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23 Jul 2019

RDA Secretariat Face-to-face Meeting, July 2019

For the first time ever, since its establishment in 2013, the RDA Secretariat met for 3 days in Pisa, Italy to discuss operational plans for the next 10 months. The RDA Secretariat is a distributed group with 12 staff members from across the globe, responsible for the daily operations of the Research Data Alliance. Members meet on a weekly basis as a whole group and a series of Secretariat Task Forces work together on a frequent basis. Additionally, the Secretariat uses the RDA Plenary meetings to define plans and share status reports, but it has never been possible before to bring all members together in one place for a strategic and forward-looking 3 day meeting.

The Secretariat Task Forces cover 5 main pillars of activity, namely: 1) Web platform, 2) Group Processes and Procedures, 3) Plenary Meetings, 4) Communications, and 5) Outputs and Adoption.

In addition to these tasks, the Secretariat supports the organisational bodies (namely Council and its Task Forces, TAB, OAB and the Funder’s Forum). 

Thoughts and Impressions from the Secretariat Members themselves should give you an insight to the meeting and its outcomes:

  • With an impressive workload to keep the RDA wheels turning, the Secretariat needs to take advantage of every possible efficiency.  I think we got more done in 2 days than in many weeks of online meetings! It was especially great to sit down with the tech team in-person to work through some of the more challenging website features. Lynn Yarmey

  • Finally meeting other Secretariat members in person was so nice!  This is my team, and getting to know my teammates makes working together remotely much more rewarding.  Lynn Yarmey

  • It was great to finally meet all the team members who I’ve been working with for up to a year in person, and for (nearly everyone) to be in the same time zone for once, especially without the pressures and time constraints of a Plenary at the same time. Meeting and discussing technical issues with the developers helped enormously, too. The whole meeting reinforced that we are all part of a team. Stefanie Kethers

  • Being able to spend some time not just on purely operational, but also on strategic issues was very important, and really necessary. Stefanie Kethers

  • The opportunity to foster a team spirit can’t be underestimated considering we all work remotely.  For me personally, I feel it has made my work even more meaningful and I certainly welcomed the opportunity to appreciate better not only what everyone does but also how people are and interact - this can be very difficult to gauge if you have never met someone in person.  Discussing the difficult issues I feel would have been very hard if not impossible to do so well if it had been done remotely. Bridget Walker

  • The more I work for and with the RDA Community, the more I feel part of a powerful engine. RDA is one of the most true, active and operational research-related communities I’ve worked with, and as any communities of this type, it requires continuous assistance, efficiency and - I’d say - customer care. The RDA website is at the core of this engine, a powerful infrastructure which needs continuous fuelling and adjustment. Responding to the needs of such a demanding community is of course a tough job.  While receiving requests from our users confirms the vitality of the community, satisfying them gives all of us gratification. By the end of this year new functionalities - a new powerful search engine, a new layout for RDA Groups, a new visualisation for RDA Recommendation and Outputs - will be in place, to improve the user experience and the life of our members. Sara Pittonet Gaiarin

  • Communicating RDA is a day by day enriching experience. On one side, informing and getting the RDA community uptodate about the hundreds of initiatives and activities related to this user driven community is an enriching experience. On the other side, explaining the value of RDA to newcomers and getting new people engaged is challenging but this is exactly the objective the communication team has for this last part of 2019 and the beginning of 2020: ensuring better communication of RDA uniqueness to those who’ve just heard about it. Sara Pittonet Gaiarin

  • Last but not least, RDA’s 5 pillars are managed by an international team of professionals with different backgrounds, time zones and incredibly far distances among them. While remote working is quite a widespread practice all over the world and research communities are by definition spread across regions, taking decisions and setting up procedures and processes on a weekly basis can become quite a hard and all-inclusive job when it happens at 10 at night or 6 in the morning - all our families are a little bit part of the RDA Secretariat, too! Sara Pittonet Gaiarin

  • Face-to-face discussions with enough time planned are always productive! We should have done this much earlier! Face-to-face meetings at plenaries are usually shorter and not everybody is present. We also got to know the faces of the technical team behind the website to many of who we have been exchanging e-mails for years! The outcome of the meeting was also good, planning for the next steps and priorities for the next period, including RDA sustainability and its potential support in the different regions! Fotis Karayannis

