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10 Jun 2015

Euro Tour leg 1

If it’s Tuesday it must be Karlsruhe.
I am en route to my seventh city in three weeks during an intensive two month tour of Europe. I have been and will be presenting about RDA and related matters at myriad conferences and workshops and meeting with a variety of stakeholders from many different countries. My goal, of course, is to spread the word about RDA but also to better understand the European research landscape at various levels, so as to see where RDA can best make a difference and how European efforts can inform the global effort. Think glocal and all that. 
This blog will be a way for me to share some of my messages and observations from the trip. I had originally hoped to post a short message after each city, but, as usual, I am not keeping up. Nonetheless, let me start at the beginning. 
My first stop was Lisbon. It is a beautiful, if somewhat worn, city. I had never been to Portugal, and I was quite intrigued by the diverse culture and the beautiful language. It looks a lot like Spanish, but it sure doesn’t sound like Spanish.  
The purpose of my visit was to attend the European Grid Infrastructure (EGI) Conference, where I gave a keynote talk “Open Data is Not Enough”. 

This is one of several themes I will be emphasizing throughout my tour.  The point is that opening data, while difficult, is only a first step. Much more is needed to make that data truly reusable, and that, of course, is what RDA is all about.  
I used a seemingly simple data set about sea ice extent from my old job at the National Snow and Ice Data Center to illustrate that there is a great deal of complexity underlying the data and that much needs to be done to make the data understandable and reusable by different audiences be they climatologists, oceanographers, marine biologists, ship captains, or local hunters. Most of that work is work of mediation and building relationships. Relationships between and amongst people, machines, and institutions. Data are often at the center of those relationships. 
This is another theme, that I am sure you have heard me touch on if you have heard me speak of RDA. “Infrastructure” is best viewed as a body of socio-technical relationships, and that’s why RDA focusses on “building the social and technical bridges” that enable data sharing. 
This is a perspective I think the big “research infrastructures” and “e-infrastructures” need to consider in order to be more adaptive and responsive to changing and increasingly interdisciplinary needs. The EGI and related Grid infrastructures have united and made interoperable some important big players with significant data and computational resources. Now they are challenged with bridging across different physical and computational infrastructures and connecting to communities who have no concept of grid computing and related technologies. I would hope that engagement with RDA would help with that. 
The talk just before mine by Sean Hill of the Human Brain Project was an excellent example of one of these new infrastructures. Sean presented a visually compelling and visionary talk describing a true 4th-paradigm-style initiative. Only recently have we had the computational, data, and collaborative capacity to do something as bold as build a scaffold model of the brain. 
RDA can clearly have a role sharing lessons across these infrastructures. That has begun and must continue while also including the more diversified researchers and re-users that have not historically made mush use of big research or e-infrastructures. 

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