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29 Sep 2023

The Silk Road to EOSC: Reflections from the RDA EU team

A week on from the EOSC Symposium, we look back at the event and highlight our key takeaways and thoughts from a lively and productive week, full of interesting talks and meeting friends old and new. 

The team was present at the Symposium with an exhibitor booth alongside other Horizon Europe projects and stakeholders, leveraging the multitude of networking opportunities on offer, while also supporting the organisation of the event behind the scenes, and chairing sessions.

Note: By popular demand, our exhibition booth slide deck is available for download here!

When asked, they provided the following takeaways:  

Ari Asmi, RDA EU Director

EOSC is far more developed than it was still a year ago. The role and position of the different bodies, projects and the EOSC Association start slowly to fit together, although a lot of coordination and support is needed to keep the activities coherent, and to make sure the developments are not lost between the different projects and initiatives. However, we are in the right path in many of the developments and services. 

For me the most important aspects were the sessions related to the external connectivity of the EOSC. Adapting the well-known adage, science is global, but the solutions are local. The EOSC is the local (regional) solution, and there is a true risk of EOSC being created for the purpose of EOSC itself, looking inwards and communicating with the known parties with their known interests. The sessions on Data Spaces and Digital Twins showed directly other European key initiatives, which are this far only tangentially related to the EOSC activities, and there is a true risk of general divergence of solutions for interoperability, access and technology. Some of these challenges can be reached via high-level agreements and collaborations, but I would see even more need for direct development-time engagement and sharing of existing solutions between the initiatives.  

These challenges were even more highlighted when talking about global initiatives. I chaired one of the sessions on global research commons, which bought up the wide range of solution mechanisms for Open Research Commons such as EOSC used globally, with their unique problems and challenges. Keeping the Commons working together will require significant efforts on top of the basic development work, and the tools for this need to be used efficiently, with direct bottom-up working groups to high level policy agreements, including multilingual approaches when needed. What I did not chance to bring up in the panel due to the time constrains, was the fact that all of these commons in the session from Europe Latin America, US, Japan and Australia are all part of the major country blocks of rich nations. More and more of the research data will come from the large developing parts of the globe, and their needs and requirements can easily be forgotten when discussing the global research commons praxis. Perhaps that is something to look for in the next steps of EOSC (and other ORC) development.  

Another key session for me was the unconference session on RDA and its use. The RDA has a strong position in some of the disciplines, and regions as the main tool for international collaboration, but in some cases the tools (e.g., Working Groups) can be challenging to keep running due to differing funding cycles and strategies globally. One particular European challenge is the lack of expert time, as the developments in national and EOSC level do not easily give change to engage globally.  

Top takeaway! The connectivity of EOSC to the outside world need immediate attention to avoid divergence of solutions. In this case, the “outside world” means both internal European developments outside of the “EOSC bubble”, but also true international engagement, which should become a direct part of the development of any relevant interoperability tools and practices – if this is not done during development-time, there will be far more painful challenges later on standard competition, re-alignment and wasted efforts.  

Alex Delipalta, Communications and Engagement Officer 

Building bridges  

Despite being a part of the international research data community for years through various roles at the DCC and RDA, this was my first EOSC Symposium. It was an incredible opportunity to meet in person colleagues and communication experts from other Horizon Europe projects and explore so much potential for synergies and collaboration among initiatives – some of these conversations should start to bear fruit in the first quarter of 2024, so stay tuned!  

Our participation in the Symposium gave us the opportunity to answer important questions from the community and highlight the role RDA Europe can play in providing a forum for other European infrastructures and HE projects to internationalise their outputs and get access to a truly global and multi-disciplinary pool of data professionals and experts. On this note, make sure to check out the resources we published earlier in the year, showcasing how the Research Data Alliance is a powerful global platform for solving research data challenges.  

