RDA Group Chairs: Roles and Responsibilities

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22 March 2016 24817 reads


This page is intended as a primer for RDA Working and Interest Group Chairs, as well as Chairs of Communities of Practice, and, due to the evolving nature of the RDA, should be of interest to both first-time and more experienced Chairs.  

To address the growing global need for data infrastructure, the Research Data Alliance was created in 2013 as an international, community-powered organization. Membership is open at no cost to any individual who agrees to the RDA principles of openness, consensus-based decision making, balanced representation, non-profit, technology neutrality, and harmonization across communities and technologies. 

RDA Groups, by which we mean Working Groups (WG), Interest Groups (IG) and Communities of Practice (CoPs), are the heart of the RDA. Members within these groups collaborate through their group's section of the RDA website, regional workshops and at formal RDA Plenaries that are currently held twice a year. 

For 12 to 18 months, WGs collaborate to develop Recommendations to implement specific tools, code, best practices, standards, etc. that will promote data sharing and exchange, and increase data-driven innovation. IGs define common issues and interests that may lead to the creation of more focused Working Groups or to other outputs. WGs, IGs and CoPs should not promote a specific product or technology.

The RDA wants groups to be active during their lifespan. A group may be declared inactive for a variety of reasons. Interest Groups that have shown no activity for 1 year will initially be contacted by a member of the RDA Secretariat or the RDA Technical Advisory Board to see if RDA can help re-invigorate the group. CoPs are also expected to stay active and are reviewed every 18 months.


Roles and Responsibilities

Group Chairs are responsible for initiating the formation of their Groups and leading their members in delivering specific outputs that directly enable data sharing, exchange or interoperability.  The RDA requires at least two, but ideally for ease of management, no more than four, co-chairs from at least two continents to take primary responsibility for the quality, scope, timeliness and usefulness of the work produced by these groups, or in the case of CoPs, at least 2 co-chairs from three continents. Groups can establish their own decision-making processes, but from an RDA perspective, there are no "lead" chairs. All co-chairs are considered equals.

Chairs provide an effective organization structure, ensure their group functions in accordance with the RDA Guiding Principles and perform various administrative responsibilities related to the operation of the Group. 

For RDA IGs and CoPs in particular, the RDA recommends rotating at least some of the group's co-chairs periodically, balancing continuity with changed group perspective and circumstances. The mechanisms of changing its chairs are largely up to the IG, but RDA recommends the use of secure RDA Web forms if the group wishes to hold an election for new co-chairs. Please contact the RDA Secretariat (enquiries[ar]rd-alliance[dot]org) in this case, and the Secretariat will set up a Web form for the group.

In case the chairs of a Group change for any reason, including due to an election, please notify enquiries[at]rd-alliance[dot]org with all remaining, all outgoing and incoming chairs cc'd.

Role descriptions are categorized below by phases in the Group lifecycle. Please note that group chairs and group members are always welcome to contact the Secretariat (enquiries[at]rd-alliance[dot]org) if they have any questions or comments, or need assistance, throughout the lifespan of their group.


Recruiting Group Members

  • Ensure membership represents at least 2, but preferably 3 or more continents, and comprises multiple sectors/disciplines and roles. If you would like the RDA to broker conversations with members from specific regions, please contact enquiries [at] rd-alliance[dot]org.
  • Communicate the 12-18 month participation requirement to WG members (IGs and CoPs remain in operation as long as they remain active, subject to periodic evaluation of their activity and its relevance to RDA aims, and, in the case of CoPs, subject to periodic reviews).

Initiating an RDA Working or Interest Group

To initiate an RDA Group, Chairs should:

  • Contact enquiries[at] rd-alliance[dot]org about their intent to develop a Group; the Secretariat will then assist the group throughout its duration.

For WGs, lead the Case Statement development process; which includes:

  • Submitting a case statement that includes the issues the group will address, Recommendations and other outputs it will produce, who will benefit from the group’s effort, its work plan and its adoption plan.
  • Responding to community comments posted on the Case Statement page during the Community Review Phase.
  • Working with the group to revise the Case Statement based on feedback from the community, TAB and Council.

Learn more about the Case Statement Development and Review Process.

For IGs, lead the Charter development process, which includes:

  • Developing a short charter following the Interest Group Charter template, describing their activities and listing two to four co-chairs.
  • Responding to community comments posted on the Charter's page during the Community Review Phase.
  • Ensuring there is no avoidable overlap with existing groups.

Learn more about the Review Process for IGs.

For CoPs, lead the Agreement development process. For more information about CoPs please see Creating or Joining a Community of Practice.


