Full house when RDA celebrated ten years

Published: 2023-03-28
Lindholmen Science Park was packed to the rafters when more than 500 participants from around the world came to Gothenburg to attend the RDA anniversary conference.
Lindholmen Science Park was packed to the rafters with more than 500 participants who came to Gothenburg from around the world to attend the RDA 10 year anniversary conference.

More than 500 people from around the world came to Lindholmen Science Park to attend the Research Data Alliance 10 year anniversary conference. The conference took place from 21–23 March and was packed with interesting seminars where decision-makers, researchers, businesses, and other professionals who work with research data exchanged experiences and ideas about the future open data landscape.

Research Data Alliance (RDA) was formed in 2013 in the Student Union building at Chalmers University of Technology by some 250 enthusiastic members. Since then, the organization has grown into a global entity with over 13,000 members from 145 countries. The tenth anniversary is a milestone for the organization and demonstrates how open science issues connect people and stakeholders from a wide range of scientific disciplines and societal sectors.

RDA Secretary General Hilary Hanahoe kicked off the conference with a retrospective and noted that the organization has come a long way since its launch in 2013.
RDA Secretary General Hilary Hanahoe kicked off the conference with a retrospective and noted that the organization has come a long way since its launch in 2013.

Open data crucial to solving some of the biggest challenges of our time

During the conference it was illustrated, among other things, what role open data plays in solving some of the biggest challenges of our time, and how data sharing drives technological developments in an increasingly digital economy.

Delian Chen, Professor of Physical Meteorology at the University of Gothenburg, emphasized the importance of interoperability and open access to climate data as one of the fundamental prerequisites for producing the IPCC report on climate change. The crucial factor for success in this work has been the ability to share and combine different data sources between systems and countries to create a comprehensive picture of climate development over time.

Magnus Sahlgren, Head of Research at the national center for the development of artificial intelligence, AI Sweden, also stressed the importance of access to open data. Together with RISE and AI researchers in Sweden, he is developing an AI-based language model, GPT-SW3, which is a Swedish counterpart to the popular chatbot Chat GPT.

“One of the bottlenecks in developing our Swedish AI-based language model, GPT-SW3, has been access to open data. In order to train and develop the model and make it useful to society, we need access to very large amounts of data”, said Magnus Sahlgren in his presentation.

A range of different tests to explore the model's applications are currently under way in both the private and public sectors in Sweden. The hope is that, eventually, the model can be made freely accessible to the public and other Swedish stakeholders to build new language applications. For instance, these applications could analyze, classify, and generate large amounts of text with just a few keystrokes.

Magnus Sahlgren from AI Sweden on the importance of open data for the development of Swedish AI solutions.
Magnus Sahlgren from AI Sweden spoke about the importance of open data for the development of Swedish AI solutions.

Keen interest from business and industry sectors

The interest in open access to research data was also significant in the business and industry sectors. Present at the event were representatives from Volvo Cars, Ikea, AstraZeneca, Oracle, and Amazon, among others, who discussed challenges and opportunities in the exchange of data between the business sector, public sector, and academia.

In a session organized by Monica Lassi, member of the Swedish National Data Service (SND) steering committee and Senior Data Governance Specialist at Ikea, it was noted that increased data exchange between different sectors has great potential to drive innovation in the rapidly advancing digitalization of society. The development of a vaccine against Covid-19 was highlighted as a successful example where cross-sector sharing of medical data played a key role.

Management of sensitive data is a key issue

A key issue that was addressed in several packed seminars during the week was how to manage and share sensitive data. Despite technical advancements in this field, there are still cultural and legal obstacles that make it difficult to reach international consensus. However, progress is being made, as exemplified by Steve McEachern, Director of the Australian Data Archive, who mentioned the Five Safes Framework as an example of how you can balance the risks between openness and privacy in data sharing. The framework has been adopted at a national level by several countries as a guide for researchers and other stakeholders who deal with sensitive data.

How far have we come on the road to open science in Sweden?

Wilhelm Widmark, Library Director at Stockholm University, stated that we are currently in a transition to open science in Sweden. This development is happening from the grassroots level up, but also from the top down, with Sweden's open data directive and law on access to data from the public sector as important pieces in creating a more open data landscape by 2026.

Related to this, SND Director Max Petzold, together with representatives from Swedish universities and the scientific publisher Elsevier, presented some proposals for key indicators that can measure Swedish progress and monitor how well the government's goals for open science are being followed.

“We are currently witnessing several parallel processes that drive the development to open science and open access to research data. It’s important to find ways to measure progress and create a common understanding of how far we’ve come, where we’re heading, and what needs to be done to achieve the goal of a more open data landscape in Sweden by 2026”, said Max Petzold.


Tired but happy. The Swedish RDA node held an internal meeting after the conference to discuss how to develop the national work in RDA.
Tired but happy. The Swedish RDA node held an internal meeting after the conference to discuss how to develop the national work in RDA.

Closer ties in RDA Sweden

After the closing session of the RDA conference, there was an internal meeting for Swedish participants to discuss how the Swedish RDA node can move forward. The meeting was organized on an initiative from Sverker Holmgren from Chalmers E-commons, Wolmar Nyberg Åkerström from NBIS, and representatives from SND. The participants agreed on the need and benefit from increased collaboration within RDA Sweden to connect Swedish infrastructures and find common issues to pursue, on a national as well as international level. The possibility to expand the collaboration and create a Nordic RDA node was also raised as a way to give the region greater weight within the RDA context. A first step that was discussed was therefore to list and contact Swedish and Nordic parties who might be interested in a closer collaboration.

“It was great to see such a good turnout and lively discussion in this closing meeting with the Swedish RDA node. We got some interesting ideas on how to move forward and develop the collaboration. A first step is to collect and contact all relevant stakeholders about an expanded Swedish or Nordic collaboration, and to identify in which areas we can support one another”, said Martin Brandhagen, Research Data Advisor at SND and one of the organizers behind the conference.