November 7, 2011

eResearch Australasia 2011 conference

Filed under: eResearch Australasia 2011 — Neil Godfrey @ 5:04 pm

I’m at the eResearch Australasia conference in Melbourne — — and it’s been a great start. When I return to Darwin I’ll write up thoughts on some of the sessions in more detail. Right now the time is taken up at the presentations, discussion groups and workshops themselves, making new contacts and meeting old ones, encountering new perspectives, sometimes confronting, and sharing similar ones.

The opening Plenary Session by Bryan Heidon of the University of Arizona hit the issues that are at the heart of my responsibility for guiding research data management across the various research centres at Charles Darwin University. Bryan’s presentation was particularly a propos since he, too, has a librarian background understands the history libraries have in building up skills in data management, preservation and dissemination. The big problem — well at least one of them — is how to gather, organize and preserve all that “tail end” research data that sits on thumb drives or CDs stashed away in a researcher’s desk drawer or sits there on her hard drive in a spreadsheet or propriety format that is fast becoming all but obsolete.

It’s called ‘tail end’ data but only in the sense of a Brontosaurus tail. The ‘head data’ might be all the petabytes of data produced by high cost technologies but this other “tail end” data that is closeted away in researchers’ offices has a value that is also huge — though this is only noticed over time and through a cumulative series of small-scale uses.

Satellites produce what is really “proxy data” images of the environment but nothing replaces the value (it is “gold” by comparison) with on the field observers who can contextualize what is there. Hence the increasing value and contributions of “citizen science” for data collection. So Byran’s plenary session led to a later BoF (birds of a feather) session where we addressed the more “on the ground” issues needed for gathering and storing this data with metadata in such a way that will benefit other research interests in the long run. Why not develop simple “apps” for “citizen scientists” to photograph and forward the information they collect to scientists who can peer-review it and have it all (through behind the scenes algorithms, apps, etc) be stored and contextualized in repositories where it is shareable and resuable?

Of course we were also looking at ways to approach the research community, and addressing some stalwart problems, too — such as the current situation whereby in some areas, such as materials sciences, propriety rights are so strictly enforced that we are in those areas faced with a push to hide and isolate research data to all but those who want to immediately profit from it.

I also liked the session by Ann Morgan and Mark Baldock of the University of South Australia who shared architecture models they have developed for storage, preservation and sharing and reuse of research data through their research repository.

I found a huge crowd following me to rush off to the session on “Managing Sensitive Data Across the Data Life Cycle”, too. A couple of kiwis (New Zealanders for non-Australasian readers) led this one — David Eyers and Russell Butson. That’s going to be another key issue central to my responsibility to coordinate the management of research data across the various research institutions related to Charles Darwin University. Quite interesting. First time anyone has shared with me some specifics of where to start from the “sensitive/secure” data requirements perspective.

Finally I dropped in on another BoF session that was addressing the question of “How to hit the ground running with eResearch projects”. Lots of good tips and contrary viewpoints discussed regarding the place of the IT departments, libraries, research offices, — and the role of policies verses guidelines and which comes first and the pros and cons of each, and other stuff.

Some good contacts made, too.

Looking forward to day 2 tomorrow.

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