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Open Science needs a coherent data infrastructure system, says Sverker Holmgren

At the Open Science Conference, organized April 4-5, 2016 in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, e-IRG Chair Sverker Holmgren participated in the panel under the theme "Open Science - Dare to Share". Sverker Holmgren presented e-IRG as a body of national delegates from Member States and associated countries. e-IRG reflects on the future of e-Infrastructures in Europe, on what type of resources are needed, on what is needed for progress of the system and on Open Science. e-IRG organizes meetings and open workshops focusing on the sharing of research data and eventually on Open Science.

The Research Council in Norway has made a major effort to find out more on the open access and the sharing of data. The effort is still ongoing and fairly advanced. At the start the Research Council organized an extensive survey where one third of the 19.000 Norwegian researchers were asked about the obstacles to Open Science. One third of the approached researchers responded to the survey. There were two major obstacles. The first was the lack of a merit system. The researchers asked why they should provide access to their data if there was no gain for them. The second was a perceived lack of data infrastructures. However, in Norway, you can already today find fairly advanced and well established data infrastructures for some topics.

What might be an issue, according to Sverker Holmgren, is the visibility and availability of these infrastructures. The researcher might ask where he is going to store his data and what are the standards to be used. This is not only the case in Norway but it is a general problem in Europe and also at the global level. e-IRG is working to get some more structure into this discussion. e-IRG has identified that it is very important to have strong national laws when it comes to data infrastructures, infrastructures being able to analyze the data. This has to be a coherent system, whether it is centralized or distributed, but the researchers have to know where to turn to.

This is also the case in Europe. If you have been working in the European arena, there has to be a coherent data e-Infrastructure in Europe. Today, there are a lot of discussions about the European Open Science Cloud, which is good, but a lot of the building blocks are already there. e-IRG has tried to describe a setting which is called the e-Infrastructure Commons for Europe. This could be the fundamental building block for the European Science Cloud. The e-Infrastructure Commons describes the coherent system.

In collaboration with the European Strategy Forum for Research Infrastructures (ESFRI), what e-IRG has identified is the need to identify clear roles of the different actors in a data infrastructure system. Earlier on, a researcher or research group did everything for his/its research data. Today, one might be better off with some specialized actors for storing data, for giving access to data, for setting up the standards, etc. That is another area where e-IRG has worked quite a lot and will be continuing to work in the future.

Another issue that was observed by the Norwegian researchers is the merit system issue, which is actually the most important one. If we are going to have the system on Open Science working, we will have to have a system that is accepted by the research communities, where they really get some response to this question: "What's in it for me?" A more holistic view on research merits is needed.

In the end, a lot of this boils down to governance and funding streams. How do you govern a data infrastructure system and how do you fund it? Sverker Holmgren doesn't think there is a clear answer to that yet. There is neither a clear answer to what is the partitioning between the European and the national level. That is something that needs to be sorted out and will require a lot of different discussions.

e-IRG Chair Sverker Holmgren at Open Science Conference about e-IRG and Open Science from e-IRG on Vimeo.