Data Innovators Ross Wilkinson

Published on January 12th, 2015 | by Travis Korte

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5 Q’s for Ross Wilkinson, Executive Director of the Australian National Data Service

The Center for Data Innovation spoke with Dr. Ross Wilkinson, Executive Director of the Australian National Data Service. Dr. Wilkinson discussed how Australia is improving its research data sharing infrastructure.

Travis Korte: Can you introduce the Australian National Data Service (ANDS) and what you do there?

Ross Wilkinson: ANDS was set up by the Australian Government to enhance the value of data for researchers, research institutions, and the nation in 2009 as part of its wider National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy. ANDS works with data generators including researchers, research institutions, data generating facilities such as the Australian Synchrotron, and major public sector data holders such as Geosciences Australia and the Australian Archive to ensure a very rich set of collections are assembled into the Australian Research Data Commons and available through Research Data Australia.

Korte: What are some of the key issues ANDS is facing at the moment? What are some of the easy problems you expect to be solved soon, and what are some harder problems that you think will persist well into the future?

Wilkinson: Early in the life of ANDS a key challenge was to ensure that research institutions took good care of their research data assets. Research data was sometimes seen as solely the researcher’s issue, but it has been recognized that research data often has benefit well beyond the life of the project it originated in. Fortunately it is now easy to engage with research institutes on their research data assets, as they see real value in managing these assets well.

More difficult is ensuring researchers similarly value their research outputs and recognize the value of professional expertise with data in research team. Sometimes a team will have this expertise but it is not always valued.

Korte: What are some of the things you hope to enable with a better research data infrastructure in Australia? What will be possible that wasn’t before?

Wilkinson: Research data infrastructure is in pretty good shape in Australia: rich data is being created through specific infrastructure initiatives, world class marine data is being assembled by the Integrated Marine Observing System, data can be stored, new data services are being created, computation is being made available, research institutions are taking measures to run their own complementary infrastructure, and ANDS is dedicated to ensuring the data is as valuable as possible, with rich metadata, well organized collections, and rich connectivity.

The key is Australia can now tackle important national challenges with well-organized data assets that were never previously available. The means now exist to tackle effective management of the Great Barrier Reef with data drawn from marine observations, genetic analysis, soil run off, fisheries data, and from many different sources. Investigations can be undertaken that previously would first involve two years of field studies but now involve exploring other people’s data.

Korte: You’re also involved with the Research Data Alliance. Can you speak a little about that involvement?

Wilkinson: Australia is a long way away from much of the world and conducts 3 percent of the world’s research. Most problems are not restricted to a single country. Australia would like to partner with Botswana on soil studies, with the United States on wildfire studies, with Europe on wheat varieties, and many others areas where rich sharing of research data is crucial. Australia sees the Research Data Alliance as a means of ensuring data sharing is easy across boundaries so Australian researchers can participate globally in tackling data intensive research.

Korte: Is there a country whose efforts in the research data space you are taking inspiration from? Who is doing this well (if anyone) and what are some of the lessons countries around the world can learn from these success stories?

Wilkinson: Australia has benefited from many engagements on research data, but it has been particularly easy to partner with Europe. We have a very similar approach to research infrastructure to Australia, and we have derived great benefit from engaging with some specific partners such as the UK’s Digital Curation Centre, as well as international initiatives such as DataCite and ORCID.


About the Author

Travis Korte is a research analyst at the Center for Data Innovation specializing in data science applications and open data. He has a background in journalism, computer science and statistics. Prior to joining the Center for Data Innovation, he launched the Science vertical of The Huffington Post and served as its Associate Editor, covering a wide range of science and technology topics. He has worked on data science projects with HuffPost and other organizations. Before this, he graduated with highest honors from the University of California, Berkeley, having studied critical theory and completed coursework in computer science and economics. His research interests are in computational social science and using data to engage with complex social systems. You can follow him on Twitter @traviskorte.



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