EOSC Future workshop proposes a framework for accelerating Open Science and collaborative research

The way research is performed is rapidly expanding, and researchers in all domains are progressively dealing with more data and complex workflows. Thanks to new technologies, results are becoming more Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable (FAIR). Yet still, when it comes to cutting-edge research, the wealth of resources and information can be daunting, and a myriad of obstacles can result in missed opportunities for research collaboration.

If you are involved in research or support the work of data-driven science in Europe, there is a chance you have heard or read about ‘EOSC’. The European Commission’s European Open Science Cloud is about more than a technological framework…it envisions trading zones (‘collaborative interfaces’), between different science disciplines or even domains, whereby possibilities for exchanging data, workflows and results are multiplied more than ever before. Supported by technology, these trading zones have a huge potential for developing innovation and synthetic knowledge and facilitating our responses to major societal challenges. 

Most recently, the added value of EOSC was demonstrated during a workshop on ‘Accelerating Open Science in EOSC: Collaborative interfaces between scientific domains and disciplines’ organised by the EOSC Future project. This article gives an overview of the workshop, which took place in Barcelona from 5-7 March 2024, highlighting key contributions from both scientists and engineers, critical insights and next steps for collaborative research involving EOSC.

1. The workshop methodology 

Before getting to key contributions and takeaways, a bit of context can help to orient the workshop – why it was needed and why it was timely. The Horizon 2020 EOSC Future project (2021-2023) is handing over to the next iteration of EOSC-related initiatives kicking off under the Commission’s Horizon Europe programme. On the one hand, the workshop constituted an opportune moment to reflect on lessons learnt from EOSC Future. On the other hand, it was a vehicle for introducing the next phase of EOSC as an open, trusted federation of infrastructures in Europe (the ‘EOSC EU Node’).

The setting and number of participants (around 40) contributed to the intimate and participatory feel of the workshop. Hence, the organisers decided to go with a Dahlem-style workshop. Christos Arvanitidis, CEO of LifeWatch ERIC, who instigated and led the workshop, notes: ‘Dahlem workshops have their roots in the German Scientific Community in the 1970s and were intended to address concerns that technological and methodological advances were creating barriers between the scientific domains. With the rise of Open Science practices, this is exactly what we need today! We need to ensure that the scientific communities are structurally embedded into EOSC, and that it becomes the very foundation for facilitating data-driven research across the disciplines.

Speakers and participants hailed from world-class institutions, the European Commission, EOSC Future, affiliated research infrastructures and e-infrastructure providers, other EOSC projects and top scientists. Representing different areas of expertise and sectors, the unifying premise of the workshop was as follows: A common framework needs to be developed and handed over to the next phase of EOSC projects to provide directions on how trading zones can be expanded, supported by technology and shape future generations of researchers, based on experience and good practice. The workshop concluded with a collaborative effort: drafting a scientific article assessing the impact of the EOSC Future project and proposing solutions to enhance alignment between user needs and resources provided through EOSC (to be submitted to a peer-reviewed publication, following the event). 

The following sections provide some snapshots from the workshop as well as key takeaways from the discussions.

EOSC Future Science Projects: A masterclass in cross-disciplinary research

During the EOSC Future project, 10 pan-European science projects were set up through the EOSC Future project and tasked with demonstrating how data management, analysis services and other resources – all made available via EOSC – can be used to tackle scientific and societal challenges (e.g. climate change, COVID-19, food security, etc.).

On Day 1, a selection of these EOSC Future Science Projects were featured on the workshop agenda. Representatives from the project’s research clusters and infrastructures presented the motivating research questions as well as the challenges and opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration through EOSC:

Hilde Orten of Sikt – Norwegian Agency for Shared Services in Education and Research, presented on behalf of the ‘Climate neutral and smart cities’ project. ‘The workshop provided an excellent opportunity for the participants from the Science Projects to give feedback and recommendations on what to prioritise moving ahead’, she explains. ‘Our project stressed the importance of continuing EOSC as an arena for interdisciplinary collaboration, which we see as an obvious success factor of EOSC Future.

Between 2021 and 2023, the EOSC Future Science Projects developed composable workflows for specific scientific communities (open to any users through the EOSC Future platform). This means that different research communities could test the same hypotheses and compare their results using a suite of data management and analysis resources. Taking the experience as a whole, Hilde adds: ‘We also pointed out that in order to implement the FAIR principles in an interdisciplinary context, rich metadata plays an important role. To serve interdisciplinary research, we recommend that emerging cross-domain metadata standards are used as lingua franca alongside domain-specific standards.

