RDA for Newcomers

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30 August 2016 52607 reads

This page is meant to give you a brief introduction to the Research Data Alliance (RDA), in particular on how RDA works, and on the various ways that you can get involved with RDA, from commenting on documents to establishing a Working or Interest Group. There are links to more detailed information on the RDA Web site throughout this page.

Your suggestions, questions or comments on this document are welcome! Please email secretariat[at]rda-foundation.org with any feedback, comments or suggestions.


Index of this page



About the Research Data Alliance

The Research Data Alliance (RDA) is an international initiative that was launched as a community-driven organization at the first RDA Plenary in Gothenburg, Sweden, in March 2013 by the European Commission, the United States National Science Foundation and National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the Australian Government’s Department of Innovation with the goal of building the social and technical infrastructure to enable open sharing of data. You can find a list of our funders here.

RDA is supported by the Secretariat, and three governance bodies: Council, Technical Advisory Board (TAB), and Organisational Advisory Board (OAB), as described in the "RDA Governance" section below.


We have asked some of our members to describe RDA in just one word. Enjoy the result!



RDA Vision and Mission

RDA vision: Researchers and innovators openly sharing data across technologies, disciplines, and countries to address the grand challenges of society.

RDA mission: The Research Data Alliance (RDA) builds the social and technical bridges that enable open sharing of data.


Why RDA makes the difference - January 2020

RDA Code of Conduct

RDA's Code of Conduct was published in March 2018.

RDA Value Statements 

RDA has published statements about the value of RDA  for:

They are all collected here.

RDA Members

Anyone who agrees with the RDA guiding principles can become an individual member by registering on the RDA Website. There are no membership fees for individual members. Organisations can become members, too, for an annual fee. More information on organisational member benefits etc. can be found on the Organisational Membership page.

You can see our growing membership in the latest RDA membership stats updated monthly on the website.

As of August 2022, RDA includes:


How RDA works

The RDA mission is brought to life by Working Groups (WGs), Interest Groups (IGs) and Communities of Practice (CoP). WGs have a lifespan of 12-18 months and are the main vehicle for producing the RDA Outputs, which are the technical and social infrastructure solutions that enable data sharing, exchange, and interoperability. IGs operate without a time limit, and are committed to directly or indirectly enabling data sharing, exchange, or interoperability. There are currently about 30 Working Groups and about 60 Interest Groups actively working on topics across RDA.  CoPs, announced in December 2020, investigate, discuss and provide knowledge and skills within a specific discipline and/or research domain. Over the coming months, we expect to see several CoPs established within the organisation.  Lastly,  Birds of a Feather (BoF) groups are convened at the biannual RDA Plenaries to gauge the interest in a new topic.

Some of the RDA WGs and IGs are conducted jointly with other organisations. Examples of this are the RDA / TDWG Metadata Standards for attribution of physical and digital collections stewardship WG, RDA/NISO Privacy Implications of Research Data Sets IG, several joint groups with CODATA, e.g. the RDA/CODATA Summer Schools in Data Science and Cloud Computing in the Developing World WG, and several joint groups with the World Data System, e.g. the RDA/WDS Publishing Data Bibliometrics WG.

The groups conduct much of their work online and in virtual meetings, but most groups also have breakout sessions at the RDA Plenaries, which are held biannually (see below for more information).

This video guides you through the RDA website and its main functionalities. It is a good snapshot to understand what's behind the RDA mechanisms, its Governance, the working groups and what you do with them and who's involved.

Getting Involved

Once you have become an official member by registering on the RDA Web site and agreeing to the RDA guiding principles, you can become involved in a variety of ways, including by providing comments and feedback on the documents currently for review by the RDA community, joining existing Working and Interest Groups (and soon CoPs), starting your own group, attending Plenary meetings, and/or by participating in RDA governance elections. For a personal perspective on engaging with RDA, please have a look at the Blog post from Tomasz Miksa: "From A “Newbie” To An “Expert” In Less Than Two Years - How To Engage In The RDA Activities?".

Commenting on Documents

You can provide comments and feedback on the documents currently in RDA Community Review. Those documents will be listed in the “Requests for Comments” box on the RDA homepage, and will typically be available for comment for a month. To comment, please use the "Add comment" functionality on the respective document (you need to be logged in to the RDA Website to comment). The following types of documents will be available for Community Review:

  • Interest Group Charters. Charters describe a proposed Interest Group's purpose, motivation, objectives, outcomes and timelines, and undergo a 3-step review phase before the group can become a recognized and endorsed RDA Interest group. As the Community Review happens early on in the life of an Interest Group, this is a good opportunity to help shape the direction of the group.

