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Hilary Hanahoe on the growth and impact of the Research Data Alliance

The exponential growth of the global Research Data Alliance (RDA) community in just over three years is no surprise given the importance and urgency of working towards identifying solutions to support research data sharing and reuse.

What is a surprise though is the level of engagement and dedication of this 4,300-strong volunteer force. RDA is a unique community-driven organisation offering a neutral space for members, spanning 111 countries, to discuss and develop ‘data bridges’ to enable the open data sharing across technologies, disciplines and countries.

These volunteers do this through focused Working Groups and exploratory Interest Groups, of which we now have over seventy five.

Good gardening

What is the secret behind this growth? We have let 1,000 RDA Plenaryflowers bloom. And what quantifiable bulbs can we count? Currently RDA has 15 Flagship Recommendations – published concrete proof of the community’s increasing commitment to achieving the vision of researchers and innovators.

In Europe alone, there are 1.7 million researchers and 70 million science and technology professionals involved in the creation of new knowledge, products, services and processes. The potential economic and societal impact of this ‘industry’ is massive.

But this is not only a European phenomenon. All over the world local, national and regionally funded initiatives must synchronise to ensure the digital solutions being developed and produced are suitable to meet end-user needs. RDA gathers data practitioners from a variety of different organisations, from academia to libraries, service providers and digital repositories, enterprise and SMEs, public administration and policy makers. This diverse but essential combination ensures that what is delivered is truly required by the end-users.

The Vermont Monitoring Cooperative – an organisation that provides information essential to understand, manage, and protect Vermont’s forested ecosystems – needs to develop the clearest picture of change over time, so they have to utilise all data streams – monitoring, research, and other sources. By adopting the RDA Recommendation on Data Citation, they have identified a way to cite and version data and enrich the metadata. Doing it in a way that any dataset manager can access will provide a lot of new power to users, and by extension to their community.

This is just one example of over 70 cases of adoption and implementation of these technical bridges that the RDA community themselves are defining, discussing, developing and maintaining. When you think that the RDA members mainly collaborate in a virtual workspace and some of them gather every six months in a different place in the world at the Plenary Meetings, it is truly a sign of commitment, dedication and global collaboration.

International recognition

So how, you might ask yourself, does this impact on international data policy? RDA, per se, is not a policy organisation, but it does indirectly determine trends and policies by the groups that are setup and driven forward. The RDA members themselves are policy pioneers. A concrete example of that was the recent landmark achievement of RDA being recognised by the European Commission and European member states as an open, consensus-based and transparent non-profit making membership organisation that develops ICT technical specifications.

These specifications – the recommendations created and maintained by the RDA Working groups – can be referenced in public procurement. Their implementation and uptake will encourage competition, promote interoperability and innovation, and facilitate the provision of cross-border and cross-regional research data services.

Nurturing and growing healthy international communities is possible; creating global data sharing and reuse solutions is possible; fostering collaboration across geographic and disciplinary boundaries is possible. The Research Data Alliance is the proof. The flowers just keep on blooming.

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