After the Science Project demonstrations, presentations on the transition from EOSC Future to the EOSC EU Node were heard from Peter Szegedi, DG CONNECT (European Commission), and Natalia Manola, OpenAIRE, along with Sally Chambers, Diego Scardaci, Anca Hienola (from the EOSC Future, EOSC Beyond and OSCARS projects).

Key takeaways on the future of EOSC

True to the Dahlem-style approach, Day 2 of the workshop enhanced the collaborative spirit. Keynote presentations on major advancements were delivered by world-class scientists including Hugh Shanahan, Royal Holloway, University of London, Nikos Kyrpides, Joint Genome Institute, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (USA), Professor Phoebe Koundouri, Athens University of Economics and Business, and Franciska de Jong, CLARIN ERIC.

Breakout discussion sessions assembled a variety of profiles: Scientists and engineers from the EOSC Future Science Projects, Science Clusters as well as top scientists. During the breakouts, a variety of scientific, cultural, technical, legal and ethical challenges were discussed; for instance: the difficulty of setting up metadata schemes and standards and combining data from multiple resources. Participants looked specifically at data reliability for alignment with Sustainable Development Goals.

‘Researchers need to adapt to Open Science techniques’, says Hugh Shanahan, who shared insights from his experience as a principal investigator on the EOSC Future/RDA project Operationalising the RDA/CODATA Schools of Research Data Science (SoRDS)

 

Operationalising the RDA/CODATA Schools of Research Data Science (SoRDS). ‘To get that engagement from researchers, substantial funding needs to be put into training and community building.

It is also important to bear in mind that it does not just concern scientists, but also IT engineers, digital service providers and policy makers. Accordingly, a ‘language barrier’ may emerge when it comes to metadata standards and interoperability, including multiple languages and different types of data (numeric vs qualitative data), etc. When it comes to EOSC, Hugh points out: ‘EOSC should at least consider the human impact it will have on science, creating a cohort of researchers who apply Open Science techniques, a cohort of IT specialists who can deliver services built on a web of FAIR digital objects’.

Amidst these challenges, there was a general will to explore the potential of the EOSC EU Node for data discovery (namely, opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration through EOSC). Here are a few takeaways:

  • A better understanding of individual/discipline/domain needs is required
  • More emphasis should be placed on incentivising and engaging service providers through EOSC
  • A training approach should be pursued for different user groups in order to overcome the language barrier and impact gap
  • An EU Node should manage common services that are widely used by the scientific community, like authentication and data model standardisation
  • There is a need to combine bottom-up and co-development for data integration across domains
  • Countries and national Open Science strategies need top-down policies on FAIR principles
  • A task for EOSC could be to recommend a set of metadata standards for specific purposes

2. Winding down with a sprint

Stated simply, this Dahlem-style workshop aimed to guide Science Clusters in enhancing collaborative interfaces and, over the longer term, understand how these efforts can engage future user communities, particularly young researchers, through EOSC. The final product of the workshop will be a concise paper (5-7 pages) that assesses the impact of the EOSC Future project on the development of EOSC and its role in fostering dialogue with the Science Clusters to influence the future EOSC user communities. This dialogue aims to achieve alignment between the needs of EOSC user communities and the resources provided by EOSC. The paper will also analyse the challenges and propose potential solutions to enhance alignment between needs and resources. The insights gained from this reflection on dialogue, challenges, and opportunities for evolution are essential to ensure that subsequent EOSC projects are effective and aligned with the requirements of EOSC user communities.

To facilitate the preparation of the article, Day 3 of the workshop was dedicated to a ‘writing-sprint’, an experimental collaborative effort to jointly co-curate the fruits of the discussions. ‘Now is the ideal moment to engage in Open Science in Europe and beyond, and research communities need to understand the value and benefits of EOSC’, remarks Sally Chambers from DARIAH-EU, who led the writing-sprint. ‘After two days of intense dialogue, it was wonderful to see how the workshop participants studiously huddled around their laptops, considering the audience and key messages of the article and how best to structure and summarise over 40 pages of notes into a concise and powerful message.

All in all, this workshop was a perfect opportunity to take stock of how much has been achieved during EOSC Future and look ahead together towards a realistic framework for cross-disciplinary research collaboration in the future with support from the next generation of EOSC projects. The final version of the article is currently being edited and will be published in an Open Access peer-reviewed journal in due course.

Find out more about the 5-7 March workshop and the latest publications from the EOSC Future Science Projects. For general information on the key results of the EOSC Future project, visit the official project website here.

 

29 March 2024