RDA for Newcomers - some notes

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30 August 2016 4933 reads

This page is meant to give you a brief introduction to the Research Data Alliance (RDA), in particular on how RDA works, and on the various ways that you can get involved with RDA, from commenting on documents to establishing a Working or Interest Group. There are links more detailed information on the RDA Web site throughout this page.

Your suggestions, questions or comments on this document are welcome! Please email stefanie.kethers[at]ardc.edu.au, or add a comment at the bottom of this page.

Index of the page

About the Research Data Alliance

The Research Data Alliance (RDA) is an international initiative that was launched as a community-driven organization at the first RDA Plenary in Gothenburg, Sweden, in March 2013 by the European Commission, the United States National Science Foundation and National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the Australian Government’s Department of Innovation with the goal of building the social and technical infrastructure to enable open sharing of data. You can find a list of our funders here.

RDA is supported by the Secretariat, and three governance bodies: Council, Technical Advisory Board (TAB), and Organisational Advisory Board (OAB), as described in the "RDA Governance" section below.

RDA Vision and Mission

RDA vision: Researchers and innovators openly sharing data across technologies, disciplines, and countries to address the grand challenges of society.

RDA mission: The Research Data Alliance (RDA) builds the social and technical bridges that enable open sharing of data.

RDA Code of Conduct

RDA's Code of Conduct was published in March 2018.

RDA Value Statements 

RDA has published statements about the value of RDA  for:

They are all collected here.

RDA Members

Anyone who agrees with the RDA guiding principles can become an individual member by registering on the RDA Website. There are no membership fees for individual members. Organisations can become members, too, for an annual fee. More information on organisational member benefits etc. can be found on the Organisational Membership page.

You can see our growing membership in the latest RDA membership stats updated monthly on the website.

As of March 2019, RDA includes:


How RDA works

The RDA mission is brought to life by Working Groups (WGs) and Interest Groups (IGs). WGs have a lifespan of 12-18 months and are the main vehicle for producing the RDA Outputs, which are the technical and social infrastructure solutions that enable data sharing, exchange, and interoperability. IGs operate without a time limit, and are committed to directly or indirectly enabling data sharing, exchange, or interoperability. There are currently about 30 Working Groups and about 60 Interest Groups actively working on topics across RDA. In addition, Birds of a Feather (BoF) groups are convened at the biannual RDA Plenaries to gauge the interest in a new topic.

Some of the RDA WGs and IGs are conducted jointly with other organisations. Examples of this are the RDA / TDWG Metadata Standards for attribution of physical and digital collections stewardship WG, RDA/NISO Privacy Implications of Research Data Sets IG, several joint groups with CODATA, e.g. the RDA/CODATA Summer Schools in Data Science and Cloud Computing in the Developing World WG, and several joint groups with the World Data System, e.g. the RDA/WDS Publishing Data Bibliometrics WG.

The groups conduct much of their work online and in virtual meetings, but most groups also have breakout sessions at the RDA Plenaries, which are held biannually (see below for more information).

Getting Involved

Once you have become an official member by registering on the RDA Web site and agreeing to the RDA guiding principles, you can become involved in a variety of ways, including by providing comments and feedback on the documents currently for review by the RDA community, joining existing Working and Interest Groups, starting your own group, attending Plenary meetings, and/or by participating in RDA governance elections. For a personal perspective on engaging with RDA, please have a look at the Blog post from Tomasz Miksa: "From A “Newbie” To An “Expert” In Less Than Two Years - How To Engage In The RDA Activities?".

Commenting on Documents

You can provide comments and feedback on the documents currently in RDA Community Review. Those documents will be listed in the “Requests for Comments” box on the RDA homepage, and will typically be available for comment for a month. To comment, please use the "Add comment" functionality on the respective document (you need to be logged in to the RDA Website to comment). The following types of documents will be available for Community Review:

  • Interest Group Charters. Charters describe a proposed Interest Group's purpose, motivation, objectives, outcomes and timelines, and undergo a 3-step review phase before the group can become a recognized and endorsed RDA Interest group. As the Community Review happens early on in the life of an Interest Group, this is a good opportunity to help shape the direction of the group.

  • Working Group Case Statements. Case Statements describe a proposed Working Group's purpose, motivation, objectives, outcomes and timelines, but also include the envisaged outputs and adopters of the Working Group outputs. As with Interest Groups, providing comments during the Community Review phase as part of the 3-step review process is a good opportunity to contribute to shaping the Working Group, especially if you are interested in potentially adopting the envisaged outputs.

  • Working and Interest Group Outputs. There are two main types of Outputs produced by RDA groups: Recommendations, which are produced by Working Groups towards the end of their 12-18 month lifespan, and Supporting Outputs, which can be produced by both Working and Interest Groups at any time. Both Recommendations and Supporting Outputs are made available for community comment as part of the outputs endorsement process. At this point, you are particularly invited to comment on whether the output under review helps to further the RDA mission, and is it consistent with the principles of RDA, and, for Recommendations, whether ithey are adoptable.

  • Other documents produced by various RDA bodies. Occasionally, some of the RDA bodies (e.g. a Council subcommittee) put out documents on various aspects of RDA for community comment. Recent documents have included a proposal on Transparency and Openness in RDA, and a document discussing some thoughts on RDA as a Standards body.

In addition, if you wish to make general comments about RDA, or if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact the RDA Secretariat at enquiries[at]rd-alliance.org.

Joining a Group

You can join any number of Interest and Working Groups via the “Join” button on the right hand side on each group’s page. Once you have joined a group, you will have access to the working documents for that group, be automatically added to that group’s mailing list, and receive invitations to teleconferences and meetings.