The team also took the opportunity to discuss RDA TIGER, the EC-funded project coordinated by RDA EU, which is just one RDA tool that can support the internationalisation of outputs resulting out of the EOSC community. The project provides various support services and small grants to well-defined RDA Working Groups (WGs) that concretely align, harmonise and standardise Open Science developments and technologies globally. Both new and existing RDA WGs can apply for RDA TIGER support by responding to one of our Open Calls. As the RDA features over 150 groups and 13,000 members, there is a good chance that your idea will find a home here – and if you have a challenge that is not currently being addressed, this is your chance to leverage the resources and expertise provided by RDA TIGER and start a new RDA WG!  

EOSC supporting cross-domain interoperability: The WorldFAIR case studies 

Of particular interest was the breakout session on cross-domain interoperability use cases, which featured several presentations from the WorldFAIR Project. RDA is a major partner in this project, with notable contributions including the RDA IGAD Community of Practice, one of the co-chairs of which is leading the WorldFAIR Work Package on Agricultural Biodiversity.  

‘Interoperability faces challenges. How can EOSC support cross domain interoperability?’ was the question introduced by Simon Hodson, WorldFAIR project coordinator, who was followed by Arofan Gregory with a presentation on the Cross-Domain Interoperability Framework (CDIF). The CDIF is a work in progress, trying to define the profile of metadata standards that can be used to interoperate. The WorldFAIR project will produce a first draft, but work will then continue after the end of the project. Arofan noted that while a lot of research is going into FAIR, not all is implementable. For this reason, the CDIF will be a progressing support tool with low entry barriers. FAIR is a set of principles, not a roadmap for anything. You can only solve these challenges though scientific collaboration, and the CDIF is the foundation where this kind of support can be built. 

The remainder of the session focused on real implementations of interoperability and presented use cases from EOSC Future, WorldFAIR and FAIR-IMPACT.In the case of WorldFAIR, Pier Luigi Buttigieg and Alexander Prent spoke about their work on Ocean Science and Geochemistry, respectively.  

Pier Luigi discussed his work with the ODIS/OIH, whose mission is to build a sustainable, interoperable, and inclusive digital ecosystem for all ocean stakeholders. His work under WorldFAIR focuses on the development of cross-domain interoperability along existing IOC priority areas (such as Biodiversity, Hazards and disasters, Chemicals and pollutants, and Cultural data and knowledge), on continuous alignment and integration through the creation of a domain-neutral form of ODIS-Arch, and by aligning to the CDIF, and finally with a move towards an integration-on-demand data space. The full presentation is available here. If you want to find out more about the WorldFAIR case study on Ocean Science and Sustainable Development, a good starting point is their first published report, available on Zenodo.  

Alexander Prent (AuScope, OneGeochemistry) spoke about the work done in the Geochemistry case study, a community with many subdisciplines, and highly specific and small size datasets. The Work Package Lead spoke about the FAIR Implementation Profiles in development, and highlighted that comparing FAIR Implementation Profiles will clarify where FAIR Enabling Resources are missing and need to be developed, and how publishing FAIR Implementation Profiles will enable other (sub)disciplines to use and tailor to the FAIR Enabling Resource used by that discipline furthering cross domain interoperability. Check out the first published report, ‘Formalisation of OneGeochemistry’, available on Zenodo. Alexander’s presentation from the EOSC Symposium is available here.  

Top takeaway! The launch of the EOSC Macro-roadmap that was launched officially during the Symposium – it is great to see the community contributing in their own way to the same objectives.  

Matti Heikkurinen, Engagement Officer 

This year’s EOSC Symposium was carefully scheduled to occur on the busiest week of the last few years (I think someone called Murphy was involved, apparently). So parts of the symposium went past in a bit of a blur: go to the session you’re supporting, make sure slides are ready to go, upload to the website, repeat.  

