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 to 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.
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.
The RDA mission is brought to life by Working Groups (WGs), Interest Groups (IGs) and Communities of Practice (CoP). 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. CoPs, announced in December 2020, investigate, discuss and provide knowledge and skills within a specific discipline and/or research domain. Over the coming months, we expect to see several CoPs established within the organisation. Lastly, Birds of a Feather (BoF) groups are convened at the biannual RDA Plenaries to gauge the interest in a new topic.
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).
This video guides you through the RDA website and its main functionalities. It is a good snapshot to understand what's behind the RDA mechanisms, its Governance, the working groups and what you do with them and who's 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 (and soon CoPs), 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 they are adoptable.
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.
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. Before COVID-19, Plenaries were help as face-to-face meetings, though we also provided remote access to many sessions: Most "whole-of-plenary" sessions were streamed live and recorded, so you could watch them live or watch the recordings after their been publication on the RDA Web site, linked from the respective Plenary programme. Remote participation was also supported to some extent (via GoToMeeting) in most WG and IG breakout sessions.
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 and some logistical support for face-to-face meetings.
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.
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.
Since 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 core themes. For Plenary 13, these included The Fair Agenda, Discipline Approaches, Underpinning infrastructure, Content issues, and Data Management issues (see here for the Plenary 13 Pathways).
To support RDA members new to Plenaries, RDA organises an "RDA for Newcomers" just before the Plenary. Information and slides from previous sessions are available on the RDA Web site, linked from the respective Plenary programme. You can look at information and slides from the RDA for Newcomers sessions at Plenary 16 (San Jose), Plenary 14 (Helsinki), Plenary 13 (Philadelphia), Plenary 12 (Gaborone), and Plenary 11 (Berlin).
For RDA Plenary 17, we ran two sessions in different time zones 1-2 weeks before the Plenary. The slides from session 1 can be found here.
There was also a co-located event, La RDA pour les Noveaux-Venus - RDA for Newcomers in French. Slides from the session are available here.
Plenary 17 will also have RDA Q&A and catch-up sessions throughout the programme. While not specifically targetted at Newcomers, Newcomers are certainly welcome to join the sessions, meet other RDA members, and ask any questions they might have.
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.