The Data Dialogue: When Research Crosses Borders

Science and Engineering South held a one day conference, The Data Dialogue: When Research Crosses Borders, on September 29th at the University of Oxford. The event was well-attended by a good mix of researchers and research data practitioners. In his opening address Simon Hodson, representing CODATA, addressed the topic of Open Data and the Data Revolution: Challenges and opportunities for Global Research. Among the issues addressed were the principles of legal interoperability and coordinating data standards within the science community.
This was followed by a presentation by Rowan Wilson who works within Oxford’s Academic IT Research Support unit. Rowan described the range of issues and questions that are most commonly presented by researchers at Oxford, many of which were closely identified with by other practitioners in the audience. The day unfolded with a series of presentations by researchers detailing their personal experience in data collection relating to their own field of study, and the particular challenges and inspirations that this work delivered by this research.
– Prof Mary Bosworth on collecting data from those being detained in UK detention centres
– Dr Troy Sternberg offered a fascinating insight into his data collection work in Mongolia and China; the effect of regional ideologies was highlighted in terms of how the data was presented and delivered to its audience.
– Dr Julie Viebach on the profound personal experience involved in collecting data from the survivors of genocide in Rwanda
– Dr Heather Hamill addressed the issue of establishing trust between subject and interviewer in relation to her work with communities in sub-Saharan Africa.
– Gareth Knight from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine talked about the particular challenges associated with medical research data collection.
The programme was concluded by a panel discussion focused on answering questions posed by audience members. Some of the most discussed topics were those around security measures and cloud computing, ownership of data, and the huge benefits that can be gained from data sharing. Perhaps a fair summary of the discussion is that a ‘one size fits all’ solution is not always possible, but that making data open should not be a binary choice between either ‘open’ or ‘closed’: there are many solutions available which allow for sharing and it is always best to consider and discuss these. The EC slogan ‘As open as possible, as closed as necessary’ was mentioned in this context.
The one key idea I took away from the day (and perhaps one it would be wise to promote as widely as possible) were the words of Simon Hodson: “The first person you share your data with is your future self”.

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