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18 Dec 2018

The RDA 12th Plenary meeting in Gaborone: Insights for Training from Africa

It’s always been a privilege to attend the RDA meetings. Those that stand out are the 2nd RDA plenary in Washington where I had the first inkling that perhaps the solutions had more to do with people than technology; the RDA Plenary in Dublin where we realised we needed to run training for ECR’s that would eventually became the CODATA-RDA schools and where I first came across CODATA; SciDataCon 16 and the RDA Plenary in Denver with its focus on more academic papers.

But Gaborone was always going to be something different. More than just a location that wasn’t on the usual conference trail the emphasis of many of the meetings of RDA and SciDataCon was on the African context of the work we’re all doing. The large turnout of many African Researchers to the event was enormously encouraging.

There were many highlights for me at the RDA Plenary in Gaborone. It was fantastic moment in the joint meeting the Education and Training on handling of research data  IG had with the CODATA-RDA schools IG when we had a room overflowing with people! My thanks to the other co-chairs (Amy Nurnberger, Laura Molloy, Rob Quick and Yuri Demchenko) for arranging this and the many speakers who took part in this session. Likewise, the session giving a sneak preview into turning FAIR data into reality that was written by the European Commission Expert Group was really interesting - it is remarkable to see how quickly FAIR standards are being clarified and turning into a clear set of deliverables. The announcement of the next phase of the AOSP is particularly exciting - for me the step to provide remote computing for African researchers is an area that drew me to the RDA initially. On the other hand, the clear message from Geant that connectivity is ridiculously expensive in Africa (particularly in West Africa) is an important and worrying message and we must all raise this issue with the powers that be.  I also managed to attend two other meetings; namely the CODATA General Assembly which announced a new Executive Committee and new President Barend Mons and a meeting of the Wellcome’s IT Managers. In addition to this, the number of people I met with expressions of interest in the CODATA-RDA schools in terms of expressions of interest  for hosting the school and offers of help were overwhelming (in a very good sense).

Much done. Much to do. Beyond Gaborone my hope is that more people will be able to spend more time on persuading others to engage with Open Research. We need to reach out more to middle career researchers to persuade them to engage with this. The recent backlash against PlanS by some members of the research community is a bracing reminder that these arguments are nowhere near yet won.  On a more technical side I hope we can see more activity on reproducible workflows, as was discussed in previous plenaries. Within the CODATA-RDA schools we need to transform our small organisation into something that scales up the number of regional instances of the school. This is our main challenge. The RDA Plenary in Gaborone is now a happy memory but the resulting To Do List will stay for a long time… :^)

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