State of RDA

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14 Sep 2013

State of RDA


State of the Research Data Alliance
14 September 2013
Mark A. Parsons, member, RDA Secretariat



We are now six months into this grand experiment we call the Research Data Alliance and are about to start the second Plenary. I thought it might be helpful to summarize the status of the RDA organization and governance. This is not an official report. It is simply my personal summary of the “state of RDA”.

This is also not an introduction to RDA. I assume the reader already has some basic knowledge of how RDA works and is designed. For more background, see About RDA or come to the “RDA for Newcomers” session on Tuesday morning at Plenary 2.

The RDA Governance Document  provides an overview of RDA structures, documents, and operations. While the document is still (and always) open for community comment, it is fairly solid. The only significant changes to the document since Plenary 1 in March were to the sections describing organizational membership (see below).

Legal Status

Currently, the RDA is a virtual organization funded by the European Commission and the US and Australian governments in their respective regions. The Council and Secretariat have been working to establish RDA as a legal entity that can accept organizational membership dues and other contributions. Under the leadership of Council member, John Wood, we are close to establishing RDA as a registered, not-for-profit “charity” in the United Kingdom. The Council would act as the board for the charity and the (yet to be hired) Secretary General would be the director. We anticipate having this sorted out in a few months. We also anticipate that while some funding will flow through the charity, funding agencies will also continue to support RDA in their regions.

RDA Structures and People

The RDA Membership is growing rapidly. 1285 people from 52 countries have expressed interest in RDA and have signed up for one or more RDA mailing lists. 714 people have formally agreed to the RDA Principles and officially signed up as members of RDA. This reflects a doubling of the membership since Plenary 1, and shows a lot of enthusiasm by the community. If you have not yet officially become a member, please register. You will need to be a member to vote in upcoming elections.

Working Groups (WGs) are the heart of RDA and responsible for RDA deliverables. Six WGs have been formally recognized by Council and the community and are hard at work. They will be reporting at Plenary 2, and we anticipate the first RDA deliverables to come out in about a year. Two additional WG case statements are in review, and several more are out for community comment. More case statements are likely to be developed at Plenary 2.

Thirteen Interest Groups (IGs) are formally recognized and active. New ones are created all the time, and many more are likely to emerge from Plenary 2. IGs are where we see our most active collaboration with RDA Affiliates, notably CODATA, WDS, DataCite and others.

Seven members of the Council have been appointed by the funders. Two more will be appointed in the near future, and members are encouraged to nominate candidates. Council members serve three-year terms, and ultimately, council members will be elected by the membership. Council is working out a process whereby three candidates are elected every year. The first election will be in a year or so

The Research Data Alliance Colloquium (RDAC) is the body of representatives from funding agencies supporting RDA. Currently agencies from the European Commission and the US and Australian governments fund RDA, but other agencies and nations are showing increased interest. Approximately twenty other people from different agencies and nations will attend the RDAC meeting at Plenary 2 to discuss how they might become involved.

The Secretariat currently consists of four individuals (<3 FTE) in the US, Europe, and Australia. The Secretariat has been establishing processes; supporting the WGs, IGs, and other RDA structures; and setting up Plenary 2. The Secretariat also worked with the communications firm, Trust-IT, under the RDA/Europe contract to set up and support the RDA Web Platform. A Secretary General, reporting directly to Council, should be hired in a few months, after the RDA legal entity is established. The Secretary General will be an ex-officio, non-voting member of Council.

The Technical Advisory Board (TAB) is a 12-member body responsible for the technical roadmap of RDA, and for ensuring technical balance across RDA efforts. The Council has appointed five interim members. Six members will be elected by the membership soon after Plenary 2. Fourteen candidates have been nominated and will speak briefly at Plenary 2. Council has kept one appointment in reserve to add appropriate balance to the TAB if necessary. Maintaining a balance of perspectives, regional representation, and technical expertise will be essential to a well functioning TAB. A task force put together a process explaining how that balance will be maintained. The task force also laid out the interim and long-term election process. TAB members serve two-year terms, and half of the TAB is elected every year. See 0016-policy-TAB-Process.pdf. The TAB will select a chair at Plenary 2 who will serve as an ex-officio, non-voting member of Council.

The Organizational Advisory Board (OAB) has been one of the more challenging structures to establish. A task force has been working hard to define dues, responsibilities, and rights of Organizational Members who vote for members of the OAB in the Organizational Assembly. RDA also seeks to partner with likeminded organizations. These Organizational Affiliates participate in the Assembly, but they do not have voting rights. They may, however, be elected to the OAB. Organizational Members are dues paying members. Affiliates are established through memoranda of understanding between RDA and the Affiliate. We anticipate much more discussion of this topic at Plenary 2, and hope to announce initial Organizational Members and Affiliates.

The last structure of RDA, the biannual Plenary, is where the community comes together and is the most fun. Plenary 1 in Gothenburg was very high profile and successful, with 240 registrants. Plenary 2 looks to continue that success with 380 registrants and many sessions planned. Planning for Plenary 3 in Dublin Ireland, 26-28 March 2014 is well underway. We expect a bid to host Plenary 4 from several groups in the Netherlands and perhaps others.

RDA Documents

Three core documents define how RDA operates: the Governance Document, the Technical Roadmap, and the Organizational and Process document.

As mentioned, the Governance Document is complete and fairly solid.

The Technical Roadmap is the responsibility of the TAB and will likely be an early item of business once the membership is elected in a month or so.

The Organizational and Process Document is the responsibility of the Secretariat in close consultation with the OAB. While the Secretariat has been establishing and documenting its processes, we have not started a formal process document. Ultimately, the Process Document will probably be an overview document pointing to other documents that describe detailed processes, such as the TAB election process document and the document publication policy. I don’t anticipate we will have a complete draft of the document until sometime after the OAB has been established and a Secretary General has been hired.


Overall RDA is growing quickly and making impressive strides toward creating real, working data infrastructure and a global community. There have certainly been bumps along the way, but overall it has been quite successful. It is likely that the full RDA structure and documentation will be in place by Plenary 3 next year.

Thanks for your attention. Note again, this is just my view. Please post any corrections or questions in the comments.