  • Working Group Case Statements. Case Statements describe a proposed Working Group's purpose, motivation, objectives, outcomes and timelines, but also include the envisaged outputs and adopters of the Working Group outputs. As with Interest Groups, providing comments during the Community Review phase as part of the 3-step review process is a good opportunity to contribute to shaping the Working Group, especially if you are interested in potentially adopting the envisaged outputs.

  • Community of Practice Agreements. Communities of Practice (CoP) were introduced in December 2020. CoPs investigate, discuss and provide knowledge and skills within a specific discipline and/or research domain. If you are interested in a CoP's domain, providing comments on a CoP during its community review phase is a good way to get involved.

  • Working and Interest Group Outputs. There are two main types of Outputs produced by RDA groups: Recommendations, which are produced by Working Groups towards the end of their 12-18 month lifespan, and Supporting Outputs, which can be produced by both Working and Interest Groups at any time. Both Recommendations and Supporting Outputs are made available for community comment as part of the outputs endorsement process. At this point, you are particularly invited to comment on whether the output under review helps to further the RDA mission, and is it consistent with the principles of RDA, and, for Recommendations, whether they are adoptable.

  • Other documents produced by various RDA bodies. Occasionally, some of the RDA bodies (e.g. a Council subcommittee) put out documents on various aspects of RDA for community comment. Recent documents have included a proposal on Transparency and Openness in RDA, and a document discussing some thoughts on RDA as a Standards body.

In addition, if you wish to make general comments about RDA, or if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact the RDA Secretariat at enquiries[at]rd-alliance.org.

Joining a Group

You can join any number of Interest and Working Groups via the “Join” button on the right hand side on each group’s page. Once you have joined a group, you will have access to the working documents for that group, be automatically added to that group’s mailing list, and receive invitations to teleconferences and meetings.

Attending Plenaries

RDA Plenary meetings are held twice a year around March/April and September.  Locations are rotated around the world to allow participation from as many people as possible. You can find information on the past, upcoming and future Plenaries on the RDA Web site under the Plenaries tab. Before COVID-19, Plenaries were help as face-to-face meetings, though we also provided remote access to many sessions: Most "whole-of-plenary" sessions were streamed live and recorded, so you could watch them live or watch the recordings after their been publication on the RDA Web site, linked from the respective Plenary programme. Remote participation was also supported to some extent (via GoToMeeting) in most WG and IG breakout sessions. 

Plenary 20, the RDA's 10th Anniversary Plenary meeting, will be held in Gothenburg, Sweden, where the RDA was launched in March 2013, March 21-23, 2023. The Plenary will be held in a hybrid format.

Plenary 19 was held as a hybrid event as part of International Data Week, 20–23 June 2022, Seoul, South Korea. Recordings from the Plenary are available via the RDA's 19th Plenary: Programme page.

Plenary 18 was held from 3-11 November 2021 as a fully virtual event without a specific host city.

Plenary 17 (Edinburgh, Scotland, 20-22 April 2021) was held as a virtual event. 

Plenary 16 (San Jose, Costa Rica, 9-13 November 2020), which has the theme "Knowledge Ecology",  was co-organised by CONARE Costa Rica, RDA United States and Research Data Canada, and was also run as a Virtual Plenary. You can find the programme of VP16 here. Session recordings have been made available generally via the RDA Youtube channel.

With the COVID-19 situation, we had to cancel the 15th RDA Plenary (18-20 March 2020, Melbourne, Australia) and turned it into a Virtual Plenary, which ran from 18 March - 10 April 2020. You can find the programme of the Virtual Plenary here


Participating in RDA elections

Council and TAB members are elected by the community on a rotating basis, with elections for Council taking place at odd-numbered plenaries (typically in March), and TAB election at even-numbered plenaries (typically in September). Calls for nomination will be published on the RDA Web site and in RDA newsletters ahead of the elections. As an RDA member, you are eligible to vote in RDA elections and run for office if you would like to take on a larger role in the organization.  Details on the Council election process are described in the RDA Governance document, and more details on TAB elections can be found in the TAB Election Process document.

Establishing a Group

You can also establish a new Working or Interest Group. Both WGs and IGs require a document (a Case Statement for WGs, a Charter for IGs) outlining the goals, interaction with other initiatives, and expected work plan of the group; a WG is also expected to outline an adoption plan for its proposed Recommendation. As RDA groups are meant to be global efforts, group membership should span 2 or more continents. Groups are co-chaired by 2-4 individuals, preferably from different continents. RDA provides and maintains a primer for first-time RDA Working and Interest Group Chairs outlining the roles and responsibilities of WG and IG Chairs. RDA also offers collaboration tools such and some logistical support for face-to-face meetings.

