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04 Dec 2019

RDA Plenary 14 and its take-away messages for the Australian community

This Blog post collects impressions and take-away messages for the Australian community from a number of Australian participants attending RDA Plenary 14 in Helsinki, 23-25 October 2019.

If you also attended Plenary 14 from Australia, please feel free to add your own take-away messages from the Plenary in the comments!

Andrew Treloar (ARDC) - RDA TAB co-chair and co-chair of Global Open Research Commons IG:

Plenary 14 was held at Aalto University in Helsinki, 23-25 October 2019. Nearly 600 people attended the meeting, and the level of energy and enthusiasm for data was palpable. From an Australian perspective, three things are worth highlighting. The first is that the Global Open Research Commons Interest Group held its first meeting (the group is currently in the process of being endorsed by RDA). This group is being co-lead by Andrew Treloar from the ARDC and will look at how to coordinate similar commons-related activities internationally. The second is that a likely focus of the next Plenary 15 (in Melbourne! in March 2020!) will be looking at how to integrate RDA outputs to address significant challenges such as one or more of the Sustainable Development Goals. The third is that the Global Indigenous Data Alliance is keen to hold a co-located event at Plenary 15 looking at issues of indigenous data sovereignty. So, the next Plenary is shaping up to be a not-to-be-missed event.

Mingfang Wu (ARDC) - Co-chair of several RDA Interest and Working Groups

Here are my three take away messages: 1) I find it equally beneficial to participate in co-located events and the RDA Plenary. Co-located events have more time to go either deep or wide on a chosen topic, while the RDA Plenary has wide coverage of all sorts of issues related to data sharing, discovery, quality and reuse, etc. 2)  One, newcomer or regular attendee, really needs to research the Plenary program to get most of the Plenary as there are several parallel and interesting sessions going on at the same time. This year, I chose mostly birds of a feather (BoF) sessions for the purpose of seeing what are potential “new” groups that start forming and what issues they are to address, would my local communities who have similar issues be connected or contributed to these groups. 3) I actively co-chair a working group (Research Metadata Schemas WG) and an interest group  (Data Discovery Paradigms IG) myself, I have ARDC projects similar to the groups’ activities, it is very helpful for me to be able to tap on and connect to international expertise via the RDA venue.  

Frankie Stevens (AARNet) - RDA TAB and OA member:

The Research Data Alliance Plenary 14 took us to Finland in October. Whilst plenary locations may change, the crux of RDA doesn’t. I’ve always found RDA plenaries to be engaging, collaborative, and productive. You’re joining a community, not a conference.  

I started my preparations for the plenary before I even left Australia. The program is vast, and requires some strategising and organisation to get the most out of the event. Luckily, RDA provides a “plenary pathways” guide, which can help guide you through the program and identify themes of interest, and how to engage with these. When I arrived in Helsinki, I was never far away from research data aficionados, with over 600 of us milling about in the same city. It was easy to bump into a familiar friendly face, particularly when staying in one of the plenary recommended hotels. 

The plenary itself consisted of three days of activity, which was shouldered by co-located events. These co-located events are a fabulous way of getting more bang for your plenary buck. In this instance, I was able to chair a session in the “International Research Data Community contributing to EOSC" event organised by the project in collaboration with the EOSC Executive Board and RDA. This event enabled me greater understanding of global initiatives to research data, with AARNet partnering on some of these key initiatives. Keep an eye out for the co-located events in Melbourne, with add immense value. 

RDA plenaries are attended by all sorts - researchers, infrastructure providers, research librarians, policy folk, research funders and so on. It would be near impossible to highlight how a plenary can benefit all these cohorts, so I’ll focus on a couple of themes and activities that I was able to engage with at P14, and that I believe would be interesting to Australia. The first is the Research Data Architectures in Research Institutions Interest Group. If you’re looking for individuals who understand the challenges of supporting research data architectures in institutions, this is the group for you. Sessions run by this group typically showcase a theme of interest (sensitive data in Helsinki), and highlight activity underway. The Melbourne Plenary should see the results of a global survey undertaken by the group on management services offered by universities and research institutions, to followed by a solutions workshop tackling the key themes - great! Also of interest was the activity underway in the Health and Medical space… this is no longer sitting in the “too hard” basket. RDA groups are tackling this head on, with blockchain, reproducibility and data trains all heavily debated with relevance to the Health and Medical space. If you want to know more about the challenges in this sector, and the solutions being considered, get registered for the Melbourne Plenary.

In summary I thoroughly enjoyed the Finnish experience, the novelty of experiencing Autumn (I’m Gold Coast based) only added to the trip. Bring on the warmth of Melbourne though… and see you in March 2020!

Kathryn Unsworth (CSIRO) - Co-chair of Exposing Data Management Plans WG:

Plenary 14 in Helsinki was my second RDA, preceded by Plenary 13 in Philadelphia. Helsinki was far less daunting than Philly, mainly because I’d mentally prepared for the intense immersion and highly outcomes focused nature of the forum. RDA is seriously not a “conference”. At conferences you generally passively consume each presentation’s content to take back and share with work colleagues. Instead, the working meetings at RDA require a commitment to roll up your sleeves, solve problems, make decisions and more, so that what you take back to your institution/organisation are new ways of thinking and doing, in other words, solutions.  

A few things I feel compelled to highlight:

  • There is a real sense of community around RDA. Contributions from newcomers and the old guard alike are equally regarded and sought. I was amazed by the number of first timers who raised their hands at Helsinki, by far the majority in the audience.

  • If Melbourne is your first RDA, don’t feel like you need to know everything. There’s a newcomer’s session that will provide you with some solid grounding.

  • Accept the disappointment you'll feel about missing valuable sessions, you can’t attend everything.

  • By the end of it you’ll feel annihilated (tired as all hell) and exhilarated at the same time.

Contributing to interest and working groups without having attended a plenary is fine and doable for sure, but for me as a co-chair of the Exposing DMP working group the penny hadn’t really dropped until I’d attended one. I feel this has informed my approach with the working group, and incentivised my increased involvement because I want to see meaningful outcomes. I’m more confident now in the co-chair role.

The synergies between what’s happening in RDA groups and my organisation (CSIRO) are significant. I’m an Outreach Librarian with responsibility for the Manufacturing business unit, which closely aligns interest-wise with the Research Data Management for Engineering IG. Outreach to researchers on a wider scale peaked my interest in a potentially new interest group – Engaging Researchers in Data Management. Just a tad excited about that one! At CSIRO, we have major developments in research data governance, infrastructure, tools, training and services encapsulated in our Managed Data Ecosystem (MDE) project. We’ve recently deployed our Research Data Planner (RDP), which links in with work being done by the Active DMP IG and its two sub-groups Exposing DMPs and DMP Common Standards. Other projects under the MDE umbrella relate to implementing PIDs, and you guessed it, I made sure I was at the PIDs IG session to catch up on all the PID’s goss. Similarly aligned are our Digital Academy Learning program and topics covered by the Education and Training on Handling Data IG. The connections I’ve made in Helsinki, people and ideas, are so numerous I’m still working through them all.

On a final note -- RDA covers off on many data-related interests, but if not yours, there’s always the potential to get your ideas out there and pull those with common interests together by running a BoF. Get to it folks and see you in Melbourne!

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