Research Europe feature: Data alliance eyes financial diversity
Transcript of the feature and interview entitled "Data alliance eyes financial diversity" by Laura Greenhalgh at the RDA meeting in Dublin, published in Research Europe, on 03-04-2014 View feature online on Research Europe
The Research Data Alliance, an international initiative to promote and improve the sharing of scientific information, is on the hunt for funding sources that will secure its long-term future.
The project, which began in March 2013, has tapped into the rapidly growing interest in data sharing among academics of all disciplines. Bringing together researchers, technicians and policymakers, the alliance has gained more than 1,500 members from 71 countries and has begun to tackle practical aspects of data management in working groups. These include citation and personal identifiers, data curation and the architecture of suitable infrastructure.
“What makes the RDA different from other organisations is that we’re trying to implement specific solutions to connect communities, technologies and cultures,” said Mark Parsons, secretary-general of the RDA, at the alliance’s third full meeting, in Dublin, on 25 March. “It’s in those devilish details of implementation where the work is often missing.”
The RDA is supported by funders in Australia, the EU and the United States, including about €8 million from Framework 7 and at least $2.5m (€1.8m) from the US National Science Foundation. This is paying for a dispersed secretariat and the initial technical work of the alliance. Further grants will be sought from US and Australian national programmes, as well as Horizon 2020, to support individual projects as the alliance moves forward.
The RDA now aims to diversify its funding sources to include business, the Dublin meeting was told. Firms have been slower to get involved than academics, possibly reflecting their more proprietary approach to data management. “We have a strong bias towards people in academia,” said Andrew Treloar, director of technology for the Australian National Data Service and a member of the RDA advisory board.
As well as providing a potential source of money, industry involvement is essential if the RDA is to meet its objectives, says Parsons. “If we are going to have impact, then what we are implementing needs to be broadly adopted: and that comes from organisational buy-in,” he says. “This might be anything from large corporations such as Microsoft to university libraries.”
Convincing such organisations to participate in the RDA will entail convincing them of its value, Parsons says. Participants will “have a certain level of access and be at the cutting edge of some of the work that’s being done—they have influence over what’s happening,” he says.
Businesses can also provide technical know-how and an indication of market opportunities for the RDA, says Treloar. However, he says it will be important to ensure that industrial involvement doesn’t detract from the research-driven nature of the initiative—and that companies are not able to use the RDA to pursue their own commercial agendas.
Several participants commented that future success would also require a greater appreciation from alliance members of ethical and legal issues raised by data sharing. “What the RDA is doing is really exciting, but it is also a great challenge,” said Mary Daly, president of the Royal Irish Academy. “There are questions of trust regarding where the data come from and if they can be reused, as well as questions of ownership.”
Kalpana Shankar, an informaticist at University College Dublin, says the RDA should form a working group specifically to examine these ethical and social issues. She adds that the group should discuss data access in the developing world, where researchers don’t have access to long-term repositories and may see sharing as potentially exploitative.
The RDA is dominated by European and American participants, says Treloar, so it needs to expand by region as well as by constituent group. “We want the RDA to continually evolve as a relevant and agile organisation,” he says. “The structures we have now probably won’t be the same in a couple of years’ time.”