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20 Nov 2018

All is FAIR in love and data - attending the 12th RDA plenary in Botswana

I am a master student in information sciences and a research assistant at the University of Applied Sciences in Potsdam, Germany and was more than happy when I received the news that I was one of the grant winners for the RDA early career researcher program. Being able to travel to beautiful Botswana and attending the RDA Plenary this year was a wonderful opportunity for me to meet fellow researchers interested in (research) data management from all over the world.

I am a member of RDA DE, the German RDA group and had attended the previous plenary in Berlin as a volunteer to the organizing team, but with hardly any chance to attend actual sessions. It was a nice change to be a ble to take part in the plenary as a participant and having an idea how much work organizing such a big conference generates, I was impressed by how well everything was set up coordinated at the beautiful conference venue.

Unfortunately, I missed the opening ceremony and the keynote address by the president of Botswana, Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi, due to my luggage not making the long trip from Germany to Gabarone at the same time as me. Once reunited with my backpack - and my poster for the poster session - I headed straight to the conference, where the first of many poster and coffee sessions, a perfect time to mingle and socialize, was already taking place.

I am interested in all things concerning the discussion about FAIR data and had planned to attend breakout sessions for Working and Interest Groups, which sounded like they would touch on the topic of FAIRness. I surely was not disappointed - there was hardly any way around FAIR in some form or another in most sessions and key notes. From FAIRSharing (WG FAIRSharing Registry and Data Policy Standardisation and Implementation IG: Journal Data Policy Standardization for FAIRer Data - Where We Are, What is Next), FAIRness in the European Open Science Cloud (BoF The International Dimension of a Sustainable and FAIR-enabled European Open Science Cloud), FAIR metrics (WG WDS/RDA Assessment of Data Fitness for Use) and education on FAIR data (IG Libraries for Research Data: Engaging With Researchers and Understanding FAIR Principles), I think it is fair to say (pun intended!), that leaving the plenary without signing on to the principles was almost impossible: Make data Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable.

I was impressed with the amount of different Working Groups, Interest Groups and Birds of a Feather groups in RDA and the different kinds of perspectives each WG or IG has to offer on those kinds of questions, which ultimately concern all areas of (research) data management, such as FAIR. Generally, during sessions discussions are encouraged and it was fascinating for me experience how topics, such as FAIR, might be approached from different point of views. How can infrastructures, for example repositories, help accomplish FAIR data? How do we measure FAIRness? How discipline specific do different aspects of the FAIR principles need to interpreted? What do we mean, when we talk about interoperability and reusability? And how can FAIR practices be encouraged or educated?

It should be quite obvious that I left the plenary with a whole bunch of questions - which I consider to be a very good thing. Listening to the discussions in the different working groups, reading the posters during the poster sessions and having conversations with more seasoned researchers in the field of data management inspired a lot of critical thought on what I had learned so far, as well as a good amount of research questions for my upcoming master thesis. This is exactly what I hoped to take with me from the plenary: inspiring discussions, expert opinions and a whole lot of more questions to ask. I think the RDA early career research grant is a wonderful opportunity to achieve precisely this, especially for students or researchers fairly early in their career. The Early career and Engagement IG, which also held a very informative session during the plenary is a good way to start getting involved in RDA. Overall, I am thankful for the opportunity to attend the 12th RDA plenary in Botswana and will try to make sure that it wasn't the last RDA plenary for me.

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