Federated Research Data Infrastructures

In January 2017, InformAll was awarded a contract by Knowledge Exchange (KE) to undertake research on the evolving landscape of Federated Research Data Infrastructures (FRDIs) in the six KE partner countries: the UK, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Denmark and Finland.

The management of research data (mostly, but not exclusively, in digital form) has increasingly become an indissoluble part of the academic research endeavour, across all disciplines. The growing prevalence of data-centric research methodologies has of necessity implied the development of infrastructures to help ensure that data is validated, accessible, shareable, re-usable and effectively curated; and crucially, that it conforms to the principles of open data. Infrastructures also include training provision, and there is a relationship here with data literacy – which itself is aligned with information literacy.

These infrastructures provide necessary tools to help the research community navigate its way through the data jungle – but they are fragmented, and often lacking in transparency and sustainability. They involve different sets of technologies, players and competencies, reinforcing the confusing nature of the mix. The European Commission recognised this problem in 2010 in its ‘Riding the wave’ report, with its call for the development of an international framework for a collaborative data infrastructure, allowing for the different players – institutions, companies, public bodies and individuals – to interact more easily with the data infrastructure. When in 2011 KE looked to formulating a programme to implement the conclusions from ‘Riding the wave’, it also recognised that “the [data] infrastructure is diverse, fragmented, in flux and organised differently across various disciplines in different countries”. The European Open Science Cloud (EOSC) is also helping to drive the agenda, whether through the current provision of a service or the strategic leadership aimed at setting standards and encouraging good practice.

Such analyses provide the rationale for a federated approach to this infrastructure, so that both data generators and data users can easily make use of data services and support services.  Jisc encapsulates the challenge neatly when it describes its vision as ‘visible data, invisible infrastructure’.

 The project is intended to lead to a landscape analysis of the evolving FRDIs environment. This will help to chart developments, compare national approaches and identify good practice. In the research that it is undertaking for KE, InformAll will seek to capture emerging commonalities and trends, and to tap into ideas currently being explored as well as to examine concrete achievements. This will include an overview of the rationale and workings of FRDIs; the relationships between the research community and FRDIs; and the ways in which FRDIs are helping to improve research environments.

This is the second collaboration between InformAll and KE, and this project builds on the study, undertaken during the first half of 2016, on research data management training in the KE partner countries. The main output of the project will be a report, which is expected to be released in the middle of 2017.