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19 Nov 2018

RDA connecting people (also at airports!)

For most of us the easiest way to get to Gaborone was flying via Johannesburg. Before I set off for my first Africa travel I read a lot about travelling to Africa, especially about safety in South Africa, Botswana and neighbouring countries. Reviews, especially of the OR Tambo airport were very bad: luggage missing, lots of pick pockets, etc.

When I landed in Johannesburg, I remained vigilant and suspicious to everyone around me. But wait, I knew most of the people around me! Many of them I knew only by sight, but this was enough to realise that most of them were travelling to the RDA Plenary meeting in Gaborone and nothing bad can happen! Being a member of RDA is sometimes so comforting!

Having landed in Gaborone, everyone started to look for their shuttles – there is no public transport. Due to a flight delay some of the taxi drivers went for a coffee and some of us had problems finding their pre-arranged drivers. I also got a bit anxious, but eventually I found mine. At the same moment, someone next to me said: “Go with him, he is also from the RDA and goes to the same place as you”. There was a lady who did not find her driver, but some other lady recommended her to go with me, because she knew me from the RDA, also by sight. The lady whose driver did not show up was a bit hesitant at the beginning, but my confirmation, that indeed I am from the RDA, helped her make the right decision and she joined me on a shuttle to the hotel. I can’t refrain myself from rephrasing an old advertisement slogan: “RDA connecting people (also at airports!)”.

So, how was the plenary? Excellent as always! This was my fourth plenary, first in Africa (check my two other blogs if interested in details on how to prepare for a plenary [1], and how to use it efficiently [2]). The speech of the president of Botswana opening the plenary was witty, but also very clear that innovation, data and infrastructures are the key way to modernise Botswana. There were again plenty of opportunities to meet other people working in my domain. What made this plenary special was a high number of African participants – not only from Botswana or South Africa, but also from other African countries, like Kenia. This was also reflected by a number of sessions in which Africa specific topics, like African Open Science Cloud, or agriculture data from specific African regions were the key focus points. Compared to other plenaries, there were no applications for tracking attendance of people to specific sessions and this was a good decision – when having 10 parallel tracks, people often switch between rooms during a given time slot. Tracking participation doesn’t really reveal much.

Coming from continental Europe, it is not common for me, to discuss details of my work when sitting under a palm tree next to a swimming pool looking at a peacock presenting his impressive tail! Speaking of work, the DMP Common Standards WG [3] that I co-chair had a session during the plenary. Similar as in Berlin, there was a big interest in our activities. We have presented examples of services and processes that help in automating data management.  They help us in narrowing focus of the common data model.

The DMP Common Standards WG has now 6 months to deliver the model [4]. For this reason, the discussions were more focused on specific aspects of the model and required conversations in a smaller circle of experts – those who are better embedded in the activities of the WG. The discussions at the swimming pool were extremely useful and helped us clarify specific implementation challenges. To make it clear: the group is not closed for newcomers – we are still seeking new inputs for the model and early adopters for our pilots that we hope to launch during the next plenary in Philadelphia!

You can find an overview of activities carried out by the working group here [4] (also links to all resources and activities listed below). Within the last 12 months we have managed to: 

  • run a consultation (user stories) to define scope of maDMPs by running workshops and online participation,
  • run a second consultation to identify models for specific requirements by running workshops and online participation,
  • develop proof of concept tools to demonstrate how model can be used to automate tasks,
  • model BPMN processes to identify systems and stakeholders involved,
  • define 10 principles for machine-actionable DMPs,
  • draft architecture and principles for the common model,
  • publish papers describing our activities
    • Miksa et al., Defining requirements for machine-actionable Data Management Plans, iPRES 2018.
    • Miksa et al., Framing the scope of the common data model for machine-actionable Data Management Plans, IEEE Big Data 2018: 3rd CAS workshop.

You can also learn about our activities form the DMP Tool blog maintained by Stephanie Simms [5]

Summing up, Africa and Botswana are great and EASY places to visit – by the way, I have never paid with local currency, credit card payments were accepted everywhere! RDA plenary was a great event as always. I would like to thank the RDA Europe 4.0 project for enabling me to participate as an expert in this fantastic event! I look forward to the next plenary in Philadelphia and hope to meet familiar faces all over the world (not only at airports)!







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