  • I'm not an "official member" of the RDA Secretariat but having attended the retreat has shown me that the RDA "deus ex machina" exists and has a face, actually 12 faces. And these are the faces of 12 professionals spread around the world working with the same passion and mission: Making RDA a reality by supporting and facilitating the work of its international community. Sara Garavelli

  • Putting a face to the voice is extremely important when working within a team as geographically distributed as the RDA Secretariat; that said, the realisation that I was meeting a few of the members for the first time came well after that initial excitement of meeting valued colleagues you simply enjoy working with. This is one of the many great aspects of working for RDA - it is a team of knowledgeable professionals who are passionate about their work - and that’s contagious! Alex Delipalta

  • As others have mentioned before me, the team often meets in its unity around plenary meetings, which have an inherently different focus. Having the opportunity to hear about the team’s work in detail and share insights with each other was a valuable experience Alex Delipalta

  • Although I was not able to meet face to face with this impressive team due to my flight being canceled, I was able to participate remotely for the two-day meeting and brainstorm with the group on all areas pertaining to strategy, communications, plenaries and more.  Words do not give justice to the level of devotion these individuals have for the RDA community. Yolanda Meleco

  • It was extremely useful to have time dedicated to advancing our operational plans with direct input and feedback from colleagues with differing perspectives and ideas. I think we all came away with a better sense of how our complementary skills can best serve the RDA community at large. Meeting in person helped to make quick progress on developing and refining workplans, and allowed us to form a strategic overview of how each area of activity works together to advance RDA’s global mission. Thanks to the whole team for their collegiality and the inspiring work they do! Daniel Bangert

  • After one year of weekly meetings with my globally distributed colleagues, I got to know their voices and roles within the RDA. But this F2F meeting really made that I now feel part of a balanced, cohesive and a truly energetic team.  Marieke Willems

  • Supporting such an active community as RDA is, with its over 8000 members from 137 countries, with over 100 Working and Interest groups pulling out 32 recommendations and outputs (and counting), brings a wide variety of tasks that all need to fit and run like clockwork. We meet every week to align these tasks, ensure their progress and share the latest updates. But meeting for two-and-a-half days in the secretariat retreat really gave us the opportunity to learn who the colleagues behind these o-so-familiar voices were and improve connections between tasks beyond our weekly calls. Leveraging on the plans in place for each of the subtasks of the secretariat. Marieke Willems

  • After Plenary 13 we had planned a series of virtual coffees as a team-building exercise, getting to know the person behind the colleague, learning more about individual roles connected to the broader RDA work and sharing knowledge. The F2F coffee as a whole team tasted so much better and built the synergies that we can now continue to build upon. Marieke Willems

The Secretariat is a fundamental group for the RDA community, all the members work very hard and diligently to provide the best support possible and within the many constraints that we have (time zones, effort and resources available, etc.). This team is exceptional and I am very lucky to have such a group of qualified professionals with different skill sets, ideas, characters and cultures. I only wish that they were actually all working full time on the secretariat. Imagine what we could do? With all the different activities that I have to take care of, having this team support and assist me is fantastic. Hilary Hanahoe

The RDA Secretariat Members are

  • Daniel Bangert, RDA Outreach & impact support, Göttingen State and University Library, 
  • Alexandra Delipalta, RDA Plenary support, Digital Curation Centre
  • Ilaria Fava, RDA Document Management Support, Göttingen State and University Library
  • Anthony Juehne, RDA Adoption Manager, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute 
  • Fotis Karayannis, RDA Affiliates & Organisational members Liaison, ATHENA Research Center
  • Stefanie Kethers, RDA Director of Operations, Australian Research Data Commons
  • Yolanda Meleco, RDA Communications Manager, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
  • Sara Pittonet Gaiarin, RDA Web Manager & RDA Communications Manager, Trust-IT Services Ltd.
  • Bridget Walker, RDA Executive Assistant, Research Data Alliance
  • Marieke Willems, RDA Outreach & Impact Coordinator, Trust-IT Services Ltd.
  • Lynn Yarmey, RDA Socio-technical Coordinator, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute


Last, but certainly not least, many thanks to Trust-IT Services Ltd (RDA Europe Coordinator) and the RDA Europe 4.0 project for hosting the meeting in Pisa. Italy.

Hilary Hanahoe, RDA Secretary General




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