Research at Risk

The evolving landscape of Federated Research Data Infrastructures

The Knowledge Exchange has recently published an overview and synthesis of the evolving landscape of Federated Research Data Infrastructures (FRDIs) in six European countries. The study draws on interviews with experts who develop and run these infrastructures carried out in early 2017. The main body of the interviews were carried out by Stephane Goldstein, assisted by representatives from the Knowledge Exchange European partners.

What is an FRDI?

A federated infrastructure is one where a range of distributed services focused on the actual demands of research are coordinated at an overarching level. FRDIs aim to provide seamless access to research data and tools. The report addresses a need for a better understanding of the nature and consequences of research and data infrastructure being more and more federated. Drivers for FRDIs are demonstrated, characteristics outlined, and their impact and how they might inform the development of the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC) examined.

Background to the current study

Knowledge Exchange referred to the different components of the research data infrastructure as an “ecology” in its report ‘A surfboard for riding the wave’. FRDIs are an integral part of a complex network of interconnected and interdependent systems, or ecosystem.

FRDIs generally aim to service broader disciplinary demands in contrast to focussed non-federated information systems. The report shows that two sets of factors drive the emergence and development of FRDIs: top-down push factors, including political and public interest drivers; and demand from users, reflecting a bottom-up approach and research cultures. The Administrative Data Research Network (ADRN) and the Farr Institute of Health Informatics Research were the UK organisations included in the study.

What’s been identified?

The Knowledge Exchange study found out that FRDIs are often characterised by long-term financial uncertainty, which reflects short-term project funding schemes. This means that the involvement of users is crucial. FRDIs are careful to nurture their relationships with numerous partners, within the academic sector and beyond.
The review observed that FRDIs are characterised by a wide range of practices and services, which vary with initiative and evolve dynamically with researchers’ needs. A major challenge for the development of FRDIs is the complexity and fragmented nature of the research data environments in which they evolve. Impact is generally measured quantifiably through usage, or through formal review mechanisms overseen by governance bodies.

The emergence of the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC) is generally welcomed by the experts who were interviewed. EOSC is seen as reflecting the same rationale as national infrastructures, albeit at a pan-European scale, with the beneficial scaling up that this could imply.

The Knowledge Exchange report represents a timely snapshot of views from key European players. It provides a pragmatic and evidence-based view of interest to stakeholders interested in the development of open science infrastructures.