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01 May 2023

RDA Plenary 20: Impressions, Community Takeaways, and ... Character Alignment?

During the week of March 20, 2023, the 10th Anniversary RDA Plenary (and associated satellite meetings) was held in Gothenburg, Sweden. It was my first in-person RDA plenary as an attendee, a WG chair, a session co-chair, and as an RDA / EOSC Future Domain Ambassador. Consequently, it was something of a whirlwind. The previous RDA plenaries I had attended virtually somewhat prepared me for the scale of the conference as well as showed me a small part of the benefits to our work these occasions provide, but being at an RDA plenary in person is (as I learned last month) a very different beast. To me, this plenary was about Community; the networks we build, the outputs our working and interest groups create, and the increased awareness and knowledge we get out of working with each other.

Chaotic Good

If I were to create an extended metaphor to re-imagine the RDA plenary as a Dungeons and Dragons (DnD) creature - the reasons for which will soon become clear - then I would create a character with a 'chaotic good' alignment. The DnD manual states that such creatures combine "a good heart with a free spirit" and are "kind and benevolent" as they make their own decisions without reference to any one set of rules (reference). Now, this isn't a perfect analogy; while the RDA and its members "believe in goodness and right" it certainly is not true that they have "little use for laws and regulations" (same reference) - in fact we are really quite good at creating standards and best practices!

As I attended sessions (and wished that I could copy myself and attend many more!) I found myself increasingly impressed and overwhelmed by just how much the RDA has to offer at a plenary. On the one hand, there was a decent helping of chaos, as I

  • tried to find all of the people I have seen on video calls but hadn't yet met in person,
  • attempted to discern which of the breakout rooms were which,
  • hoped that the AV would hold up for the sessions I chaired,
  • launched a new set of educational material as a milestone of my ambassadorship,
  • learned the routes from hotel to conference centre to town hall to riverside restaurant,
  • looked for meaning the the gloriously chaotic "scramble band" that I am so very happy that the organisers booked at our conference meal, and
  • worried that the hotel bar would hold all of the >20 people who RSVP'd for my Board Game Social that I organised on the Tuesday night.

On the other hand, however, there was far more of the "good" than the "chaotic":

  • said hi to most of the people I wanted to see,
  • found my way to all of the correct rooms,
  • was instructed (very patiently) by the AV experts,
  • had a great social media response to our educational material,
  • discovered a gorgeous town hall,
  • shared laughter with the performers at the dinner, and
  • experienced the generous help of the hotel staff to make the games night happen.

Below are just a few of the plenary highlights for me of that week, with a focus on the "community" theme of this blog posts. The outputs, results, and academic discussions can always be found in the varied meeting notes and reports that we're all writing. This particular post is about how, through its strong community, the RDA plenary had - for me - a vast, welcoming, slightly chaotic but ultimately benevolent character.

Meeting People

The ability of the RDA community to engage, develop and produce high-quality outputs while working almost entirely virtually means that the in-person plenaries are less about development and more about showcasing work and strengthening connections. I met co-chairs from all over the world as well as fellow ambassadors I had only ever seen online, and colleagues (past and present) that I hadn't seen in ages.

The plenary for me is about the strengthening of the RDA community connections, and the way to make the most of it is to not just meet people you already know, but to also make new connections. Below left is Debs Thorpe and me modelling our fantastic morning snacks provided by the venue; below right is Susanna-Assunta Sansone and me at one of our sessions on "Community Engagement that Works!".

Board Game Social

The Whova app showed 21 RSVPs for my board game social on the Tuesday night - enough to make me rush to the hotel over lunch to make sure there was room in the bar! 21 RSVPs was perfect for a final attendance of about a dozen gamers, and the hotel was more than equal to the task. We had a giant table and played a variety of lightweight modern board games. It was so popular that I brought a game to the conference dinner (which was well received) and had a second social evening on the Thursday night. Can you guess which game it is (Answer at the end of this post)?

Gamification of research topics is a great method of outreach and education; more than one of us had brought a game with a science theme, and the idea of data-themed escape rooms isn't new. A few plenaries ago, there was the Data Horror Escape Room (see their blog post), a collaboration between Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (Lena Karvovskaya and Elisa Rodenburg), Leiden University Libraries (Joanne Yeomans), and Eindhoven University of Technology (Anne Aarts and Bart Aben). Katrine Sundsbø has also created an Open Access Escape Room which I'd love to implement at an RDA and a few of us are following up on the idea in general. I also think that an RDA-themed version of One Night Werewolf or Two Rooms and a Boom might be lovely - Sarah Jones and I have had additional chats about this kind of thing with an eye to the next plenary; let's see what comes of it!

Announcing your Work

Activity on social media (Twitter and Mastodon) around the RDA is much higher around a plenary (see the hashtag #RDAplenary for more evidence of this!), and it's a great way to announce the work that we're all doing. We launched the first six factsheets under the FAIRsharing Educational umbrella (part of my ambassadorship) during the plenary. They were created through a collaboration between the FAIRsharing Team and the FAIRsharing Community Champions:

  1. FAIRsharing in a nutshell
  2. FAIRsharing content: standards overview
  3. FAIRsharing content: databases overview
  4. FAIRsharing for you: researchers
  5. FAIRsharing for you: funders
  6. FAIRsharing for you: journal publishers

More details in our blog post at

FAIRsharing members at the RDA
FAIRsharing co-chaired or presented at five events throughout the plenary.
  1. (Mon 20) Progressing Machine Actionable Data Management Plans in DMPRoadmap: Workshop by DCC, pre-Plenary
  2. (Tue 21) Infrastructure supporting the FAIR data principles in life science research practice: Plenary Breakout 2 - with the Life Science Data Infrastructures IG
  3. (Wed 22) Community Engagement That Works! Examining tools and success stories of pathways to Engagement in Community-led organisations at a global level: Plenary Breakout 5 - co-chaired with the Professionalising Data Stewardship IG, Early Career and Engagement IG, Engaging Researchers with Data IG
  4. (Thur 23) Data Repository Attributes WG Working Meeting: Plenary Breakout 6
  5. (Fri 24) Data-driven life science and the RDA: Workshop by SciLifeLab/ELIXIR-Sweden, post-Plenary

...and that game as shown in the conference dinner photo? It's Geistes Blitz, aka Ghost Blitz.

About the author: Allyson Lister is the RDA/EOSC Domain Ambassador for standards, repositories and policies, supported by the Domain Ambassador programme of the EOSC Future project.

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