However, the moments you slowed down, looked around and thought about what you were seeing were … different. On the one hand, you could see many of the participants were dealing with similar (or much worse) scheduling challenges as I was. Lunches are eaten while on Zoom, social dinners declined and tasks attacked many at the time. On the other, the moment there was a lull in action, conversations flowed, new ideas seemed to appear and follow-ups were scheduled. It seemed that everyone was busier than last year – but also less reserved and more relaxed. In the flow. 

The most rewarding part of the symposium participation were the opportunities to bring people together and catalyse discussions. Especially short discussions with the EOSC Future project representatives and the domain ambassadors led to near-immediate introductions and follow-up discussions, accomplishing in minutes what would have taken numerous emails, doodle polls and Zoom calls with PowerPoints over several weeks. Potential take-home message: the best time to travel to a symposium is when you feel like you don’t have time to travel to a symposium? 

Some of the hasty snippets caught during the sessions were: 

Interoperability session 

  • Paraphrased from Kostas Koumantaros’s presentation: organisational interoperability can be (at least) equally challenging as the technical one. For example, a software engineer who’s told to write a privacy policy for a service will probably consult the legal department. The legal department will probably tell the software engineer that the service shouldn’t be deployed.  

The Closing Plenary - EOSC Future take away’s  

  • To paraphrase José María Carazo: initially, from a Research Infrastructure’s point of view EOSC seems very complex (unnecessarily so). However, in the end, the complexity seems appropriate (the reality might, effectively, be unnecessarily complex). 

Top takeaway! The EOSC’s Post EOSC Future future seems busy, complex and FAIRly interesting! 

Najla Rettberg, RDA EU Project Manager

A community in consultation: EOSC is many things to many different people. Things have definitely moved on since we last wrote about the 2022 Symposium. Among many high-level talks dealing with for example AI and digital transformation, what I appreciated the most was getting more clarity on the activities of the EOSC Association and the buy-in from the community.  There is certainly a lot of community engagement at this critical stage. The governance session enlightened us on the possible future models. An external body could be the answer to govern EOSC, and all the related activities, but how to set it up? A hybrid model came out on top (see the slides), but it became clear that all sectors have to be taken along on this journey. The main take-away here is that while we are at the start of the journey, plenty more discusions are needed to reach consensus. 

EOSC Roadmaps: A number of participants contribute to building EOSC, not just the projects but also the member states. The session presenting the EOSC Macro Roadmap explained a new tool to map out how the EOSC projects are contributing to aspects of EOSC, what technical components are they using, how are they using it, how is the landscape developing and above all to avoid fragmentation.   The results of the survey presented by Ilaria Nardello from the EOSC Association was also an eye opener: technical components are behind the take up of the policy and FAIR tools – it seems there is still a lot to do yet with the open uptake and roll out of the core services.   

EOSC Node: Perhaps the most contentious sessions were about the to-be commissioned EOSC Nodes.  There are many open questions around the function of the EU Node. The unconference session provided an excellent opportunity to sit in small groups and pick apart the functions of the node. Would use of EOSC components be like "sausage slices in a shop"? E.g "You can’t have that slice as Country Y paid for that" – or more like a "national motorway": paid for by Europeans and national resources – all can use it.  My understanding is that an EOSC node should provide national support for establishing federated services at national level e.g localisation and above all they should be built onto of existing national networks and expertise. 

Opportunities for monitoring: A session on Open Science Monitoring clarified this kind of national information gathering should be seen as an opportunity at national level too. Many processes to gather this sort of complex data are not yet in place within national systems so the exercise in itself, if done regularly, could also streamline internal methods. The main question however is about the quality and trust-worthiness of the data, however a solid start has been made with the EOSC Monitor and the processes can be refined as the product develops and is leveraged by a user base.    

All in all, the Symposium provided an excellent basis to proceed, for information collection and for ensuring participation. From the Velvet Revolution to the Silk Road to EOSC! 

Top take-away! Seeing our Open Call Grantees and how they are embedded in RDA and Open Science practices!  

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