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23 Oct 2014

Me in Amsterdam - Experiences from the 4th RDA Plenary

Luckily the RDA Plenary in Amsterdam was already my second chance to attend such a meeting after the March Plenary in Dublin. Therefore I was already quite familiar with all the terms and structures which are part of RDA and which can be overwhelming at first sight. But even with that background in mind the first impression arriving at the venue can only be summarized with "Wow!" Seeing the main hall getting filled with all these people originating from various  backgrounds and disciplines was very impressive and promised interesting opportunities for discussion. A mixture like this could never be found at a discipline-specific conference and broadens one’s horizon considerably. Not only the general talks, but also the keynotes brought this diversity together quite well and emphasized the importance and appreciation of the work done in RDA.

The group I was assigned to was the Preservation e-Infrastructure Interest Group. With the status of an interest group the Preservation Interest Group is not as short-lived as the working groups but represents a possibility for people interested in the topic to meet and discuss various aspects and further steps. The room during the session was crowded, showing massive interest and emphasizing the importance of data preservation and the need in the diverse communities for RDA outcomes. Up to now no working groups have spawned out of this interest group, but the motivation of many people to engage themselves in this topic could be noticed easily and needs a suitable platform to be fostered and encouraged.

In addition to the preservation group I had the chance to attend a couple of other group meetings. Choosing where to go however was a tremendous challenge: many interesting groups took place simultaneously making it very hard to decide which of them to attend (due to the evident connection of data preservation to numerous other groups and areas of interest) and leaving sometimes a slight feeling of missing something important. Nevertheless the choices I made during the plenary brought me to mostly informative and well-structured sessions with very dedicated people aiming to bring their topics forward. The general impression was that the respective status of the group, be it a working group, an interest group or a Birds of a Feather session, clearly and naturally influenced aim, structure and agenda of the session. Therefore the various meetings differed considerably in precision and focus. A working group like Practical Policies aimed to finish its deliverables as it is one of the first working groups to end and is in need of adopters. A Birds of a Feather session like Sustainability of eResearch/Cyberinfrastructure wanted to check whether there is enough interest in this topic to build a more formalized group. The session of the Digital Practices in History and Ethnography Interest Group gathered a smaller (in comparison to other sessions) but nevertheless incredibly dedicated audience where the discussion did not stagnate at all.

A special highlight was the session of the Certification of Digital Repositories Interest Group where the "Guardian Angel of Research Data" and the "Diavolo" had a very informative and entertaining argument about the sense and senselessness of certification of digital repositories. In my opinion this was a very innovative way to disseminate information and methods like this should be used more often to attract more young scientists as the age structure at the plenary could be a little bit more balanced.

Last but not least, let me say a few words about the supporting and social program. The first thing to mention is of course the dinner taking place at a wonderful location near the sea well worth the additional bus ride. Despite of the temperature drop a few days earlier, several people were brave enough and at least dipped their feet into the North Sea for refreshment. The food served was just delicious and the whole evening had a very inspiring atmosphere. Events like this offer a quite unique possibility to bring people together on a different level than a strictly professional keynote session. After all, these points on a conference agenda make days which are tightly packed with sessions, information, discussions, and many more things complete. Additionally, I really liked the Dutch flavor and way of running the meeting in general. Considering how hard it usually is to entertain such a heterogeneous group, all these efforts sum up and are really impressive.

So altogether I can say "Hats off!" to the organization team for shaping the plenary and a special thanks to RDA Europe for the opportunity to travel to Amsterdam. The meeting was an extraordinary experience and for the future I can only encourage everyone interested in the broad field of research data to take their chance and participate in the upcoming plenaries!

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