RDA Outputs

RDA Working and Interest Groups develop RDA Outputs, which are the technical and social infrastructure solutions (the “bridges”) that enable data sharing, exchange, and interoperability.  There are three types of outputs recognised by the RDA:

  • RDA Recommendations - the official, endorsed results of RDA Working Groups.  Recommendations have undergone formal phases of discussion, comment, and decision-making, and can be compared to “specifications” or “standards” created and endorsed by other organisations. The Recommendations endorsement process is described on the Working Group Outputs page.

  • Supporting Outputs - useful solutions from our RDA Working and Interest Groups, but may not be as clearly adoptable by organisations as our RDA Recommendations.  They have undergone a community review.

  • Other Outputs - resources provided by a Working Group or Interest Group and published on the RDA website, but without any level of endorsement.

All RDA Outputs are listed on the RDA Web site. You can also read adoption stories about many of our outputs, and watch videos for some of our adoption stories.


RDA Plenaries

The RDA Plenary meeting is the twice-annual meeting where the members of the RDA meet to discuss possible new topics, hold working and interest group meetings, and to conduct RDA business. These plenary meetings serve as important milestones in the life of working and interest groups, especially in terms of achievements and outputs. Furthermore, the RDA coordination groups such as the Council, RDA Funders Forum, Technical Advisory board, Regional Advisory Board, Organisational Advisory Board, Secretariat and other RDA committees also take advantage of these face-to-face and virtual opportunities to interact with members on the current state, progress, achievements, and future plans.

Physical Plenaries

The Research Data Alliance holds two Plenaries per year, typically in March and September, though these months can change. These are working meetings with a mixture of sessions. Existing Working and Interest Groups come together in breakout sessions to continue working towards their outlined goals. Birds of a Feather (BoF) sessions often give rise to a new IG or WG. Some groups also hold joint sessions with other groups to explore synergies, develop or share use cases, or exchange information. Furthermore, there are plenary sessions where the full community comes together to hear keynotes, and updates on WG recommendations and adoptions. Poster sessions allow members and groups to share their research and progress reports. There are also networking events and other opportunities to meet in small groups to collaborate and plan future work. Programmes, presentations and recordings from past plenaries show the typical RDA Plenary structure.  

Since Plenary 13, a joint effort by the Technical Advisory Board (TAB) and Organisational Assembly (OA) have been the Plenary Pathways . These are intended to help you identify breakout sessions related to core themes. For Plenary 13, these included The Fair Agenda, Discipline Approaches, Underpinning infrastructure, Content issues, and Data Management issues.  From Plenary 19 the themes were re-assessed and included Training, Stewardship and Data Management Planning, Data Lifecycles and Semantics, Ontology and Standardisation (see here for the full Plenary 19 Pathways). 

Hybrid Plenaries

RDA's Plenary 19, the first hybrid plenary, was part of International Data Week 2022 (IDW 2022), 20–23 June 2022, Seoul, Republic of Korea (previously scheduled for November 2021 but postponed due to the Covid pandemic). IDW 2022 was hosted by the Korea Institute of Science and Technology Information (KISTI), committed by the Ministry of Science and ICTSeoul Metropolitan GovernmentNational Library of Korea, and National Assembly Library, with the support of the Korea Research Institute of Standards and Science (KRISS)Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU)Korea Institute of Oriental Medicine and the Korea Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources

Plenary 20, the RDA's second hybrid plenary and 10th anniversary plenary took place 21-23 March 2023 in Gothenburg, Sweden and was hosted by Chalmers University of Technology, the University of Gothernburg and the Swedish National Data Service (SND).  

RDA's Plenary 21 is scheduled as part of International Data Week 2023 (IDW 2023) and will take place between 23-26 October 2023 in Salzburg, Austria and online. IDW 2023 will be hosted by the University of Salzburg through its Data Science and Geoinformatics departments, supported by the Governor of Salzburg and with assistance from the Austrian Academy of Sciences - GIScience and the European Umbrella Organization for Geographic Information.

