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14 May 2017

A Few Words from an RDA Early Career

A great hope in research data underpinned the 9th RDA plenary meeting. Almost all speeches –from Mark Parsons’ speech, the RDA Secretary General, to Fabrizio Gagliardi’s speech, the Senior Strategy Advisor of Barcelona Supercomputing Center, to those of the European Commission representatives- all these speeches gave hope in the future of research data, in their release and their reuse. But is that a reality or only an illusion fostered by a small community of data experts? As a researcher, I remain skeptical, thinking about the economic value, the legal constraints, the (irreducible?) complexity of research data… In short, about everything that makes open research data an unachievable dream. As a scientific and technical information professional, however, I pray that the dream becomes true. Because research data could offer a renewal to the profession.

I am a PhD student in information sciences at the National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts in Paris. I am writing a thesis on research data, entitled “How does a research data culture emerge? Issues, practices and proficiencies in French research context”. I have chosen to focus on researcher’s perspective, noticing that few scientific communities have already developed practices and tools to manage their research data. My research work builds on Christine L. Borgman’s. I explore which favourable conditions enabled some scientific communities to embed data management in their research practices and why other communities still stay outside of this data culture. One of my hypotheses is that data management depends on the scientific and/or economic value given to research data. This value varies from one dataset to another and represents either a barrier or an incentive to data sharing.

At the same time, I work as project officer on a study led by the Research Data Working Group of the Digital Scientific Library (BSN10) and funded by the French Ministry of Higher Education and Research. BSN10 has actually launched an inventory of French research data management services. My job consists in identifying, analysing and classifying infrastructures which provide research data management services. Sixty-two infrastructures have already been treated. The aim of this study is to better know which kind of research data services exist in France, how they are managed and how they interact with international partners. A second phase of the study was launched in October 2016, consisting in building a registry which will reference French research data management services. I work on this phase in collaboration with the Institute of Scientific and Technical Information (INIST-CNRS), which will host and maintain the website at the end of the project. The future registry tends to be interoperable with the existing registries, such as Re3data. It will be fed and updated collaboratively by users. You can read more about the study on the poster here: 

Getting back to the question of what will happen to research data in a few decades, I would say that RDA sets them on the path to a promising future. If we try to count how many data experts there are per square kilometer, we may find more square kilometers than data experts. The Research Data Alliance the advantage of making us totally forget this geographic reality, while giving data experts the opportunity to meet and work together. This way, RDA catalyzes progress in research data management. The RDA actually became THE reference for research data internationally. As proof: there were 9 French participants at the second plenary meeting; 40 at the ninth meeting in Barcelona. This is undeniable evidence, I assure you, because it always requires a strong appeal to get French people to attend an English-speaking event!

I think RDA’s success lies in its organization. Indeed, everyone can join the alliance, regardless of scientific field or professional status, and whether he/she wants to get involved a little, a lot, madly or passionately. Moreover, you always have the possibility to create an interest or a working group to explore new issues. The particularity of the working groups is their short lifespan, which ensures efficiency: a result which I did not expect, I confess, before attending the 9th plenary. The sometimes very technical and specific dimension of RDA’s publications and webinars has probably something to do with this. The plenary meetings, on the contrary, give the opportunity to perceive the dynamics of all groups.

You will have noticed, I have very fond memories of the 9th plenary. I will remember the warm and joyful atmosphere and the people I have met there. To conclude, I would like to express my gratitude to RDA Europe for having given me the opportunity of participating to the 9th Plenary.

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