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01 Oct 2014

Research Data Alliance 4th Plenary Meeting: Agricultural Data Interoperability Interest Group

In the recent years the advancement of empirical and information technologies have rapidly increased the amount of data in the Agronomic domain. However, the data currently available are highly distributed and patchy in nature. Using these data more effectively and taking advantage of associated cross-disciplinary research opportunities poses a major challenge to both domain scientists and information technologists. Although data from the observations and experiments made by individual investigators remain at the core of agronomy and its adjoining domains, their value increases substantially when the data are integrated and made interoperable to aid in the generation of broad generalities. In the long run, this allows information to be used for purposes other than those for which they were originally intended, to address questions that were unknown or unapproachable at the time the data were collected, strategically filling knowledge gaps. Nevertheless, taking a pure technological approach will only offer potential users a promise and will remain as a product of a technology push. It is important that the technology is brought closer to its users. Hence, the issue of data interoperability should be viewed from a socio-technological stand point. This could be achieved only by providing a forum where the technologists and the domain experts actively interact.

The Research Data Alliance (RDA) facilitates this interaction by adopting a bottom-up approach to build the required social and technical bridges for open data sharing. The Agricultural Data Interoperability Interest Group (ADIG) under RDA is focused on addressing data interoperability issues in the agronomic sciences by engaging with stakeholders and by providing technological recommendations. Recently the ADIG meeting was held on the 22nd of September in Amsterdam as part of the RDA 4th plenary meeting. This meeting provided an overview on the work done so far following previous plenary meetings. The allotted presentations ranged from grassroots initiatives to community level projects. The dominant topic of discussion towards achieving data interoperability was the application of Linked Data principles. Participants from the agINFRA project presented a proof of concept in applying Linked Data to integrate varied types of data such as germplasm, soil and bibliography. Furthermore, importance was also given to initiatives such as GACS and RING that are focused in developing metadata and controlled vocabularies to improve machine interoperability. Additionally, members of the Wheat Data Interoperability Working Group (WDIWG) presented a report on the various deliverables. The WDIWG is currently working on developing a cookbook for the Wheat research community that provides guidelines and recommendations for data managers on consistent usage of metadata and ontologies. The group members also emphasized on the development of a Linked Data prototype that would serve as a portal for integrated information pertaining to wheat data. Apart from discussions on the technical aspects of data interoperability, the meeting also highlighted efforts taken at the community level to promote open data sharing. Members of the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN) and AGRIgate provided an insight on their efforts to include the community towards open sharing of data.

Generally speaking, the RDA plenary meetings provided the right atmosphere that encouraged cross domain interactions. The ADIG meeting was no exception to this, it was attended by researchers and specialists coming from a wide range domains. This served as a good platform for broad discussions, such as the steps to be taken to encourage stakeholders’ participation in the open data initiative. Particularly, discussions on demonstrating the potential of Linked Data as key technology to facilitate data integration and interoperability proved to be very useful. The bottom-up structure of RDA aids in the identification issues that could be solved in a timely manner. This was evident from the deliverables planned by the WDIWG. Although, these recommendations would be wheat data centric, it could very well be adopted and extended by other associated research communities such as the Rice research community.

Furthermore attempts have to be made to pursue various joint initiatives with the intended target audience to mobilise ‘user-pull’ as an essential source to develop real world use cases to generate hypotheses. To this end, the adopters’ day planned for the 5th RDA plenary meeting will certainly be a step in this direction.

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