Three years of IGAD: progression and evolution

15 Apr 2016

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Please find below a summary of the activities and evolution of IGAD since its inception

Three years of IGAD: progression and evolution

The Interest Group on Agricultural Data (IGAD) came to life in Gothenburg (Sweden) in 2013 at the beginning of the Research Data Alliance (RDA) and has since grown to include over 100 members, from across continents. IGAD is a domain-oriented group working on all issues related to global agriculture data. It represents stakeholders in managing data for agricultural research and innovation, including producing, aggregating and consuming data.

Beyond this, IGAD promotes good practices in the research domain, including data sharing policies, data management plans, and data interoperability. As a forum for sharing experiences and providing visibility to research and work in agricultural data, IGAD has become a space for networking and blending ideas related to data management and interoperability. It also provides fertile ground to reach out and promote projects among other international organizations and institutions working in agricultural research and innovation. On a logistical level, one of IGAD’s chief roles is to serve as a platform that leads to the creation of domain-specific Working Groups.

To this end, IGAD has taken a multi-faceted approach, splintering into specific focus groups each with their own tangible goals. In keeping with RDA strategy, IGAD has formed one successful Working Group (WG) – the Wheat Data Interoperability WG and two key discussion groups – on Rice Data Interoperability and Agrisemantics. Soil experts are also committed to partnering with IGAD.

Under RDA guidelines, WGs have 18 months to achieve concrete deliverables and each of IGAD’s groups are steadily moving towards this. At the RDA P7 the Agrisemantics group talked through its efforts to consolidate a portal to integrate existing ontologies, while the Rice Data Interoperability WG committed to a five point action plan that includes a survey to gather different types of rice data and best practices in digitalization aimed at opening up access to Thailand’s national data legacy. The Soil Group pledged to finalize a new soil interoperability test by 2016.

Meanwhile, the Wheat Data Interoperability WG has proved to be one of IGAD’s chief successes. As well as providing a blueprint for other focus groups (the Rice Data Interoperability group is committed to modifying and replicating successful WDG outcomes), it has created a “cookbook” on how to produce wheat data that is easily sharable and interoperable. These guidelines have become a common reference point for anyone working in wheat data (ontologies, information systems, scientific research).

RDA Events and IGAD pre-meetings

The RDA holds its plenary meetings every six months at different locations around the world. Built around the RDA Working and Interest Group meetings the sessions are designed to consolidate the RDA’s work and that of its interest groups in building social and technological bridges towards open data sharing. IGAD’s role since its inception has expanded with every successive Plenary. IGAD has used the plenary meetings as a place to reach out and forge new alliances with other groups, as well as creating new offshoot groups aimed at specific solutions. The Soil Group is one. During Plenary sessions IGAD has hosted a wide array of speakers and discussions and it continues to work alongside major international initiatives such as GODAN, GACS, CIARD, CGIAR, FAO of the UN, INRA and CYMMIT, among others.

IGAD’s focused pre-meetings prior to the RDA Plenaries are an opportunity to assess the group’s evolution, take stock of existing issues, and lay the groundwork for concrete future action.  At the RDA Plenary 5 in San Diego IGAD pinpointed some specific discussion themes, which it drove forward for discussion at the next focused pre-meeting at the RDA P6.  These included data access, agricultural data semantics and soil research data management. International initiatives and organizations including INRA, GODAN, CIARD, CGAIR, UNFAO, CIMMYT were also represented.

At IGAD’s Pre-Meeting of the RDA P6 in Paris, France (September 2015), around 40 people came together from agricultural related sectors – academia, private business and the European Commission. IGAD made inroads towards openness and sound data management, increasing data access, interoperability, and enhancing soil data and information, with a number of methodologies successfully put in place. In particular IGAD focused on:

  • Raising awareness about the importance of opening up access to data repositories by researchers and private stakeholders
  • Focusing attention on implementing good data management policies within institutions (these should support openness and provide standards that could be applied to data repositories).
  • Highlighting the need for tools and existing standards to facilitate good data management

Furthermore, the Group underlined the importance of linking existing communities and initiatives and advocating good data management practices across the board.  From here IGAD grew in presence and community strength with the challenge now to build momentum in a focused manner toward the RDA Plenary 7.

At the most recent IGAD Pre-Meeting of the RDA P7 in Tokyo, Japan (February 2016), 50 IGAD members – split into three key discussion groups, came up with tangible plans of action aimed at opening up access to agricultural data. There was a special focus on rice research, with the Groups – Agrisemantics, Rice and Soil-, producing some interesting results. Presentations from the RDA P7 have been posted on the Open Knowledge in Agricultural Development  channel hosted on F1000Research – a platform for authors to share their original research findings, initiatives, case studies, perspectives and opinions relating to open knowledge initiatives within all areas in the context of agriculture, agri-food and agro-biodiversity.

Forging new alliances and building networks within the field of agricultural data has also been on IGAD’s agenda from the outset. Its partnership with GODAN (strengthened at the RDA P7) is an important logistical and financial pairing that will help IGAD’s groups to achieve success going forward. As well as GODAN, IGAD continues to work alongside key initiatives such as GACS, CIARD, CGIAR, UNFAO and CYMMIT.

Capacity development activities

Elsewhere IGAD has spearheaded two important capacity development initiatives particularly in low income countries. The idea of an online MOOC course on data management aimed specifically at users in Latin America came about at the San Diego RDA meeting and is a way of introducing Spanish speakers involved in agricultural research to new trends on data management. The MOOC courses offer an introduction to themes of data management using examples from the international sphere and with a particular focus on data management research in fisheries and nutrition. As well as teaching how to define data the course looks at issues of data storage, sharing and long term preservation, highlighting the different resources available to Latin American researchers in data management. IGAD heads the course in conjunction with the FAO of the United Nations, Spain’s Polytechnic University of Valencia and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

In addition to the above, IGAD has co-organized four Forums on Open Data and Open Science in Agriculture in Africa, three of which are taking place early this year. The goal of the forums is to provide a platform for stakeholders in Africa to share knowledge on institutional and national initiatives aimed at enhancing the visibility, accessibility and usability of agricultural data and science. Opening up access to this type of data has the potential to contribute to developing innovative solutions to address food security and combat hunger and poverty on the continent, contributing to the realization of Africa’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Looking forward IGAD will continue to play an active role at subsequent RDA Plenaries, building on the outcomes of its groups and outlining new targets.  Over the next six months its focus will be on the two new groups and developing a solid data test. IGAD will be organizing a session in Denver before the 8th RDA Plenary to present the first results.