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Data Management Plans

Planning for a project involves making decisions about data resources and potential products. A Data Management Plan (DMP) describes data that will be acquired or produced during research; how the data will be managed, described, and stored, what standards you will use, and how data will be handled and protected during and after the completion of the project. 

Getting Started 

The resources in this section will help you understand how to develop your DMP. The checklist outlines the minimum USGS requirements. The FAQ and DMP Writing Best Practices list below will help you understand other important considerations when developing your own DMP. To help standardize or provide guidance on DMPs, a science center or funding source may choose to document their own Data Management strategy. Click here for a template for developing a Science Center Data Management Strategy [DOCX].

DMP Writing Best Practices

  • Create a DMP prior to initiating research as required by USGS policy.

  • Consider available DMP tools and templates, along with their intended use.

  • Write DMP content that is descriptive of the project's data acquisition, processing, analysis, preservation, publishing, and sharing (public access) of products as described by the USGS Science Data Lifecycle.

  • Identify any proprietary or sensitive data in the DMP prior to data acquisition or collection to legally justify the need to withhold them from public access if necessary.

  • Define roles and responsibilities for management, distribution and ownership of data and subsequent metadata or, if available, reference existing Memoranda of Understanding, Memoranda of Agreement, and/or Data Sharing agreements.

  • Add content to supplement a DMP template provided by a funding source if that template does not allow you to fully describe your project, data assets, and products and the required investments needed for any software (developed or purchased) and any hardware that are needed to support the research.

  • Establish a schedule for reviewing and updating a DMP in combination with project events such as funding approval, project review, and publication.

  • Ensure DMP content contains a level of detail that enables stakeholders (funders, project staff, and repository managers) to understand the reality of the project activities.

  • Ensure that DMP content and outlined procedures reflect USGS Fundamental Science Practices (FSP) requirements and Science Center guidance.

Frequently Asked Questions 

The following FAQ's were developed to extend the information provided by the USGS Fundamental Science Practices DMP FAQ Page. This list also presents exemplary solutions from USGS science centers that are currently in practice.

Note: Always refer to specific guidance that may be provided by your funding source or science center to understand their requirements first and foremost.

  1. Where does a data management plan fit into my project workflow?

    Business practices that affect project workflows vary among science centers and funding sources; however, in general terms, DMP creation should occur between the proposal stage and accepted funding stage of the project. SM 502.6 requires "The project work plan (SM 502.2) for every research project funded or managed by the USGS must include a data management plan prior to initiation of the project." Below are example project workflow diagrams showing when a DMP is required to be completed; however, you should use the workflow established by your center or program, if applicable. The DMP may need to be updated at various other project milestones.

    WARC Example

    Alaska Science Center Example


  2. What happens when my funding source requires use of a different DMP template?

    A DMP developed to meet the requirements of a funding source is usually acceptable if it captures, at a minimum, the same information as the science center format. Deficiencies should be addressed as an addendum to the funding source DMP.


  3. Who uses a DMP?

    There are numerous users of a DMP. The author uses the DMP to plan how data will be handled throughout its lifecycle, updating the document throughout the project. Additionally, the author uses a DMP to capture and record relevant information in a timely manner that can be used later on for other requirements such as metadata. Project staff use the DMP to help understand roles and responsibilities of various team members, especially in teams involving partners from different organizations. Data managers and communication teams can use the information to ensure that preservation and data sharing activities are done appropriately.

    Funding sources can use DMPs to promote transparent, high quality, and discoverable products. Lastly, in the event of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, your FOIA officer can use the DMP as substantiating material. The DMP, considered part of a formally agreed upon project work plan, legally establishes who is responsible for providing free public access to the data and what data are proprietary if they are used by the USGS.


  4. How do I know what DMP content to complete or update at each stage of my project?

    You may need to develop your DMP throughout your project to maintain accurate and useful content. Understanding the USGS Science Data Lifecycle will help you develop DMP content; however, specific guidance may also be provided by your funding source or science center.

    A Single Document with Color Coding

    The National Regional Climate Adaptation Science Centers template uses a color coded approach within a single document. Fields shaded gray are not required for proposals. If a project is funded, all fields are required.


