A showcase of global research data initiatives

Several sessions brought together thought and practice from national data services and infrastructures, of particular relevance to the formative National Research Data Programme in New Zealand.

The recent 6th Plenary of the Research Data Alliance (RDA) brought together 603 experts in research data to coordinate and share their work. With a membership from 103 countries of 3200 individual experts and 39 institutional members working within 63 Interest and Working Groups, RDA has grown quickly within three years to become the most coherent organisation supporting the evolution of common research data capabilities internationally.

Robert-Jan Smits, Director-General of Research & Innovation at the European Commission, opened the meeting by highlighting the Commission as the largest global funder of research at 80 B Euro in Horizon 2020. Smits promoted the Commission as a champion of data sharing, data stewardship and open science, emphasising the importance of realising full value from the resulting data of such a large investment. French Minister for Digital Affairs, Axelle Lemaire, spoke passionately about the role of government and the importance of administrative data, noting she would be tabling a bill later in the week requesting that all public administrators develop a strategy on data. She reminded the audience all industries have a need for data standards, whether farming, aviation, or research into climate change. This latter topic was a major theme of RDA Plenary 6, alongside industry engagement.

RDA, as a member-driven organisation, attracts experts from within research disciplines and across enabling functions. Librarians sit alongside researchers and infrastructure experts within Interest and Working Groups, aiming to coordinate and integrate current practice. In producing recommendations on best practice on a specific topic, Working Groups within RDA expose the latest international thinking in any area, and as such are a rich source of relevant information.

Several sessions brought together thought and practice from national data services and infrastructures, of particular relevance to the formative National Research Data Programme in New Zealand. Leaders of Dutch, US, Australian, Canadian and other national initiatives presented their experiences and insights, exploring how better to coordinate such national infrastructure approaches globally to improve maturity and enable data sharing and integration. As an outcome a new group is being proposed to carry on these discussions, allowing for sharing of learnings from national data services operating at different levels of maturity.

Some of the key deliverables discussed, and in some cases released, at RDA Plenary 6 included recommendations on connecting datasets on the basis of co-authorship or joint funding, biosharing registries, repository audit and certification, practical policies, data publishing models and services, metadata standards directories and catalogues, and wheat data interoperability. RDA Plenary 7, being held in Tokyo, Japan in early 2016, will see further progress on these recommendations and many more.

Ed Seidel, Director of the United States’ National Center for Supercomputing Applications, a Founder Professor in the Department of Physics and a Professor of Astronomy at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, opened an adjacent meeting on service orientation for data and high performance computing infrastructures. He made reference to the overwhelming data and computing needs emerging from early personalised medicine research, noting Larry Smarr had collected over a Terabyte of personal data, requiring a major supercomputer grant to do his personalised medical analysis. The day continued by exploring how research infrastructures are shaping up to address such key research needs, with a combined view of data and computing a common theme throughout the week.

Reflecting on the week’s discussions and pondering our own direction here in New Zealand, it is clear there is much to be learned from recent international activities. Solutions and capabilities essential for supporting data-related needs for research are emerging. New Zealand has an opportunity to adapt this early work, adopting approaches that best fit our own needs. As we do so, RDA’s international communities and their leaders are keen to share in our thinking, and are available to guide our directions and plans. If the New Zealand research sector is to take advantage of the many opportunities on offer, we will need to grow our engagement with RDA’s communities. If you are currently involved in research data projects or activities, please take a few minutes to look around the RDA communities and reach out to those involved, they are always keen to hear from new colleagues.

The RDA Seventh Plenary Meeting will take place in Tokyo, Japan from March 1st to 3rd, 2016. The theme is “Making data sharing work in the era of Open Science”. For more information, see the below introductory video:

Interests: NeSI’s Director, Nick Jones, is a member of the Organisational Advisory Board of RDA, responsible for defining and developing the way RDA works to meet its mission and support its membership.

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