Monday, 29 October 2012

The importance of community at eResearch 2012

It was busy and exciting day yesterday at eResearch Australasia in Sydney. Under the theme of ‘emPower eResearch’ the conference brings together eResearch practitioners, researchers, business providers and educators to discuss the latest and greatest in information and communication technological innovation to enhance research management and analysis. Racing from session to session in a very tightly packed programme, I did manage some time catching up with new and familiar faces and hanging out in the breaks at the Griffith booth which has a fabulous red couch and free chocolates!

Reflecting on yesterday, I noticed a maturing of the discussion since I first attended this conference 3 years ago. For those of us who have carried out projects funded by the Australian National Data Service (ANDS) – and there are 250 such projects at Australian research institutions – it’s now four years on since ANDS first began. While it’s easy to be critical, to my mind a great deal has also been achieved during that time. At Griffith we’ve had some true successes, such as the building of Griffith Research Hub which started with funding from ANDS and then grew with internal funding sources. We’re now at the point where we can build on our successes to make improvements on existing infrastructure, build new services and aim to significantly increase use of research infrastructure to support our hard working researchers. As past guinea pigs, we can share our experiences with those closer to the start of their eResearch journey which could help speed them on their way. It struck me yesterday that we’re really never going to be finished our eResearch journey because, as Dr Clifford said in his keynote speech on the Earth Cube: ‘we are trying to stay on top of the galloping pony of technology’.

A particular theme that ran throughout the entire day yesterday in every session I attended was the importance of community.  Dr Clifford talked about the way in which the National Science Foundation (NSF) has facilitated synergy within and across communities in the geosciences that had never existed before. He said that one of their end goals was to assist in reducing the amount of time researchers in the geosciences spend gathering data and increase the amount of time they spend analysing it. Other talks I attended focussed on engaging with discipline-specific research communities to build innovative technologies that assist researchers to manage, access and analyse their data such as neonatal specialists, crystallographers, and hydrologists. Within this, there have been some terrific tools built to assist researchers, in particular those involving visualisation tools and animation. Finally, at the session on sustainable software development, I participated in a focus group on building communities. The point was to ensure that software produced during the course of a project does not end when project funds run out. Instead, continual development is sustained by an active and caring community of users. This approach is critical given the project-based nature of eResearch funding and the conclusion of ANDS in the middle of next year.

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