  5. Why does my DMP seem similar to other project documentation?
    Data Management vs. Project Management Venn Diagram
    Data Management vs. Project ManagementVenn Diagram(Public domain.)

    DMPs are focused on the data-related aspects of the project and work together with other descriptive project documents such as a proposal, project plan, or BASIS+ entry. Often DMPs contain planning, roles and responsibilities sections that collect similar information to that found in other documents, but this "duplicate" content is necessary for anyone outside of your project to understand your DMP.


How can I manage all of my project and data documentation including a DMP?

There are many ways to organize and store DMP files. It's most important that you simply develop a consistent strategy. Organization and naming conventions can be associated with other useful elements of a project such as project IDs, project stages, fiscal year, or any combination. Storage options to consider include databases, single files, or folders of content. Online data management and documentation tools can also affect the management of your documents. You may choose to create content or use forms that can be loaded and stored in the software tool.

The Great Lakes Science Center and the Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center (NOROCK) are two examples of centers that conceptualize project documentation as a bundle, where a project folder comprises many documents and forms that describe the project and data. The bundle includes documents such as a Study Plan, a DMP, and a metadata questionnaire. NOROCK additionally uses SharePoint to house research documentation (proposals, Project Work Plans, DMPs, etc.). Document sets have managed metadata. Automated workflows help to streamline the review and approval process, as well as facilitate records management.


Templates and Examples 

Below is a selection of DMP templates provided by USGS science centers and programs. Each template was designed with specific needs and use cases in mind. When developing your own or choosing an existing DMP template consider your own project needs.

* Some DMPs listed below are for educational purposes only and are subject to change. Please contact your USGS center or program for more information on their specific DMP requirements and process.

USGS Powell Center

National and Regional Climate Adaptation Science Centers

USGS California Water Science Center

  • Example Microsoft questionnaire form
  • Coordination needed with center data manager team to develop actual DMP
  • Example Form [PDF]* (Template)

USGS Wetlands and Aquatic Research Center

  • Example google questionnaire form
  • Coordination needed with center data manager team to develop actual DMP
  • Example Form [PDF]* (Template)
  • Bathythermograph [PDF] (Note: This example is not a DMP from this center)

USGS Coastal and Marine Geology Program

  • Example database form
  • Coordination needed with center data manager team to develop actual DMP
  • Example Form [PDF]* (Template)
  • Bathythermograph [PDF] (Note: This example is not a DMP from this center)

USGS Fort Collins Science Center

  • Example template
  • Coordination needed with center data manager team to develop actual DMP
  • Example Template [PDF]* (Template)

USGS Water Mission Area

  • Excel-based Data Management Planning tool (DMTool)
  • Example template maintained by the Office of Quality Assurance
  • Template is used by the WMA. Template should be used by researchers in Water Science Centers if the Center does not have a DMP template containing the minimum elements outlined in Survey Manual Fundamental Science Practices (SM 502.6, Section 4) and on this page.


Below is a selection of tools available to USGS staff. Each tool was designed with specific needs and use cases in mind. 

DMP Tool Comparison Chart
Tool Name Streamlined? Customizable Free?
DMP Tool Yes Yes Yes
DMPEditor Semi Yes No
ezDMP Yes No Yes
Microsoft Word No Yes Yes
Microsoft Forms Semi Yes Yes


Reviewing Data Management Plans

An important aspect of data management planning is having someone knowledgeable about data management and USGS policies review a project's DMP to flag any potential oversights or challenges before they become an issue. The USGS Data Management Working Group has developed a USGS Data Management Plan Review Checklist to help facilitate these types of reviews.


Related Training Modules

What the U.S. Geological Survey Manual Requires: 

Effective October 1, 2016 the USGS Survey Manual chapter SM 502.6 - Fundamental Science Practices: Scientific Data Management Foundation, requires the project work plan (SM 502.2) for every research project funded or managed by the USGS must include a data management plan prior to initiation of the project.

SM 502.6 further specifies, a data management plan will include standards and intended actions as appropriate to the project for acquiring, processing, analyzing, preserving, publishing/sharing, describing, and managing the quality of, backing up, and securing the data holdings.

For more information about data management planning as it pertains to the USGS policy, visit the Fundamental Science Practices FAQs: Data Management Planning.



Page last updated 6/21/21.