EOSCpilot Data Skills: what it is about and how it will help research, academia and industry?
Angus Whyte, Digital Curation Centre, 29 May 2017
- Skills is one of the main objective of the EOSCpilot - and the purpose is "To develop common standards and assessment frameworks to ensure that organisations and individuals are motivated to develop the capabilities and competencies that the EOSC will rely on, and to develop an EOSC education and training strategy and coordinate its delivery."
Why is this objective important for the EOSC development?
A.W. It is vital that EOSC develops skills, because so much of its success depends on people working in new ways, with services and applications they are not familiar with. The High Level Expert Group for EOSC flagged up the importance of skills objectives. As the HLEG report says, there is currently “an alarming shortage of data experts both globally and in the European Union” and a “lack of core intermediary expertise”. This has created what they refer to as “a chasm between e-infrastructure providers and scientific domain specialists”.
Data stewardship is another term for that ‘intermediary expertise’ in data that’s so badly needed. Fostering data stewardship means helping a range of people acquire new skills; researchers in data-intensive domains, engineers who build the e-infrastructures and services, data managers and other research support professionals who may occupy central roles in institutions or be embedded in research teams.
There are many other dimensions to the skills gap that EOSC aims to ameliorate. Among them are the lack of reward and recognition practices to support data sharing and re-use, and the lack of a career structure for data experts. There needs to be a skills development strategy for EOSC to address these aspects, so that training actually has the desired impact on professional development.
Professional development is our focus in the pilot, while other projects focus more on undergraduate curriculum development. But schools and citizens generally also need data skills if Europe is to truly benefit from its investment in infrastructures for open science and open innovation. So there is a strong connection between the Skills and Engagement parts of the EOSC pilot.
- What are the main activities of the Skills objective?
There are three main activities. The first is to review the landscape, and understand the skills requirements and which of those are already being addressed. The second is to support current training providers in filling some of the gaps. The third is to develop a skills framework that’s useful to others going forward, and can be taken further in EOSC.
EOSC is all about infrastructures of various kinds, and skills development needs infrastructure as well. It has become common for technologists to visualise infrastructures as stacks or layered set of services. This is how the Internet itself operates of course, and the EU has supported major investment in Research Infrastructures, e-Infrastructures, and data infrastructures, which are a rapidly expanding middle layer in the sandwich.
Everybody knows that standards and governance arrangements are needed to allow technologies and organisations to communicate on equal terms. Users see a top layer which exchanges information with layers below, each communicating across networks and with lower-level services, without having to know much about how the lower levels work. So the various infrastructures each have their stack of services, but to the outsider it can be difficult to make sense of the services available and how these can be applied in one’s own research. I picture it like those traditional British sweets that come neatly formed in sandwiches of different flavours, but jumbled in a mess of shapes and colours. Our task in EOSCpilot is to help infrastructure users sort them according to their different tastes and needs, without giving them digestive trouble.
Research agendas these days don’t respect boundaries between academic domains, nor between academia and the rest of society. In EOSCpilot we want to support that, by understanding how to help the infrastructures operate to the same principles of FAIRness (findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable) that researchers are expected to apply to their data.
Just as for other services, skills development activities in EOSC will need to be FAIR. There are plenty of courses and events already findable if you know where to look. So we are cataloguing a range of skills approaches, whether formal training or on-the-job learning. Researchers and support professionals need to be able to easily find ways to acquire skills for them and their organisation to benefit from applications that can support new kinds of data science, or use data more effectively and efficiently in their research. They need to access those opportunities, without needing to care where the training materials are, or whether their institution has an appropriately configured server cluster to run data science applications for hands-on training sessions.
So there is more emphasis in the pilot on providing the means for others to understand and apply the existing capacity than on developing new training. We do have three events in our schedule, and these will mainly target stakeholders involved in developing research skills and careers.
There is a lot of expertise in the infrastructures, and we need to make sure the pilot is putting forward the right approaches to help it scale up and across domains. Our skills framework will be a tool for that purpose, aiming to help people identify the competencies that need developed in their organisation, guided by the new capabilities offered by EOSC services.
- Who is involved in each activity (organisations, partners, ecc.) and how they are cooperating?
Skills and Capacity is a relatively small part of the project. The Digital Curation Centre (DCC) at the University of Edinburgh leads the activities, spread across 5 partners. DCC and LIBER ((Ligue des Bibliothèques Européennes de Recherche – Association of European Research Libraries) have a strong record of building data management skills in research libraries in Europe.
The Steinbuch Centre for Computing (SCC) at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology is building on its expertise in data science education, and coordinates the training activity. DANS (Data Archiving and Networking Service), based in the Netherlands, also has extensive record of data management services, skills development for Research Infrastructures, and expertise in developing standards in this area, including the Data Seal of Approval. They have a key role in formulating the Skills Framework. Complementing this, EGI provides an e-infrastructure perspective that draws on experience in ensuring Research Infrastructures have the skills to manage services using its extensive federated network of computation and storage providers.
- What are the short-time achievement you foresee?
We aim for rapid adoption of the Skills Framework and recommendations by infrastructures, institutions and stakeholder organisations at European and national level. This will depend on the Framework’s synergy with related initiatives supported through the H2020 programme. Some of that synergy will be achieved by leveraging results of recent projects, e.g. EDISON, and some by influencing new projects e.g. FOSTER+ and the successor projects to EOSCpilot. Our engagement with these projects will focus on three aspects;
- Required competences and capabilities to make effective use of EOSC services
- Training infrastructure needed to facilitate sharing of relevant material and events
- Certification to support the recognition of data skills acquisition.
In the short term we will be monitoring the community response to our efforts through the training workshops and engagement activities.
- And the long-term?
In the longer term the impacts we are working towards include support for the European Commission’s foundational work to build scientific careers fit for the European Research Area. Our Skills Framework should be relevant and usable in that context. We aim to see widescale adoption in university education curricula, and in career development pathways for research support professionals. Global research also needs global infrastructure, and we also foresee uptake through relevant organisations including the Research Data Alliance, CODATA and the Belmont Forum.