The ARDC Reflects on the Research Data Alliance Plenary 18

The ARDC team shares their insights on the Research Data Alliance Plenary, held in October and November 2021.
Plenary 18 RDA NEWS TILE

At least once a year, the research data community converges at the Research Data Alliance (RDA) Plenary to improve data sharing across disciplines, technologies and borders.

RDA is an international network of almost 12,000 data scientists, librarians, industry leaders, policymakers and computer scientists whose mission is to build the social and technical bridges that enable open sharing and re-use of data.

One of the ARDC’s predecessor organisations, the Australian National Data Service, was jointly responsible for the founding of RDA, and has remained deeply involved ever since.

The 18th Plenary of RDA was held from 27 October to 11 November 2021 with 626 registrants from 40 countries participating in a jam-packed programme.

Open Science / Open Research

Fostering global cooperation on Open Science and Open Research was a popular topic during the Plenary.

Dr Andrew Treloar, Director of Platforms and Software: “The Global Open Research Commons Interest Group (GORC-IG) ran two sessions where international experts provided excellent feedback on the current high-level model for describing Commons in general, as well as highlighting further issues that the group needs to consider. RDA is a great way of bringing together experts to add value to existing thinking.”

Dr Mingfang Wu, Senior Research Data Specialist, said: “I enjoyed the discussion from the Global Open Research Commons International Model working group session about profiling commons through existing standards, and what questions for speakers to address when they present their commons in group’s future events.”

Mingfang also joined the session Cooperative Innovation Among Resilient Repository Platforms for Open Research Data by the Interest Groups on Repository Platforms for Research Data and Domain Repositories.

“It was great to hear initiatives and open science infrastructure and services from EU, China and US. It was even greater to hear that the group would also like to discuss ‘unsuccessful initiatives for improving infrastructure sustainability,” said Mingfang.

Dr Stefanie Kethers, RDA Director of Operations said, “I enjoyed the Libraries for Research Data Interest Group’s session on Open Science Initiatives in Asia. It was great to see several Asian countries represented as speakers and participants, and attendees from Europe and Australia listening.”

Research Platforms / Virtual Research Environments

Virtual Research Environments (VREs), known in Australia as Research Platforms, are online environments that draw together research data, models, analysis tools and workflows to support collaborative research across institutional and discipline boundaries.

VRE discussions at RDA centred around VREs and the FAIR principles, which aim to make research data and software more Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable.

Dr Andrew Treloar, Director of Platforms and Software, said, “The Virtual Research Environments Interest Group ran two excellent sessions on the topic ‘Is FAIRness Sufficient to Increase Trust in VREs and to Foster Critical Thinking?‘ (spoiler: it is necessary but not sufficient on its own). The comments from those who attended these sessions highlighted further possible work that this group will soon commence.”

Kerry Levett, Platforms Program Manager, said, “The new FAIR for Virtual Research Environments working group, of which I’m co-chair, held its first session at this RDA plenary. This working group does not intend to produce a new set of FAIR principles for Virtual Research Environments (VREs), but rather to analyse how existing FAIR principles for other digital objects such as data, software and services relate to VREs, and then ‘fill in the gaps.’ This information will guide developers of VREs to make them both FAIR, and FAIR-enabling. The group discussed the diversity and complexity of VRE structure and function, and whether the FAIR principles should be applied to each of the different layers.”

A Focus on FAIR

Natasha Simons, Associate Director, Data & Services, said, “The RDA data policy standardisation Interest Group (of which I am co-chair) held a joint session with the research funders interest group.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown what it is possible to achieve when research is collaborative and as open as possible—faster results, more collaborative, higher quality research.

“However, sharing research data still lacks reward and recognition along with funding to do it. Policies are a key component of improving support for open research — especially publisher and funder policies that reference the need for open/FAIR data. These policies need to be standardised between publishers and publishers, funders and funders and publishers and funders.

“Work has been done on the publisher side to standardise policies (see RDA work here) and that has been adopted by many publishers. Through RDA, we aim to better standardise funder policies and align them with the publisher policies. There is a funder-publisher alignment project underway between three RDA groups to do this.

