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Topics:

Introduction

RDA plenaries are large events, and you would be forgiven for thinking that there are as many ways to experience the RDA as there are people attending it. Thankfully, this isn’t quite the case; there are different classes of people, and the way in which these classes approach the RDA plenary adds much-needed diversity, engagement and excitement to the conference on a variety of levels. For instance, head on over to Allyson’s recent blog post (not yet migrated) to get an idea of how a newbie to the in-person RDA Plenary scene found the experience. In keeping with the different classes of people just discussed, Allyson views the plenaries in light of possible character alignments from role playing games!

Plenary organisers sometimes have good reasons for specific dress code recommendations

Navigating the RDA online, as you begin to join working and interest groups can be daunting enough; attending a plenary either in person or online adds another level of depth. Both Sara and Allyson are RDA / EOSC Future Domain Ambassadors, and before we launch into a more in-depth discussion of how the different types of people enrich the plenaries they attend, we want to thank both organisations for supporting us on so many levels as we participated in the plenary in Gothenburg this past March.  

So what type of people will you meet when you attend your next RDA plenary, and what do they bring to the overall experience? Each group of people brings their own special skills to the conference, with each category being strong in one area and weak in others. As with all good teams, the RDA community draws upon this diversity in our ongoing effort to build a research data community that succeeds in all of its aspirations. Let’s start by looking at the overall experiences of new RDA members when attending a plenary, and the positives and negatives that can arise from these experiences. It would help us all to spend a little time looking inward at ourselves and our behaviours, and shine a light on our better natures, and create some awareness of when we might not be as inclusive as we would like. Finally, we will take a step back and take a lighter look at the categories of people at the RDA and help you learn what type of RDA plenary attendee you might be!

The main timezones used in the programmes are UTC and the local time. A possible reason why you (think you) arrived in the middle of the session and the room looks like this.

The benefits and challenges for the novice RDA plenary attendee

Let’s take a look at what the RDA members as a singular entity can provide to someone attending their first plenary. Experienced and seasoned members who are experts in their fields can help foster networks and connections with keen new talent, and ensure that multiple points of view are encouraged and heard. New members can really ‘see how the sausage is made’, and learn how the research data community operates on a practical level. Many existing RDA members have been around since the very beginning, and can provide useful guidance on navigating these loud, exciting and sometimes tricky research data waters. The RDA plenaries are generally very pleasant, and all new and old attendees are constantly learning vast quantities of new things and making new connections.

New members are given the opportunity to ease into plenaries with introductory webinars in the run up to each plenary, and the volunteers and staff at the conference centres are helpful. Most RDA members are happy to take the time out to answer questions. However, despite all of these, upon arrival at a plenary you are really jumping in at the deep end of the pool. Many of the WGs and IGs having a ‘dive in and get started with us!’ attitude which, while friendly, can make it hard to know what people are talking about and even harder to contribute. There can also be generational gaps and other physical or social differences that shouldn’t be a barrier but in practice often are, and may be expressed not just in perceived seniority but also in conflicting attitudes and cultures. There can also be a lack of accessible language, which makes it harder for people new to the field to get up to speed with discussions, both with verbal and more asynchronous means such as email or document co-creation (see more information at the Center for Plain Language). Finally, there is great comfort in the familiar; people tend to group together with others that they know, and the ways in which these groups interact (either in a formal setting of a WG session or a less formal drinks or lunchtime hour) can be daunting from an outsider’s point of view. This kind of natural tendency of people to ‘clump’ according to those they see as in their group can lead to feelings of otherness, whether that otherness is due to being new to the RDA, or more critically, due to any gender or racial imbalances.

What can we do to improve this?

We could ask long-term RDA members to become mentors for the length of a plenary, giving the space and time to be a friendly face for a new person. The level of interaction and engagement could vary depending on each pair. The introductory webinars could be supplemented with e.g. Galaxy training material or Scribe guides.

We have a wealth of RDA / EOSC Future Ambassadors, and we are actively looking at ways of continuing ambassador engagement beyond the lifetime of the awards. Willing ambassadors would also be great connections for small groups of newbies in their particular domains, and help with long-term community building and nurturing a new generation. At a more operational level, Wellbeing volunteers could keep an eye on attendees and provide safety and wellness checks by volunteers trained in identifying microaggressions, de-escalation and allyship.

As we delve deeper into the diverse fabric of the RDA community, we must recognize the variety of personas present and the unique attributes they contribute. This understanding is central to the RDA experience, as it encourages a culture of learning, sharing, and collaboration. However, it’s also important to acknowledge that navigating a plenary, even with the most robust processes and the best intentions, can be overwhelming, sometimes exceeding even the “bandwidth” of seasoned participants.
 
To make this more interactive, we’ve designed this quiz to serve as a tool for self-discovery, encouraging you to identify your behavioural patterns, understand your unique role, and potentially foresee the evolution of your position within our community. Whether you identify as a “Lost Puppy,” “Window Shopper,” or even a “Cat-Herder,” taking pride in your current status may soon be rewarded with a “promotion” of sorts. 

So please take a moment to do the quiz – and post the results with the link to the article on your favourite social media channel! 


Quiz: Discover your RDA Persona: Are you a Lost Puppy, a Secret Admirer, or something entirely different?

“Lost Puppies”

You’re fresh on the RDA scene! As a newbie, you might feel like a head-scratching wonderer, perhaps a little overwhelmed by complex governance structures. But fear not, dear Rookie Rockstar! With some guidance from the RDA old-timers, you’ll be navigating like a pro in no time. And once you do, it’s a world of opportunity – skills to learn, personal and professional growth to achieve, and community resources to explore.

“Window Shopper”

You love dipping your toes in various RDA groups or projects, sampling different topics and ideas. As an Explorer or Plenary Prowler, you may have attended a conference or two, shared your knowledge when appropriate, and moved on. This approach allows you to soak up new ideas and perspectives, network, and learn from others’ experiences.

“Secret Admirers”

We see you lurking! Like a silent ninja, you prefer to consume outputs and attend events without much fanfare. Being a Fly on the Wall, you have the freedom to engage at your own pace, savoring the chance to learn and stay informed, while enjoying access to a wealth of community resources.

“Social Butterflies”

As active group members, you are the life of the RDA party. Whether you’re a Conversation Starter or an Influencer, you love participating in discussions, providing feedback, and supporting other members. Your role is vital as you bridge different groups and build relationships across the community.

“Cat-Herders”

You are our community’s backbone! Cat-Herders, as WG/IG/COP Chairs/Co-Chairs, you’re the ones driving community projects and providing leadership.

“Wizards”

And let’s not forget our Wizards – the Facilitators, Project Managers, and Communicators who coordinate and manage activities, deal with conflicts, and adapt to changing circumstances. You folks make sure everything runs smoothly!

“The Royals”

We hail “The Royals” – the Big Shots, the Funding Fairies, and Decision Dukes/Duchesses. These are our funders, council members, and advisory board members. Your significant investment in the community goes beyond financial support. You set policies, provide guidance, and your strategic involvement has a far-reaching impact.

“The Force”

And last but not least, “The Force” – the wise Owls, Timeless Titans, and Legendary Larks. You’re the pillars and founders of RDA! Your continual engagement and support make you the grounding gurus of our community.