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10 Aug 2019

RDA Secretary-General Tour in Australia 2019

As I return home after my 3-week Australian tour across 6 cities, I reflect on this highly rewarding experience.

11 Research Data Alliance in Australia things

Size does matter: While a vast continent, I found Australians themselves referring to it as “small”.  As Jens Klump, CSIRO Team Leader Geoscience Analytics, Mineral Resources, and co-chair of several RDA groups, so eloquently put it “Compared to many other countries the Australian community occupies a sweet spot of size, complexity and collaboration.” In essence, despite the distances and time zones, the AU community is small enough to collaborate and cooperate together in an efficient and useful manner.

Time is not on their side: The time zone is not particularly “kind” to Australians when involved in international activities. Often times the are expected to actively participate in calls late at night, during the night and in the very early hours of the morning. It appears to be “accepted” by most of them as part of the game. Perhaps those of us located in the Northern hemisphere can think of them a bit more and make a few sacrifices ourselves.

Timing is everything: Australia is a hive of activity around research data management, eResearch, open science, data and research infrastructures. It is extremely timely that the 15th RDA Plenary Meeting will take place in Melbourne, Australia 18-20 March 2020. This is a unique opportunity for the Australasian community to showcase their activities, as well as kick start new international collaborations within the framework of RDA. International experts will get a window on the Australian world of research data related activities and concrete prospects for collaboration.

RDA is a one-stop-shop. Specifically, for research data best practices, guidelines and standards, covering a myriad of domains, technologies and societal challenges. It should be leveraged upon for inspiration around new ideas, for collaboration offering a depth, richness and weight like no other forum, and for its immense and varied network of experts. It is Australia’s research data window to the world and the international community's window to Australia. Use it.

An enthusiastic and energetic community. I cannot describe the energy and enthusiasm that I felt at every meeting and event I attended. Each of the seven meet and greet events were completely different, with two common threads, all hugely diverse professionals from more institutional and organizational interest in RDM to domain specific managers and IT professionals. The second common aspect that all are eagerly seeking support and insights for the RDM and open science challenges they are grappling with in their own professional context. There is a richness of knowledge, ideas and energy in Australia. An openness to collaboration and cooperation that should be leveraged upon.

The Plenary offers immense possibilities if well prepared. RDA Plenary meetings are working meetings, they are unique. An occasion to meet professionals from different backgrounds and disciplines, all grappling with similar challenges around data. Interacting and exchanging with the community at a Plenary is rewarding both professionally and personally. To make the most of a Plenary meeting, participants should invest some time in advance to understand existing RDA activities, identify areas of interest but also gaps. The RDA Secretariat will release a “Getting the Most from an RDA Plenary Meeting” to guide potential attendees through the pre-, during, and post- Plenary phases.

Geography is not a show-stopper. One Australian Chair has been involved and engaged with RDA for over 3 years and has yet to attend a Plenary meeting. In his own words “Don’t let geography stop you. You can very effectively take part [in meetings] remotely. The organisers put a lot of effort into making this work.”

Mutual impact. While presenting RDA in 6 different cities, I had prepared a series of examples of Australian adoption of RDA Outputs. At each event, I was informed of more cases. Australia might be far away, on a different time zone, but boy have they leveraged upon RDA so far. 3 cases of CoreTrustSeal certification with more underway, over 10 different implementations and repurposing of the 23 Things for Research Data programme, and at least 10 other organisations with RDA outputs adopted and implemented. Australia has benefitted from RDA, but the international community and producers of outputs too.