Author: Sara El Gebali
Sara El-Gebali's blog explores the RDA Ambassador experience, highlighting the role of community networks. It highlights the RDA and EOSC's role in fostering collaboration and knowledge dissemination. The blog also discusses the transformative journey from an RDA observer to an active ambassador, FAIRPoints project initiatives, and the importance of equitable community engagement in research.
People's motivation to become researchers and their approach to research, including Open Science practices, are significantly influenced by community networks and grassroots activities. These networks serve as the driving force behind their passion for science.
The RDA & EOSC
The Research Data Alliance (RDA) plays a pivotal role by creating a central hub where researchers and the wider community can gather to exchange ideas, collaborate, and co-create. It acts as a catalyst for efficient knowledge dissemination, enabling individuals to learn and apply their newfound insights in the broader world.
For example, some deeply engaged individuals within the RDA have made substantial contributions to shaping the services of the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC).
Becoming an ambassador
This collaboration brings us to the RDA/EOSC ambassadorship program, which has been a fantastic entry point into both the RDA and EOSC. Many ambassadors, including myself, have benefited significantly from this unique opportunity.
Before becoming an ambassador, I was what you might call an 'RDA Window Shopper.' I would stay updated by subscribing to various group mailing lists, reading the latest outputs, and occasionally attending events. However, being an ambassador transformed my engagement. It allowed me to immerse myself in the RDA community, become actively involved, and gain a more profound understanding of what EOSC has to offer.
Curious to find your place in the RDA community? Take the "RDA Persona" quiz to discover where you fit!
Unpacking The FAIR Principles: Insights from Community-Led Events
For the ambassadorship project, a series of "Ask Me Anything"-style events were organized by the FAIRPoints team and members of the FAIRPoints community. We chose a subject that's close to our heart—the implementation of the FAIR guiding principles in practice. Keynote presenters from the RDA and EOSC groups discussed RDA activities and EOSC solutions in the context of FAIR implementation and Open Practices in Science.
We carefully selected themes and topics that would not only engage our FAIRPoints community but also be welcoming and understandable for those new to the subject.
Our goal was to create a ‘community-driven’ atmosphere in which we encouraged FAIRPoints community members to take the lead in moderating and guiding the discussions themselves.
We've all had moments in a classroom where we’ve hesitated to ask a question, thinking it might sound silly or assuming everyone else already knows the answer. With this in mind, our objective was to establish a nurturing and inclusive atmosphere where all participants felt at ease to ask about anything, regardless of how basic or seemingly off-topic their questions might be.
We focused on five main themes, guided by questions from our FAIRPoints community members, popular topics, and recent significant developments. All themes beautifully reflect the collaborative efforts between the RDA and EOSC, and shed light on the challenges and successes in realizing the FAIR principles.
These themes included:
1. Identifiers: We hosted discussions with Maggie Hellström, Matt Buys, and Peter Wittenberg to explore different identifier types, their significance in creating FAIR digital objects, their relevance to researchers, and practical applications.
2. Software & Workflows: Carole Goble and Paula Andrea Martinez joined us to discuss the FAIRification of software and workflows, available tools and infrastructures supporting this process, the importance of FAIRification, and its relevance to researchers.
3. Machine Actionability: Together with Claus Weiland we delved into what's necessary for machine actionability, including semantics, metadata, operations, and types. We explored why automation is crucial in research, how researchers can create machine-actionable outputs, and the available tools to facilitate this.
4. Equitable and Transparent Access to Information: Alongside Sharif Islam and Karl Meyer, we engaged in in-depth conversations on the role of infrastructures in ensuring open and equitable access to information, its impact on design decisions, and the meaning of open and FAIR principles on a global scale.
For more information and access to notes & presentation slides, please visit https://www.fairpoints.org/events/.