Virtual Plenaries

Due to COVID-19, the physical RDA Plenary 15 in Melbourne, Australia, had to be cancelled. Instead RDA set up a Virtual Plenary (VP) from 18 March - 9 April. The programme includes a Virtual Poster session, and keynotes by Priyanka Pillai (University of Melbourne) and Cathy Foley (CSIRO). Plenary 16 (Costa Rica, 9-13 November 2020), which had the theme "Knowledge Ecology", was co-organised by CONARE Costa Rica, RDA United States and Research Data Canada, and was also held as a Virtual Plenary.

RDA'S 17th Plenary meeting (Edinburgh, Scotland, 20-23 April 2021) was hosted by the Digital Curation Centre in collaboration with Jisc and UKRI and ran as a virtual Plenary. The theme of the Plenary was "Opening data for global challenges".

RDA's 18th Plenary meeting was also virtual and the first plenary to be fully owned and organised by the RDA Secretariat, responsible for the daily operations, without support from local organisers.

RDA for Newcomers sessions

To support RDA members new to Plenaries, RDA organises an "RDA for Newcomers" just before the Plenary. Information and slides from previous sessions are available on the RDA Web site, linked from the respective Plenary programme. You can look at information and slides from the RDA for Newcomers sessions at Plenary 16 (San Jose), Plenary 14 (Helsinki), Plenary 13 (Philadelphia), Plenary 12 (Gaborone), and Plenary 11 (Berlin).

For RDA Plenary 17, we ran two sessions in different time zones 1-2 weeks before the Plenary. The slides from session 1 can be found here.

There was also a co-located event, La RDA pour les Noveaux-Venus - RDA for Newcomers in French. Slides from the session are available here.

Plenary 17 also had RDA Q&A and catch-up sessions throughout the programme. While not specifically targetted at Newcomers, Newcomers were certainly welcome to join the sessions, meet other RDA members, and ask any questions they might have.

RDA Governance

RDA is supported by several advisory and administrative groups.

The RDA Council is responsible for the overall oversight, success, strategy, and sustainability of the RDA. It maintains the vision of the RDA, ensuring the guiding principles of the organisation are maintained, and formally endorses RDA Working and Interest Groups and RDA Recommendations. The RDA Council has set up several subcommittees whose aim is to support Council in dealing with various important issues. At each odd-numbered plenary (usually held in March / April), 3 Council members will step down and new Council members can be elected. 


The RDA Technical Advisory Board (TAB) provides technical expertise and advice to the Council, and assists in the development, review and promotion of RDA Working & Interest Groups. TAB members are elected for a three-year term. Each year, at the even-numbered plenary, which is usually held in September, 4 out of the 12 TAB members will finish their term. Members are invited to nominate themselves for candidacy, and an election is held after the Plenary.


The RDA Organisational Advisory Board (OAB) represents the interests of the RDA organisational members and affiliates, and ensures that their input and needs play a role in guiding the programs and activities of the RDA. The members of the OAB are elected from the RDA Organisational Assembly (OA), which is made up of the representatives of RDA’s organisational members and affiliates.


The RDA Regional Advisory Board (RAB) is responsible for overseeing the activities of both the RAB and the Regional Assembly (RA). RAB provides advice to the Council on issues of interest to the Regions and informs and steers the Council on regional issues. Furthermore, it brings issues and concerns from RDA Regions to the Council, and from the Council to the Regions.


The RDA Secretariat is responsible for the administration and daily operations of RDA. Secretariat members provide information to RAD members, help guide the RDA groups through the processes of the RDA, support the RDA governance bodies, contribute to the organisation of the Plenaries, and maintain RDA documents. You can email the Secretariat at enquiries[at]rd-alliance.org.

For more detail on these bodies, please see the RDA Governance document.


  • BoF:  Birds of a Feather affinity groups created for a one time discussion at plenaries to see if there is enough interest and need to create a dedicated Interest and/or Working Group.

  • CoP: Community of Practice

  • IG: Interest Group

  • OA: Organisational Assembly, the body made up of representatives from all Organisational and RDA Affiliate members.

  • OAB: Organisational Advisory Board: the sub-committee of the whole OA, acting as an executive committee representing the interests of the Organisational Members.

  • TAB: Technical Advisory Board

  • WG: Working Group


  • Karin Westin Tikkanen's picture

    Author: Karin Westin Ti...

    Date: 04 Mar, 2022

    A detailed and thorough introductory guide for newcomers to the RDA. However, the section under "Virtual Plenaries" ought to be updated, since it talks about the 17th Plenary meeting (Edinburgh, Scotland, 20-23 April 2021) in the present tense. The 18th plenary was virtual only, the joint events of the plenary and data week in South Korea were postponed.

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