analyst), and Ratika Sharma (Digital Research Systems Analyst) as they enhance digital research services on campus. Learn more about the dynamic initiative in this quick Q&A.  


SCDS: Imagine I’m a researcher who’s just arrived at McMaster University. How would you describe the Digital Research Commons Pilot?  

Angela Di Nello: Digital research support & services are provided by many different units at McMaster. The Digital Research Commons Pilot is here to help you navigate this landscape so you can access the services, training, resources, and supports you need to succeed in your research.

SCDS: Take us through a day in the life of the DRCP team. What kinds of work are you doing at the moment?

Matthew Burns: There are presently 19 people and 7 component teams within the DRCP. These component teams work collaboratively on some projects and autonomously on others, so it isn’t possible to quickly encapsulate a day in the life at the DRCP.

DRCP Team planning session (left to right: Jack Young, Greg Atkinson, Ratika Sharma, Danny Johnston, Kestrel McNeill, Kevin Wong (no longer at McMaster), Isaac Pratt, Danica Evering, Angela Di Nello, Tracy Dallaire, Miro Cika, Kelvin Lee, Elias Eid, Matthew Burns, Jay Brodeur)
DRCP Team planning session (left to right: Jack Young, Greg Atkinson, Ratika Sharma, Danny Johnston, Kestrel McNeill, Kevin Wong (no longer at McMaster), Isaac Pratt, Danica Evering, Angela Di Nello, Tracy Dallaire, Miro Cika, Kelvin Lee, Elias Eid, Matthew Burns, Jay Brodeur).

At a very high level, we are trying to stitch these teams together into a cohesive whole while coordinating formative DRCP activities, collaborating with other support units to help researchers, working to help researchers navigate digital research supports, and trying to actively engage with researchers and other stakeholders to guide DRCP activities and co-create a vision for digital research support at McMaster. Each component team is working on their own services and supports too.

SCDS: Computers and digital tools are so integrated in the academy that almost everyone does “digital research” of some sort. Given the ubiquity of digital research, what’s the DRCP’s ideal client? Which researchers would most benefit from this pilot?

Ratika Sharma: The DRCP’s ideal clients are anyone at the university who engages in research. We want to connect researchers with the resources they need to complete their research as simply as possible. Faculty, PhD students, Master’s students, undergraduate students, and research staff, are just some of the types of researchers that would most benefit from this pilot.

The Digital Research Commons Pilot is here to help you navigate this landscape so you can access the services, training, resources, and supports you need to succeed in your research.

Angela Di Nello, Senior Manager, DRCP

SCDS: Developing research infrastructure is a very high-level task. Can you concretize your work or goals with an example of a specific deliverable you’d like to see at McMaster by the end of the project’s three-year term?

Angela Di Nello: A specific deliverable we’re working towards is creating a service catalogue of all the different digital research support and services at Mac and what unit on campus provides that support or service. This will be an ever-evolving project as the digital research landscape at McMaster is broad, complex, and constantly changing, so ensuring that we have accurate and up-to-date information will require ongoing attention.

Image of a computer screen with code.

SCDS: How can interested parties get involved with the DRCP? Are you planning to host events or focus groups this year or over the course of the pilot? 

Matthew Burns: One of our primary goals is to work with researchers, digital research service providers, and other stakeholders to co-create a vision of digital research support at McMaster. This shapes everything we do, so we are always looking for ways to engage with interested parties.

We want to co-create a vision of digital research support at McMaster. This shapes everything we do, so we are always looking for ways to engage with interested parties.

Matthew Burns, Digital Research Technology Analyst, DRCP

In the fall, we will be soliciting feedback for a draft report on the current state of digital research support at McMaster, the challenges that researchers encounter in this environment, and the ways that the DRCP might help. This report will guide our activities and priorities moving forward, so this is a great opportunity to contribute to the formative development of the DRCP and the future of digital research support at McMaster.

Overhead shot of a group working together on laptops at a pine table.