Attending Plenaries

RDA Plenary meetings are held twice a year around March/April and September.  Locations are rotated around the world to allow participation from as many people as possible. You can find information on the past, upcoming and future Plenaries on the RDA Web site under the Plenaries tab.

If you can't travel to a Plenary, you can still participate in some sessions remotely. Most "whole-of-plenary" sessions are streamed live and recorded, so you can watch them live or watch the recordings once they have been published on the RDA Web site, linked from the Plenary programme. You can also participate remotely to some extent (via GoToMeeting) in most WG and IG breakout sessions. To do so, please let the RDA Secretariat (enquiries[at]rd-alliance.org) and the group's chairs know that you would like to attend the session remotely. 

Participating in RDA elections

Council and TAB members are elected by the community on a rotating basis, with elections for Council taking place at odd-numbered plenaries (typically in March), and TAB election at even-numbered plenaries (typically in September). Calls for nomination will be published on the RDA Web site and in RDA newsletters ahead of the elections. As an RDA member, you are eligible to vote in RDA elections and run for office if you would like to take on a larger role in the organization.  Details on the Council election process are described in the RDA Governance document, and more details on TAB elections can be found in the TAB Election Process document.

Establishing a Group

You can also establish a new Working or Interest Group. Both WGs and IGs require a document (a Case Statement for WGs, a Charter for IGs) outlining the goals, interaction with other initiatives, and expected work plan of the group; a WG is also expected to outline an adoption plan for its proposed Recommendation. As RDA groups are meant to be global efforts, group membership should span 2 or more continents. Groups are co-chaired by 2-4 individuals, preferably from different continents. RDA provides and maintains a primer for first-time RDA Working and Interest Group Chairs outlining the roles and responsibilities of WG and IG Chairs. RDA also offers collaboration tools such as GoToMeeting, and some logistical support for face-to-face meetings.

RDA Outputs

RDA Working and Interest Groups develop RDA Outputs, which are the technical and social infrastructure solutions (the “bridges”) that enable data sharing, exchange, and interoperability.  There are three types of outputs recognised by the RDA:

  • RDA Recommendations - the official, endorsed results of RDA Working Groups.  Recommendations have undergone formal phases of discussion, comment, and decision-making, and can be compared to “specifications” or “standards” created and endorsed by other organisations. The Recommendations endorsement process is described on the Working Group Outputs page.

  • Supporting Outputs - useful solutions from our RDA Working and Interest Groups, but may not be as clearly adoptable by organisations as our RDA Recommendations.  They have undergone a community review.

  • Other Outputs - resources provided by a Working Group or Interest Group and published on the RDA website, but without any level of endorsement.

All RDA Outputs are listed on the RDA Web site, as are their adopters (where applicable) and additional and promotional information, e.g. flyers.


RDA Plenaries

The Research Data Alliance holds two Plenaries per year, typically in March and September, though these months can change. These are working meetings with a mixture of sessions. Existing Working and Interest Groups come together in breakout sessions to continue working towards their outlined goals. Birds of a Feather (BoF) sessions often give rise to a new IG or WG. Some groups also hold joint sessions with other groups to explore synergies, develop or share use cases, or exchange information. Furthermore, there are plenary sessions where the full community comes together to hear keynotes, and updates on WG recommendations and adoptions. Poster sessions allow members and groups to share their research and progress reports. There are also networking events and other opportunities to meet in small groups to collaborate and plan future work. Programmes, presentations and recordings from past plenaries show the typical RDA Plenary structure.  

For Plenary 13, a joint effort by the Technical Advisory Board (TAB) and Organisational Assembly (OA) have been the Plenary Pathways. These are intended to help you identify breakout sessions related to five core themes, The Fair Agenda, Discipline Approaches, Underpinning infrastructure, Content issues, and Data Management issues. If you make use of them, your feedback on the Pathways would be much appreciated!

To support RDA members new to Plenaries, RDA organises an "RDA for Newcomers" session at each Plenary. The session page for Plenary 13 is here. Information and slides from previous sessions are available on the RDA Web site, linked from the respective Plenary programme. You can find information and slides from the Plenary 12 RDA for Newcomers session here, and from the Plenary 11 RDA for Newcomers session here.

RDA Governance

RDA is supported by several advisory and administrative groups.

The RDA Council is responsible for the overall oversight, success, strategy, and sustainability of the RDA. It maintains the vision of the RDA, ensuring the guiding principles of the organisation are maintained, and formally endorses RDA Working and Interest Groups and RDA Recommendations. The RDA Council has set up several subcommittees whose aim is to support Council in dealing with various important issues. At each odd-numbered plenary (usually held in March / April), 3 Council members will step down and new Council members can be elected. 


The RDA Technical Advisory Board (TAB) provides technical expertise and advice to the Council, and assists in the development, review and promotion of RDA Working & Interest Groups. TAB members are elected for a three-year term. Each year, at the even-numbered plenary, which is usually held in September, 4 out of the 12 TAB members will finish their term. Members are invited to nominate themselves for candidacy, and an election is held after the Plenary.


The RDA Organizational Advisory Board (OAB) represents the interests of the RDA organisational members and affiliates, and ensures that their input and needs play a role in guiding the programs and activities of the RDA. The members of the OAB are elected from the RDA Organisational Assembly (OA), which is made up of the representatives of RDA’s organisational members and affiliates.


The RDA Secretariat is responsible for the administration and daily operations of RDA. Secretariat members provide information to RAD members, help guide the RDA groups through the processes of the RDA, support the RDA governance bodies, contribute to the organisation of the Plenaries, and maintain RDA documents. You can email the Secretariat at enquiries[at]rd-alliance.org.

For more detail on these bodies, please see the RDA Governance document.