Research Data Management Infrastructure II

In the previous entry, Research Data Management Infrastructure (RDMI) was defined as the mix of technology, services, and expertise organized locally or globally to support research data activities across the research lifecycle.  The context for RDMI within the research lifecycle was described and the importance of institutional-level engagement in data stewardship was emphasized.  Finally, the position was taken that cross-institutional collaboration would enable building collectively the national RDMI that has eluded Canada without top-down design or resources.  How does this context compare with the two other pillars of Canada’s research infrastructure?

Research Infrastructure: The Three Pillars

The Canadian University Council of Chief Information Officers (CUCCIO) hosted the Digital Infrastructure Summit in June 2012 in Saskatoon to address the unclear future of research infrastructure in Canada today.  Concerns have been expressed about the lack of a vision for research infrastructure in Canada and the need for more coordinated planning.  For example, the current business models for CANARIE, the coordinating agency for Canada’s high-speed optical research network, and for Compute Canada, the organization for high performance computing, operate on funding cycles that are less than optimal and on brinksmanship review processes that seem to threaten the very existence of this critical infrastructure.  Borrowing from the National Data Summit format, the CUCCIO Summit invited around sixty leaders in research infrastructure to discuss how best to approach these concerns.  Coming out of this forum was the establishment of a Leadership Council with a mission to articulate a vision for research infrastructure and to organize a follow-up summit.

Canada's Research Infrastructure PillarsWhile Canada does not have a formally recognized national organization for RDMI (Research Data Canada and CARL are working to fill part of this void), CUCCIO recognizes data infrastructure as one of three pillars constituting Canada’s research infrastructure, along with a high speed research network and high performance computing. There are some important differences between the formal support for these latter two infrastructure pillars and RDMI.  First, different forces drive these three infrastructure pillars.

  1. CANARIE provides top-down coordination and incentives, working with a group of Optical Regional Advanced Networks (ORANs) across the country.   The ORANs keep the operational delivery of the high speed network close to the researchers in their areas, while CANARIE works to weave the regional communication networks into a national research service.
  2. High Performance Computing (HPC) in Canada has a similar organizational structure of regional services (WestGrid, Compute Ontario, Calcul Quebec, Compute Atlantic) with national governance provided through Compute Canada, although the regional services tend to operate with a tradition of independence.  Nevertheless, HPC has received top-down incentives, including financial support through the Canada Foundation for Innovation.
  3. As already stated, RDMI does not have a formal national organization to represent its interests, although there are national coordinating roles for both Research Data Canada and CARL to play in data curation and infrastructure within their communities.  Unfortunately, no regional organizations for data infrastructure exist.

While RDMI has been embraced as an equal infrastructure partner by leaders in CANARIE and Compute Canada, the playing field is clearly unequal at this stage.  The good news is that Research Data Canada and CARL continue to be invited to participate in events organized by the other two infrastructure partners.

Second, the voice for RDMI is often ad hoc and diluted.  CANARIE and Compute Canada serve as single points of contact for their infrastructure.  Typically, individual researchers are called to speak on behalf of data infrastructure, even though they may represent only a narrow perspective on data management infrastructure.  A consequence is that the voice for research data often becomes haphazard.  The risks are that a data advocate may not be present at an important research infrastructure event or that the message is too narrow for today’s range of research data issues.

Third, RDMI is dependent on bottom-up initiatives, requiring a great deal of coordination and cooperation to be successful.  The organization of top-down initiatives typically depend on control and governance.  With bottom-up projects, the most important organizational factors are trust, collaboration, and cooperation.  These two different organizational structures also tend to result in different styles of internal politics.

Finally, the international peers for each of Canada’s infrastructure pillars are different.  Both CANARIE and Compute Canada see their counterpart organizations in the United States, Australia, United Kingdom, and the rest of Europe as their peers.  The models and practices for funding and planning are also similar among these peers.  Look at what is happening to RDMI within this same group of countries: the National Science Foundation in the U.S. provides grants for data curation projects through its DataNet program; the European Union supported the Global Research Data Infrastructures 2020 project to help chart the course for developing a global data ecosystem; Australia established the Australian National Data Service to support researchers with their data curation needs; in the U.K. JISC offers its Managing Research Data program, which funds projects in RDMI.  These examples are all top-down driven and involve incentive programs for data infrastructure.  At this stage, the development of RDMI in Canada has very little in common with CANARIE and Compute Canada’s international peers.  A subsequent Blog entry will address who the international peers currently are for Canada’s RDMI.

The next entry discusses RDMI components of technology, services and expertise and how they are organized locally or globally.

[The views expressed in this Blog are my own and do not necessarily represent those of my institution.]