There are always opportunities to get involved. You can contact us at askresearch@mcmaster.ca with research support questions or suggestions, or volunteer to consult with us or test new resources. We are also working on resources that will help researchers navigate digital research support, and opportunities for user feedback will be built into these resources. You can also always book a consultation with our component teams.

SCDS: What kind of assumptions do people have about your line of work, or systems analysis and digital research in general? Please use this question as an opportunity to set the record straight.

Ratika Sharma: The word ‘system’ itself creates some assumptions, especially to those who don’t work with technology and information. All a ‘system’ really refers to is a set of rules or procedures for a particular environment that fits in a larger framework. A common assumption about systems analysis is that systems are implemented without any user input. This is simply not true!

Feedback is at the heart of systems analysis, and the DRCP is dedicated to consulting and soliciting feedback from researchers regularly during this process. Additionally, systems analysis is filled with trial and error. The first iteration of a system is rarely ever the final product so it’s important to keep refining a system even after it’s ‘live.’

Digital Research is maybe something most researchers are familiar with, especially due to the pandemic, when everything moved online. Since everything transitioned online very quickly, many researchers may not know what’s been moved online or what resources the university has developed during the pandemic. We want to be your digital research tour guide at McMaster! We hope to create a navigation tool for digital research that can be accessed by all members of the McMaster community.

Feedback is at the heart of systems analysis, and the DRCP is dedicated to consulting and soliciting feedback from researchers regularly during this process.

Ratika Sharma, Digital Research Systems Analyst

SCDS: Just for fun, what’s a dream digital research project you’d take on if you had endless time and resources?

Angela Di Nello: I would love to have a central web interface that lists all the digital resources available to researchers across Canada – it would contain information about the digital resources from all post-secondary institutions, all levels of governments and non-profit organizations, etc. It would indicate, among other things, access level e.g. McMaster-only, open-to-all, and it would be searchable in a multitude of ways. This would help researchers who are moving or visiting institutions and it could help research support units share information and resources across institutions.

Matthew Burns: If I had time and money, I would work with an AI expert to see if general learning architectures that I have worked on in the past could be implemented in AI design. Please give me money so I can do this. You can find me in the Sherman Centre. I take cash.

Ratika Sharma: I’m an Archivist by training, so my research interests are connected to how we can preserve and store information and data for longevity. I’m particularly interested in the preservation of non-conventional materials (like video) for long term accessibility. Video preservation has changed significantly, first on film, then on cassette tapes, DVDs, and now over video platforms. If I had time or money (and talent), I would create a medium that would never change how video is preserved and make it open access!

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SCDS: We conclude all entries in the “Meet Our Team” interview series (where I interview my co-workers) by asking for a fun fact. Tell us something interesting about yourself–the last TV show you watched, a funny piece of trivia, a Hamilton recommendation, anything.

Angela Di Nello: I started playing recreational soccer (for the first time) in my 20s. I started lifting weights in my 30s. I haven’t figured out what new hobby/skill I’ll take up in my 40s – ideas are welcome – I have 7 years to make my decision.

Matthew Burns: I was once on a televised trivia show and I was asked if I had any interesting anecdotes. I didn’t, so in a lame attempt at humor I recited the alphabet backwards. Now, 15 years later, I have again been asked for an interesting anecdote. Unfortunately, the most interesting anecdote I have is about the time when I didn’t have an interesting anecdote…

Ratika Sharma: I’ve recently been watching a TV show called “The Bear”. It’s about a fine-dining chef who comes to work at his brother’s sandwich shop. The chef is responsible for the restaurant and, most importantly, to make sure all the kitchen staff work collaboratively – similar to the responsibilities of the DRCP! The DRCP is not a sandwich shop, but we hope to facilitate collaboration between members of the McMaster community, all who have different strengths and abilities. Also, I just love watching people cook!

Image showing soccer, a retro still from Reach for the Top, and a poster for The Bear
Excellent hobbies and facts here. DS Coordinator Veronica Litt (who runs this interview series) can attest that The Bear is 10/10 TV.

Thanks for introducing our readers to the DRCP! We’re excited to see this project develop!