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23 Nov 2018

A Truly Awesome Meeting, IDW Botswana, November 2018

I was immensely pleased to be able to attend this event due to an Expert Researcher Grant from RDA Europe. As always, there were a number of sessions I was looking forward to contributing to, and many people I wanted to see. But this was also the first time that both I and International Data Week had come to Africa, and I knew this would make it a very special meeting.

Having arrived at the venue after a long – largely uneventful – journey, we were greeted by monkeys and peacocks in the hotel bar, some very welcome refreshments and, most welcome of all, warmth and sunshine. Coming from the UK in November, the weather was a wonderful contrast from home. Conversely, the plugs, roads (driving on the left), and afternoon tea arrangements were absolutely familiar!

Having been lucky enough to get to IDW, I was determined to pack a lot into the meeting, so started by attending the RDA Co-Chairs meeting on the Sunday afternoon. We discussed some interesting developments for subsequent Plenaries, but the Council Members managed to keep the location for the 14thPlenary a secret from us. 

The following morning, the Opening Ceremony was a dazzling blend of high level diplomacy – with both the President of Botswana and several of his key ministers addressing the conference – and national showcase – with local musicians and dancers providing some exciting entertainment. This session was certainly one of the high points of the trip for me. 

Then there were the more regular sessions where, as usual we had to choose which strands to attend, find the right rooms, prepare slides and notes, and generally interact with each other. This included sessions that I co-organised, and where I was presenting. 

The first of these was the RDA Breakout Joint Meeting: WG FAIRSharing Registry and Data Policy Standardisation and Implementation IG which I Co-Chaired and also presented the Belmont Forum Data Publishing Policy Project. This meeting was about promoting and accelerating adoption of data management, sharing, citation and publishing practices through harmonising policies and building tools to support researchers and research knowledge workers. 

Bob Samors of the Belmont Forum and I presented a different facet of the same project to a SciDataCon Breakout called From Data to Knowledge: A Policy Perspective. This session went really well and I have to flag up Lena Nyahodza’s presentation – The Role of Open Data Sharing as a Social Justice Entity as the highlight of my week in terms of its thought provoking content and implications for open data.

As an official ‘Expert’ I was encouraged to attend the Early Career Researcher (ECR) Interest Group session where the ECRs present were encouraged to give lightning talks about their work, interests and partnership/collaboration needs. This was the first time I had participated in this group and I was very impressed at the articulacy, enthusiasm and vision exhibited by so many of its members.

I also really enjoyed the Delivering a Global Open Science Commons session which discussed a variety of initiatives – platforms, manifestos, the European Open Science Cloud – that are promoting Open Science and Open Research. What can we do to support these collaborations? How do we create a level playing field for all?

The other presentation that had a profound impact for me was Professor Simeon Materechera’s plenary talk about indigenous knowledge – its characteristics, value and frailties in the current knowledge ecosystem. In many ways, this exemplified the whole conference for me as it challenged many of my assumptions about open science, FAIR Data and the research ecosystem and pushed me towards thinking in new ways. 

Holding IDW in Africa was important in order for RDA and SciDataCon to continue developing as truly globally representative communities and I hope these communities manage to build on what has already been achieved over subsequent meetings. We need to ensure that as many IDW2018 participants as possible are enabled to have a long-term relationship and effect. We also need to address data extraction and ‘bio-piracy’ issues, indigenous knowledge, and work to reform reward and credit systems. I do feel honoured to have been part of this event, so thanks again to the RDA for empowering me to attend. 

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