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21 Nov 2018

Did you ever feel like you won the (data) lottery?

Over one week spent in Gaborone, with data professionals from across the globe, from 66 countries to be exact felt like that for me. It was an experience beyond any expectation I had. As I said in my speech during the opening plenary session, what was a dream over 2 years ago, became an unbelievable reality from 5-8 November 2018. International Data Week 2018 was amazing. To witness the 850 strong delegation (over 50% from Africa) interact, choose from the rich and packed programme, to listen to the talks on data related issues from speakers from many different disciplines, backgrounds and nations, was something I, personally, will never forget. 


Image courtesy of Fosca Giannotti, National Research Council, Italy

RDA plenary meetings are held every 6 months in different parts of the globe and this was our first event in Africa which we co-organised with the ISC CODATA and WDS SciDataCon2018 conference within the framework of International Data Week 2018, co-hosted by the University of Botswana and the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAF). 

For me, our RDA plenary meetings are where you see the fruits of the community's labour over the previous 6 months. The working and interest group progress and outputs, the community ideas and desires, the governance board’s strategic discussions, shepherding and liaising all come to fruition and are evident in the breakout sessions and networking pauses throughout the programme. Then there is the exciting element of meeting new RDA members who are getting involved and coming on board. Having attended 11 out of 12 RDA plenary meetings, it’s where I really feel like I have won the RDA lottery. 

The distinction between the two major components of the Alliance is important to explain as a preamble to the activities during IDW2018. The Work of RDA is done by the volunteer community through self-formed, focused Working Groups and exploratory Interest Groups to build the social and technical connections or bridges. The Business of RDA is to support that community and facilitate the building and using of the bridges that enable open sharing of data.

From the work perspective, RDA had 58 breakout meetings over the 7 allocated RDA sessions. 13 of those were Birds of a Feather (BoF), which indicates the continuous injection of new ideas for the creation of RDA Working and Interest groups covering a range of different FAIR aspects, RDM and disciplinary focuses including social sciences and engineering. Not surprisingly sustainable goals and the international dimensions and collaboration around research data were amongst the BoFs organised. 11 working groups met to continue their recommendation development, with 28 Interest groups furthering their discussions and 11 meetings cross fertilised amongst groups with a common interest or activity focus. Over the coming months, I am looking forward to witnessing the concrete outcomes from these meetings. 

In terms of RDA outputs and adoption, three speakers outlined their experience and RDA perspectives, two - Wim Hugo – CoreTrustSeal, Repository, Audit and Certification DSA / WDS-Partnership WG and Martin Fenner – DataCite, Scholix Framework – come from the “production” side (Working groups) while the third - Shelley Stall - AGU – from the “implementation” side - gave insights to the adoption of those and other RDA recommendations in the Enabling FAIR Data project context. 

From the business perspective, the presentation of the RDA regional engagement framework, part of the RDA strategy for sustainability was an important milestone for the Alliance and the community. Creating strong partnerships across the globe is imperative to ensure the RDA community activity and outputs are sustained and given just visibility in national and regional contexts as well as to support a resilient RDA to deliver on its commitments and satisfy the community and stakeholders across the globe. RDA Regional Engagement is in a consultation phase at the moment with all interested parties invited to join the public RDA Regions group to stay abreast of the updates, webinars and documentation. 

Dr. Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi, President of the Republic of Botswana, himself said during the Official Opening of IDW2018 “we foresee Open Data and Open Science platforms as potential agents for fostering regional and continental integration through collaboration. [...] There is therefore a need for global partnerships as well as funding if all of us are to benefit from opportunities brought about by open science and open data initiatives”. The Research Data Alliance is one such global partnership. 

How can participants capitalise on the investment they made in attending the event? How can a week of intense and varied discussions be translated into something more concrete and long lasting? How can attendees stay in contact with the experts they met at IDW? Get involved in RDA. Join the RDA community by registering, free of charge, at and begin making plans to attend our Plenary meetings in 2019. RDA 13th Plenary Meeting, 2-4 April 2019, Philadelphia, PA, US and RDA 14th Plenary Meeting, 23-25 October 2019, Helsinki, Finland.

So how would I spend my data lottery winnings? I would get involved in the RDA groups of my choice and interest, have my say and contribute my part. It is a win-win opportunity, I learn from the international experts and they learn from me. We share knowledge and information on our data specific challenges in a unique environment – one that nurtures and promotes ideas and information exchange, that allows and actively seeks input from all to come up with solutions or ideas on how to move forward to solve the challenges that, irrespective of where we are in the world, we are all facing. 

As Prof. Ismail Serageldin reminded us during his keynote address in the Opening Session of IDW2018, Louis Pasteur once said “Science knows no country, because knowledge belongs to humanity, and is the torch which illuminates the world.” 

Hilary Hanahoe, RDA Secretary General

Articles on IDW2018 by other authors:

International data week closes on a high note, John Churu, Gaborone, Botswana
Work together, not alone: doing things the Batswana way, Sarah Jones, DCC
Reflections from IDW in Gaborone, Botswana, By Elizabeth Leake (STEM-Trek)
Africa’s first ever IDW peps up minister
Data Experts Gather in Botswana to Address Digital Frontiers of Global Science

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