Towards NeIC2019: Interview with Hilary Hanahoe

NeIC2019 takes place at the Tivoli Hotel & Congress Center in Copenhagen, 14-16th May. One of the Keynote speakers at the conference is the Secretary General of Research Data Alliance (RDA), Hilary Hanahoe. While waiting for the conference to start, we had the pleasure to interview her about her work, area of expertise and thoughts on the conference theme.

Why are you attending NeIC2019?

I was invited to give a presentation, and I am flattered by the invitation. Furthermore, the topic in which I was invited to speak is very interesting. I will give a presentation on where the Research Data Alliance (RDA) community stands within the realm of open science and, specifically, the European Open Science Cloud. I will talk about whether RDA actually supports this major gamechanger in Europe and indeed across the world or just adds another element of complexity? I look forward to talking about RDA’s perspectives on open science in Europe but also to seeing the reactions. I am also very curious to learn about other topics that are on the programme, for example what is happening on a national level in Denmark especially and across the Nordic countries.

What is the reason you made a career out of Open Research Data?

While I do not come from a research or indeed technological background, I have been working in the area of data and e-infrastructures and research infrastructures for many years now. I’ve always been fascinated by the challenges, complexities and many facets of the research data world. I have witnessed much progress in the field over the years but of course there are many challenges still to be overcome. And not just technological ones, the social and cultural ones are just as important, if not more so. We need to work on both fronts.

In my present role as Secretary General of the Research Data Alliance, I have the wonderful responsibility to represent a cohort of 8000 doers who are working to identify solutions to research data management and open science challenges. They build social and technical bridges together to try and find solutions that would fit in to this puzzle that is the open science landscape. It is such an interesting field and as the community in RDA cover many domains and disciplines as well as technologies, I get the opportunity to learn about new challenges and new solutions every day. I am proud to represent a community of people that do this amazing work. Contributing to enable research data to be FAIR and more is very rewarding.

In your presentation, you talk about the RDA community and the challenges in open research data in Europe. What’s the main challenge in the European field of open science? And how do we overcome these challenges?

There are many, and it was really hard to pick just one. I think that Interoperability is one of the biggest issues. The concept of offering coherent services for users when the individual components are technically different and managed by different organizations in different countries is very complex. I’ve witnessed a progress here but much more needs to be done. While that is not strictly only a technological problem, as there are many political, economic factors involved there too, it is a big barrier to be overcome.

I do have to say something about the social side of things as well. I think that the cultural mindset is also a huge challenge. If I open my data, my results, will I get just recognition; will I be able to trace its use and reuse? I want to bring forward issues concerning the “extra” work scientists, who already spent a considerable amount of their time producing the data, may have to do to prepare and manage data to make it open. Some researchers simply don’t have the time, the technical capability or the in-house support to take this step.

Openness, communication, transparency, collaboration, and co-creation are key elements to overcoming these two challenges. Trust is built by working and operating together openly and transparently. Communicating the successes and the failures can go a long way here. Of course, enabling the institutions and organisations that host these scientists and researchers to make their science open and manage their research data is fundamental. That is one of the main aims of RDA, in fact. We want to make sure the individual gets the recognition they deserve.

What is RDA’s most important role in said field?

The Research Data Alliance is a vision, a mission that aims to produce concrete solutions to enable the sharing and re-use of data across disciplines, technologies and countries. Currently we have over 100 groups working on many different aspects of research data management. To date we have produced 30 outputs, some of which are recognised as standards in Europe. RDA’s most important contribution is to demonstrate that through openness, transparency, inclusivity and consensus-based international collaboration, workable, successful solutions can be found. It’s also important to tell the world about the things have been tried but failed, things to avoid, and I feel, and I hope that RDA makes a contribution from that perspective.

In terms of the Open Science Cloud, there are many, many actors; RDA is just one of them. One great thing about RDA is the openness, but also that it’s the community, the researchers themselves that encounter the challenges and find the solutions to them.

Do you think the need of interdisciplinary and cross-border cooperation will increase in Europe?

Glocal – I love that word. It is so relevant in this context. Global yet Local. The problems and challenges that are covered by the conference but also that are part of the achieving the open science vision are in many ways very local. They are problems that individual researchers and scientists are facing, that their organisations are facing, that their disciplines are facing, that their nations are facing. But science, as we all know, is by its very nature, international. It is global. For centuries scientists have collaborated across borders. The digital revolution we’re all living has enhanced and facilitated that possibility in immeasurable ways but the challenges that come with this possibility are still many and complex. Cross-border cooperation is and will continue to increase, and I think it’s fundamental. Interdisciplinary cooperation is also imperative. If we really think we can make a contribution to solving society’s grand challenges, like global warming or food shortages, then there is no doubt that interdisciplinary cooperation is a must. It has to happen. A successful and well-designed and -implemented Open Science Cloud would make a huge contribution in Europe to both of those. I definitely think the need for both interdisciplinary and cross-border cooperation will increase and I hope so, too.

What is your view on the EOSC-Nordic project?

I am really excited about this project as I really like the cross-border cooperation and synchronisation concepts. There’s an African proverb that says: If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. What I know of EOSC-Nordic appears to be built on that idea – going further together. The current European landscape, with the focus on the implementation of the EOSC, is highly complex. Now with FAIR being the latest thing too, there are many, many synergies and collaborations that need to be established but, more importantly, managed. If this project serves to do that on a Nordic and Baltic level, it would be such an amazing achievement and a considerable contribution not only to Europe and the EOSC but to the local communities of practice in the Nordic and Baltic countries. I hope we will see the fruits of this project soon, and I also hope that more regional collaborations like this come up. I am looking forward to hearing more and following the progress over the coming years.

Please find more information and register for NeIC2019 here. You can register until the 1st of May. We hope to see you in Copenhagen in May!