I attended the first Research Data Alliance workshop held in sunny Birmingham which was designed to bring together practitioners from across the UK to find out more about the work of the RDA. It was also a chance to see how we might be able to contribute and benefit from what the organisation has to offer. Despite already being a member of the RDA Interest Groups for Archives and Records Professionals, I confess to having been more of a casual observer than an active participant. So it was a brilliant opportunity to find out more about exactly what the Research Data Alliance is, how it works and what it hopes to achieve.
Rachel Bruce from JISC introduced the event by outlining some of the ways in which JISC are working with the RDA across broad areas of Research Data Management and then handed over to Mark Parsons, the charismatic Secretary General of the RDA. Parsons is passionate about data, about connecting people and about creativity. He gave examples of technology “leapfrogging” and how local networks can come together to solve global issues. He used an illustration from the New York Magazine on how Willie Nelson is using local networks to take on corporate agricultural firms in the battle for the rising (legalised) marijuana market.
He also introduced ideas around how networks and connections lead to creativity and again referenced Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing’s Friction (this is the link if you’re lucky enough to be a Lancaster University person!) as well as Steve Johnson: “Chance favors the connected mind”:
That is how innovation happens…
The RDA he explained were absolutely not about a top-down framework but instead promoted a model of organic development; creating spaces for things to happen in. It was not, as Parsons explained, about thinking locally and acting globally but about doing local and global at the same time. The RDA has 75 Working and Interest Groups covering a very wide range of topics from the general right through to the extremely specific. There is no question that it is a complex network so we were invited to hear from a few of the Interest Groups: I chose Certification and Metadata, mostly because of their particular relevance to Digital Preservation.
The first session of the afternoon was on certification and first up was Lesley Rickards from the British Oceanographic Data Centre introducing the work of the Certification of Digital Repositories Interest Group. They are trying to map out Core Requirements for certifying repositories across the two main certification schemes for “trusted repositories”: World Data System (WDS) and the Data Seal of Approval (DSA). The two are different schemes using different concepts and methodologies which the RDA were keen to bring together. This they have successfully achieved with a Common Requirements document painstakingly mapping on onto the other and allowing for greater interoperability.
Next was Ingrid Dillo from the Data Archiving and Networked Service in the Netherlands who spoke about their experiences with obtaining certification – they went the whole hog and obtained Data Seal of Approval, World Data System certification and NestorSeal. DSA certification was A Lot of Work (approximately 250 staff hours) but nothing like as onerous as NestorSeal which took an eye popping 1500 person hours (if I recall correctly) which is something few repositories I imagine would be willing to contemplate. Interestingly DANS did not attempt ISO 16363. Certification is extremely important and Dillo pointed out the benefits of increased stakeholder trust and raising the profile of digital preservation in her organisation. She also felt the extra effort of attaining NestorSeal was worth it because it addressed some of the issues she felt were outstanding in the way they managed data. As for ISO 16363 it has a notoriously low take up and I wonder if too onerous a system coupled with limited resources means this situation does not change much in the near future.
The second session of the afternoon was on metadata and with Alex Ball of the Digital Curation Centre talking about the work of the RDA Metadata Standards Catalog Working Group whose initial aim was to make metadata standards easier to find and to advocate for their adoption. They hope that creating a more easily searchable catalogue of metadata will help with this. Sarah Jones (DCC) also introduced an enhancement to DMPOnline (a really useful tool we find!) which will make the addition of metadata easier and move towards Data Management Plans which are capable of being analysed by machines. This session also included a presentation from Dom Fripp of JISC on some of the ways in which they are trying to bring people together and be effective at using shared resources – don’t develop in isolation! He talked about JISC’s Research Data Discovery Service – a massive project which looks very exciting and also some of the work of the RDA Interoperability Working Group.
My quote of the day was “You’ve got to grab [metadata] when it’s produced” (Dom Fripp). This is so true and needs to be factored in when developing workflows and planning advocacy strategies.
My take-aways from the day were: it’s good to collaborate. Connections and conversations lead to new ideas.
And also it’s all about getting involved:
Help review the Metadata Standards Catalog Working Group requirements specification.