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Bridging socio-cultural distance in science through technical community-engaging mechanisms

After the e-IRG Workshop in Bratislava, Slovak Republic, we took the opportunity to talk with Dr. Dimitrios Koureas from the Natural History Museum in London and coordinator of the Distributed System of Scientific Collections (DiSSCo), a large initiative in the European landscape with the aim to bring together the natural science collections as a single research infrastructure. Dr. Koureas has also been involved in developing and operating a virtual research environment over the last ten years for biodiversity scientists and biodiversity data.

Dimitrios Koureas explained that what we have seen over the last few years within Europe is a strong political commitment to actually change the way scientists do science within the European landscape. This has been materialized for example through the European Open Science Cloud and, of course, the overarching Digital Agenda for Europe. What we need to do, according to Dr. Koureas, is be able to articulate the criteria by which we can measure the success of these investments over the previous years.

He thinks that the most important success criterion is how we engage with the end users, how we change the daily lives of our researchers, and how we enable them to do better science faster and more accurately. In that road of establishing these criteria, it is important to understand the differences between the communities, how the different communities of practice have different ways of engaging with the European Open Science Cloud and the e-Infrastructure providers.

There are communities that have shown that they are capable and willing to engage with these e-Infrastructures but there are also communities that feel quite distant. This gap between the communities is critical and has to be bridged. There are many ways of addressing this but the main problem Dimitrios Koureas thinks that has to be addressed is the socio-cultural distance: how can we actually support the communities in better engaging with the investments that we have made over the last year with the European Open Science Cloud.

This socio-cultural distance can be bridged through many ways. One of the ways Dimitrios Koureas and his colleagues have proposed is better operation of and more investments in the virtual research environment concept. This environment is great, not only the technical solution but also the training, the collaborative spaces that these communities need in order to organically develop their engagement with the e-Infrastructures.

The main message Dimitrios Koureas wants to give is that without the operation of these community-engaging mechanisms, the European Open Science Cloud and the idea of the e-Infrastructure Commons cannot be completely integrated and materialized.