Federated Research Data Infrastructures

InformAll has completed a report for Knowledge Exchange (KE) on the evolving landscape of Federated Research Data Infrastructures (FRDIs) in the six KE member countries: the UK, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Denmark and Finland. The report is freely available here.

The management of research data 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 aligns with information literacy.

In 2016 the KE Research Data expert group identified a need for better understanding of the nature and consequences of research and data infrastructure being more and more federated. Work was designed to find answers to questions such as ‘Which are the main drivers for federating research data infrastructures and services ? What are the expected benefits? What are the consequences for research and researchers? What challenges and issues arise when making a federated research data infrastructure function well?’

To understand more of the complexity, representatives from sixteen FRDIs were interviewed, as a first step to get a grip on the phenomenon FRDI. The responses were analysed and outcomes are documented in the report, ‘The evolving landscape of Federated Research Data Infrastructures’. The publication describes the situation in the six partner countries, and presents nine main conclusions on a variety of aspects.

The report demonstrates that ‘federated’ can mean different things. Federation can refer to different elements, levels and processes within the infrastructure, to governance and funding structures or to any coordinative activity. Federations result from push and pull factors, and in many cases the environment in which they operate can be characterised as fragmented.

The report does not attempt to provide a final definition of a federated infrastructure but hopes – through the variety of examples that were analysed – to help the research community to understand more about the rationale behind and the implications of RD infrastructures being federated. In times when Europe sees massive FRDIs emerge (e.g. EUDAT, EOSC and OpenAIRE, along with various national initiatives), this report may be a mirror and inspiration for future developments.