Recent research from the International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers (STM Association) reveals large gaps in funder policies in terms of having references to data or being able to find those references, not mentioning FAIR data (at odds with most publisher policies which do mention FAIR) and low levels of compliance monitoring. However most do mention a Data Management Plan requirement. This shows the need for the funder-publisher alignment, and supports the aims of our interest group.”

Metadata: Information That Defines and Describes Data

Dr Mingfang Wu participated in plenary sessions on metadata, a vital component of making research data FAIR.

“The Research Metadata Schemas Working Group, of which I’m co-chair, presented the RDA endorsed recommendation: ‘Guidelines for publishing structured metadata on the Web.’ Of the participants in the session, 14 indicated their repository would adopt the guidelines, while 8 indicated they may do so.

“I’m also co-chair of the Data Discovery Interest Group, which had a good discussion on the 3 potential task forces: Metadata enrichment, Machine learning for data discovery, and User study of data discovery. Participants plan to extend further discussion along each task force in the group’s monthly call.

“The Birds of a Feather session ‘Supporting FAIR microbiome data: Harmonising across samples and analysis to support data publication and promotion‘ had a good set of presentations from US Department of Education, Australian BioCommons, Australian Microbiome Initiative, US National Microbiome Data Collaboration,and more about how they manage microbiome data and address community challenges. The presentations and the discussions showed gaps among practices, thus agreeing to work together on best practices or recommendations for the broad international community.”

Persistent Identifiers (PIDs)

Natasha Simons, Associate Director, Data & Services co-chairs the National PID Strategies Working Group.

“At the Plenary, the group:

  • looked at opportunities for collaboration and alignment between countries looking at or already implementing national PID strategies.
  • heard updates from Australia, UK, Finland, Brazil, Netherlands and Canada
  • discussed the Working Group case statement, which has now been approved by RDA. The Working Group will explore and map different national PID strategies and deliver guidance on their value and development. This will help others, irrespective of geographical region, to follow a blueprint to define their national PID approach.”

Earth Science Information

Dr Lesley Wyborn, Data Strategist and Earth Science Information research specialist participated in a number of sessions related to earth and environmental sciences.

“During the Physical samples Interest Group session, participants wanted more than an identifier for a physical sample — they wanted to link samples to data, as well as ensuring credit is given to the person who collected it and those that funded its collection, using Contributor Roles Taxonomy CRediT,” said Lesley.

“The Earth & Environmental Sciences Interest Group will be starting a new Working Group on complex citations to create a framework for packaging multiple research products (datasets, samples, software) into FAIR Research Objects.

“The efforts of the ARDC Aus/NZ, ESIP and Barcelona Supercomputer Centre Data Quality work in Earth sciences is now going to expand into a new Dataset Quality Information Working Group that will encompass Social Sciences, Astronomy, Genomics, Health and other domains.”

Research Software

Dr Paula Andrea Martinez, Software Project Coordinator, represented the ARDC at sessions related to Research Software.

“The FAIR4RS Working Group, of which I am co-chair, presented two sessions at this plenary with the same content to facilitate attendance from different timezones. We presented the current version of the FAIR for Research Software Principles after the Community Review. The Writers Group within the Working Group is busy preparing the submission of the principles for publication. The WG also invited organisations around the globe to present their input as early adopters of the principles, those organisations were ARDC, NLeSC and DLR. Slides are available, or watch the recording.

“I also enjoyed the session of the Data Fabric Interest Group. The members of the group are proposing to change the name of the group to FAIR Digital Object Fabric, and invited people to comment on the new Charter (comments closed on 18 November). Importantly, this includes Research Software.

“The Software Source Code Interest Group had a great introduction with the history of Software sessions and groups spun from RDA, dates back to 2017. View the Slides, or watch the recording.”

What’s Next

Planning is underway for the next RDA Plenary, to be held as part of International Data Week 2022 in Seoul in June.

Session recordings are available to watch via the RDA YouTube channel.

Learn more about how ARDC works with Research Data Alliance to promote sharing and re-use of research data.