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Author: Marta Teperek

On 23 November 2017 I participated in the launch of the Austrian chapter of Research Data Alliance (RDA Austria). It was an all day long event organised and hosted jointly by colleagues from the University of Vienna, TU Wien and RDA. Fourteen national and international presenters spoke about various aspects of research data management: from infrastructure support, through data publication and citation, and all the way through to data management and data stewardship. In my opinion the event was highly successful, and I highlighted two interesting discussions which took part during the conference:

  • Discussion about the challenges for data services and the outlook for the future – this blog post (below)
  • Discussion about engaging with researchers and what’s important – separate blog post

Current challenges in providing research data support

An important discussion at the meeting was about the common challenges and how to best tackle them. A few speakers represented academic data service providers and shared their frustrations about the scarce funding for research data services. Limited funding created substantial challenges not only for attracting and retaining qualified staff but also for strategic thinking about service development and delivery. In addition, providers complained that while many funding bodies required that researchers shared research data and allowed researchers to budget for the costs of research data management in their grant proposals, costs of long-term data curation were rarely accepted by the funders because long-term data curation happened only after the end of the project.

Things are changing

However, and as Andreas Rauber rightfully explained, the train is steadily moving forward and a lot of positive changes already happened. He reflected on the example of budgeting for research data management costs in grant proposals. It is true that a lot of work still had to be done to allow effective costing of data management activities in research projects, mechanisms for sustainable recovery of costs associated with long-term data curation still had to be developed, but the mere fact that researchers were allowed to budget for data management costs in their grant proposals (and were actively encouraged to do so by funders like the European Commission) was a major achievement and a significant step forward.

In addition, Kevin Ashley made a nice analogy of the current problems with attracting and retaining qualified staff to research data support services: in the past, when Electron Microscopes were invented and started to be sought after, the major problem in academia was to recruit staff members who knew how to use them. Another problem was how to prevent these qualified people from taking up more lucrative jobs in the industry. Both problems were temporarily solved by increasing academic salaries. A long-term solution came with the development of adequate training for staff. As an example of a tangible solution towards the lack of sufficiently skilled data professionals, Kevin mentioned that the Digital Curation Centre was currently collaborating with TU Delft on the development of a MOOC training for Data Stewards.

Collaboration for effective problem-solving

In addition, Research Data Alliance (RDA) was suggested as a bottom-up initiative to help solve common data problems in a collaborative way. Based on his own experience of successfully working with RDA on developing tools for citation of dynamic datasets, Andreas Rauber suggested to anyone with a data problem to turn to RDA. First, RDA has already produced an impressive number of deliverables which are all publicly available and which could readily offer a tangible solution to many challenges. Second, if the problem is not yet solved by others, then as long as one is able to find one or two individuals who share the problem, a dedicated Working Group within RDA can be created to collaboratively solve that problem.

Ingrid Dillo provided in her presentation a beautiful example of how simple networking within RDA helped collaboration. Ingrid and her colleagues are part of DANS, organisation which issued Data Seal of Approval certifications for trusted data repositories. During one of RDA meetings, she met with representatives of WDS-ICSU, who issued similar certifications. Given the fact that having two different types of certifications for trusted repositories was confusing to end users, the two organisations decided to collaborate. As a result, the repository certification requirements were revised, improved and unified to create a new, single, collaborative certification: CoreTrustSeal.

Patience required?

My final reflection on this is that perhaps people who advocate for better data management (myself included) need a little bit more patience. Cultural change does not happen instantaneously. Incremental advancements can be sometimes difficult to spot, but it is our role as advocates to notice, appreciate and encourage positive developments. Exchanging good practice, learning from one another and collaborating to solve problems is one way of doing this. Therefore, initiatives like the launch of RDA Austria should be certainly admired and recognised as positive contributions towards a better data future.

Acknowledgement

I would like to thank Andreas Rauber, Paolo Budroni, Kevin Ashley, Ingrid Dillo, Francoise Genova, Raman Ganguly, Thomas Haselwanter and Marisol Occioni for inspiring discussions on the topic.