How Open Data changes the world? Conference gathered over 600 people to discuss this topic in Otaniemi

RDA Plenary Meeting participants discussed how data changes the world.
Full lecture hall at Dipoli
All photos: Matti Ahlgren / Aalto University

The three-day plenary meeting of the Research Data Alliance brought 620 experts of different fields to discuss Open Data and practices related to it. The central theme of the conference was how Open Data changes the way we work and make decisions as well as how data can fulfil all the expectations set to it. At the outset, the organisers expected about 500 participants to the plenary, but this target was by far exceeded.

RDA has currently more than 9,300 members. It brings together data science and data management experts from different fields to discuss practical issues related to Open Data and seek solutions for those issues. Members work in groups, with the goal of producing concrete technical and policy recommendations. In the biannual plenary meetings, the working groups get together to report on their progress and to receive feedback from the community.

This was the first time the RDA Plenary Meeting was organised in Finland. The event was organised jointly by the CSC – IT Center for Science Ltd, Aalto University, the University of Helsinki, the Finnish Meteorological Institute, the Federation of Finnish Learned Societies, and the RDA Europe 4.0 project. The organisers on the Aalto University side were Professor Pekka Orponen from the Department of Computer Science; Ella Bingham, the Head of Research Services; and Anne Sunikka, the Head of Open Science and ACRIS, together with their support teams.

Crowd at RDA Plenary
Retuperän WBK lavalla konferenssissa
The surprise number of the event: The Retuperä Voluntary Fire Brigade Band
Amused audience watching the performance of Retuperän WBK
A person in the audience filming Retuperän WBK's performance

“Currently, one important theme in the workgroups is how to bring good data management practices to the everyday research culture through accessible services, researcher education and support, and merit recognition policies,” says Professor Orponen.

At the conference, he was particularly interested in a research funding agencies’ group session on how to compile an overview of the status of open data collections in their area by using, for instance, computerised data management plans.

Another session he found interesting was organised by a group working on  indicators for assessing a dataset’s compliance with the FAIR data principles. The abbreviation comes from the words findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable, and the FAIR principles provide a “gold standard” on the quality of open data management .

Education plays a key role

In a panel discussion held on Thursday, the central question was how data changes the world. The panellists were Pilvi Torsti (State Secretary at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment), Alexander Törnroth (leader at Finland’s AI Accelerator initiative), Eva Mendez (Chair of EC’s European Open Science Policy Platform advisory board), and George Strawn (Director of the Board on Research Data and Information at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in the US). The moderator was Heikki Valkama, a journalist at the Finnish Broadcasting Company Yle.

Torsti said that data changes the world because currently humans create more data than before; we have plenty of storage capacity for it, and different kinds of tools that can be used to analyse it. Törnroth pointed out that companies have increasing expertise in terms of how they can make use of data.

However, a big problem is the bad quality of data, as Torsti noted. She used a water metaphor: in some situations, data – like water – can be useless, but when it is used for the right purpose, and at the right moment, it can be very useful.

Woman watching a poster at RDA Plenary at Dipoli
People at poster session
A man wearing a blue turban and holding a coffee cup watching a poster surrounded by other people

The panellists reminded their audience of one focal quality of data; data can be shared with others, and open access does not mean that the data owner would need to give up their own data.

Torsti also brought up the role of education in changing the world. Eva Mendez said that she agrees with her and reminded her audience that being a digital native does not mean that you are fluent with technology – as access to books does not mean that a little child can read.

EU invests in data-driven research

The speakers of the opening session on Wednesday were Andreas Veispak (Head of Unit eInfrastructure and Science Cloud, EC DG CNECT), Hilary Hanahoe (RDA Secretary General), Heikki Mannila (President, Academy of Finland), and Tuuli Toivonen (Associate Professor, University of Helsinki).

Veispak spoke about priorities in the development of the European Digital Single Market. He mentioned that the EuroHPC project and the LUMI supercomputer are good examples of public investments that significantly support European digitalisation.

EuroHPC creates new opportunities for developing skills, conducting top research, and developing data-driven business. Veispak said that transparency and the rule of law are Europe’s strengths.

Andreas Veispak speaking at a conference
Andreas Veispak from the European Commission was one of the speakers in the opening session.
Hilary Hanahoe speaking at a conference
Hilary Hanahoe, RDA Secretary General

The EU invests in data-driven research also through the European Open Science Cloud. The European Open Science Cloud (EOSC) is an ambitious programme of the EU to provide a virtual environment with open and seamless services for storage, management, analysis and re-use of research data, across borders and scientific disciplines by federating existing scientific data infrastructures. It is currently dispersed across disciplines and the EU member states.

Conference participants discussed these topics also on Twitter. You can find such discussions by using hashtags #RDAPlenary and #RDAPlenary14.

Read also: Open Data will change science radically – experts gather to Otaniemi to discuss common guidelines and best practices

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