After a Group has been endorsed by the RDA, a liaison from the RDA Technical Advisory Board (TAB) will be assigned to the group. More information on how the TAB liaison can support the group can be found under "Liaison" in the document outlining what TAB does


Administering Operations of RDA Groups

  • For WGs: Lead the development of Recommendations and other outputs as defined by the group's Case Statement (Recommendations and Supporting Outputs for WGs)
  • For IGs and CoPs: Lead the development of outputs as defined by the group's Charter (for IGs) and Agreement (for CoPs).
  • Facilitate coordination and communication within the group. Please make sure the group follows the RDA Groups policy, which came into effect on 1 April 2021.
  • Supported by the group’s TAB liaison, help the group keep abreast of related activities within the RDA (other WGs, IGs and CoPs) and actively seek collaborations where appropriate. (Note: this is an important task requiring a significant investment in time)).
    • Consider nominating group members as formal cross-group liaisons. These group members would join related / relevant existing RDA Groups and report back to your group, exploring synergies and making sure both groups are aware of the other group's activities.
  • Develop a record of relevant notes, minutes and materials from groups for archive purposes and share these on the group's pages on the RDA web site.
  • Organize and facilitate regular group meetings.
  • Utilize the RDA website and online interaction channels to engage the community and keep the community informed of their efforts.
  • Inform the RDA of relevant outputs and outcomes and how they will be sustained.
  • Participate in plenaries, including facilitation of breakout sessions and participation in TAB/WG/IG chairs meeting (schedule permitting).
  • Inform the RDA Secretariat (enquiries[at]rd-alliance[dot]org) if any of the group's chairs have changed, or if the group would like to hold an election for new group chairs (see "Roles and Responsibilities" above).
  • If the group wishes to change its name or type, please contact the RDA Secretariat (enquiries[at]rd-alliance[dot]org) to discuss the necessary steps, usually the same as for refreshing a Charter (see below).
  • IGs that have been active for a long time are encouraged to refresh their Charter every about 3-5 years. The process for refreshing a Charter is outlined on the Creating and Managing an RDA Interest Group page.


Plenary Sessions

Plenary sessions should be working meetings that favour discussion and problem solving over presentation. In preparing, chairs should:

  • Provide a clear title, description and goals of the session.
  • Provide any required or useful background material for the session on the session page (the Secretariat can help).
  • Make any presentation slides available on the session page by the start of the session.
  • Encourage participants to take collaborative notes (Secretariat will provide a Google doc for each session, linked from the session page)

Plenary sessions should be facilitated (not just chaired) by the group chairs. In Plenary sessions, chairs should:

  • Pay careful attention to ensure all voices are heard and none dominate.
  • Where appropriate, use feedback tools and techniques (real-time voting, team challenges, breakouts, panels) to build understanding and consensus. The RDA is currently compiling a list of tools and examples for Chairs to draw on. If you have any suggestions for additions to this list, please email enquiries[at]rd-alliance[dot]org.


Outputs and Adoption

  • Lead the development and distribution of reports to RDA members on outputs and outcomes produced from WG and IG activities
  • Report at Plenaries on outputs and outcomes
    • For WGs - at or about the 12-month point, as counted from Council Recognition and Endorsement, you may be asked to present a status of your work.  Use this presentation template.
    • For WGs - at or about the 18-month point, as counted from Council Recognition and Endorsement, you may be asked to present your final Recommendation.  Use this presentation template.
    • IG and CoP Chairs interested in reporting about outputs from their group at a Plenary should contact enquiries[at]rd-alliance[dot]org. 
  • In particular for WGs:
    • Conduct outreach to outside organizations and members to gain support on outputs
    • Communicate to members the importance of adoption of outputs and, together with group members, actively look for adopters.
    • Provide the Secretariat with a publishable version of the WG’s Recommendation, a maintenance plan, contact details of two adopters, and other information required for publishing the Recommendation and for the endorsement process.

Learn more about WG Outputs and the endorsement process.

If you publish any RDA-related papers or other publications, you should make sure to acknowledge the RDA using this wording.


Closing out a Group

Groups are mainly closed out once they have delivered their final Recommendation (for WGs), because the group has finsished what it wanted to do (for IGs and CoPs), due to inactivity (IGs and CoPs, or, rarely, WGs), due to an 18-month review (for CoPs), or because the group has decided to stop working on the area (all Groups). If you and your fellow co-chairs want your group to be closed, please email the RDA Secretariat at enquiries[at]rd-alliance[dot]org and state the reasons for wanting the group to be closed.  The Secretariat will then contact you about the next steps.

If you have questions about any aspect of this document, please email the RDA Secretariat at enquiries[at]rd-alliance[dot]org.