Our AMA-Event presenters and guests were both enriched by this experience. It came as a surprise to us that among the most popular pieces of feedback from the speakers at the AMA event was, "This was eye-opening; I didn't realize people faced these challenges," or statements expressing appreciation of the task of simplifying complicated subjects.
Our commitment to cater to diverse audiences and provide information in different formats included a partnership with the FAIRData Podcast and Machine Centric Science Podcast to interview key figures contributing to the advancement of the FAIR principles. These included speakers from RDA, EOSC, and FAIR Digital Objects Forum (FDO-Forum).
The podcasts offered different perspectives:
The FAIR Data podcast offered a glimpse into the personal lives of those interviewed, providing insights into their backgrounds, journeys, interests, and the technological advancements poised to revolutionize knowledge creation, sharing, discovery, and manipulation.
In contrast, the Machine Centric podcast provided in-depth technical knowledge, diving into the intricate details of how things work, allowing enthusiasts to immerse themselves. Our presenters did a fantastic job of capturing people's attention and drawing people into these complex topics.
It's easy to get lost in technical jargon, especially when we're primarily interacting within our specific fields or disciplines. Stepping out of that comfort zone revealed that use of jargon not only limits communication but also serves as a gatekeeper, potentially intimidating others.
Empowering Communities through Inclusive Engagement
One of our key strengths lies in the vibrancy of our FAIRPoints community and its dedicated members. We wholeheartedly appreciate the wealth of knowledge and support that flows from volunteer participation. It's essential to acknowledge that these invaluable contributions come at a personal cost, often requiring individuals to invest countless hours on top of their already demanding workloads. This arrangement raises concerns about equitable participation. Those who can afford to allocate time and resources are more readily able to actively engage.
Similar to some other communities in Open Science (e.g. OpenLifeScience), we recognized this disparity and came to the conclusion that providing financial assistance to our volunteers helps us level the playing field and offer opportunities to foster a diverse and thriving community.
We urge other organizations to acknowledge the importance of compensating community members who dedicate their time and effort to developing, maintaining, and contributing in various capacities. Relying solely on volunteerism to drive Open Science practices risks leaving behind critical perspectives and voices.
This concern stems from our own observations of the struggles faced by many organizations, including academic institutions. They often grapple with creating effective systems for financially rewarding individuals, hindered by legal barriers and logistical challenges, such as difficulties in international fund transfers or the need for governmental contracts for financial distributions.
This situation needs to evolve if we are truly committed to fostering diversity and welcoming new voices into the conversation. Our efforts, alongside like-minded organizations, aim to catalyze this change.
So, what do we bring to the table? We offer micro-grants as a means to level the playing field and eliminate the privilege often associated with volunteering. This comes in the form of paid opportunities for roles like moderation, event planning, and delivery, supported by us, to help overcome participation barriers. These micro-grants encompass various costs, including internet access, electricity, audio-visual equipment like headsets and webcams, office space or desk rentals to ensure uninterrupted participation, childcare, and audio transcription. Importantly, we ensure that recipients receive these micro-grants in advance to ease any temporary financial burden, reducing stress and catering to those who may not be able to pay upfront.
We also consider and accommodate different methods of receiving payments, recognizing that traditional bank accounts may not always be accessible.
Our primary goal is to empower individuals, offering leadership opportunities, highlighting community members' work, and providing them with a broader platform to reach a wider audience. We are committed to fostering a harassment-free, safe environment that supports various forms of participation, both verbal and written.
Importantly, we acknowledge the existence of many remarkable communities that share our values and principles. These communities provide continuous opportunities for learning, adaptation, and broadening of our perspectives.
Communities possess immense influence, and communities dedicated to inclusion and equity wield extraordinary power in shaping a brighter future for research!
Throughout the past decade, RDA has grown into a global community of communities with a magnitude of contributions. In honor of RDA’s impressive decade, we strive to collectively continue working towards a more inclusive and equitable research landscape.
Here's to celebrating ten remarkable years of the RDA!