Guest post by DCN member Sarah Wright a Research Data & Life Sciences Librarian at Cornell University.

I attended the Research Data Alliance (RDA) 18th Plenary Session held Nov. 3, 2021, and went to a session focused on communities of practice (CoPs) around data challenges. Panelists included representatives from the U.S. Geological Survey’s Community for Data Integration, Earth Science Information Partners (ESIP), and the RDA. The RDA has established their first community of practice (CoP) focused on Agricultural Data, and want people to know about the new RDA Communities of Practice

ESIP, which has had long-standing collaboration areas, gave an overview of some of the things they have accomplished via their CoPs. ESIP represents earth science data professionals across domains and across sectors, and they use committees and clusters to focus on specific challenges, creating a cluster to address and solve a challenge or issue, and then dissolving the cluster when it is no longer needed. Accomplishments are numerous: they worked to provide data citation guidelines more than a decade ago, with to address data search, and on increasing awareness and use of standards — for example, the Biological Data Standards cluster recently published a primer on biological data standards. More recently they have begun encouraging cross-cluster collaboration to address issues like disaster relief, bringing together climate, agriculture, semantic technologies, and other clusters to work to increase trust in data and improve data use for decision-making during natural disasters. A recent count put them at 30 active clusters and 4 technical committees.

Ever the philosopher, I found a side conversation in the chat about what a CoP actually is to be interesting. “The whole ecosystem is getting so complex and groups/activities/”communiites” are growing so rapidly, it’s interesting to explore these definitions,” remarked another fellow-philosopher. Some decided that the RDA itself is a CoP, others found it too large to be a CoP, which is defined as “a group of people who share a common concern, a set of problems, or an interest in a topic and who come together to fulfill both individual and group goals. Communities of practice often focus on sharing best practices and creating new knowledge to advance a domain of professional practice. Interaction on an ongoing basis is an important part of this. (

Also of interest was feedback from the attendees on what they wished their current CoPs did better. Attendees wanted: 

  • Actionable outputs, task forces, not endless meetings with no deliverables
  • Opportunities for open conversations, informal sharing 
  • Interaction with other like-minded CoPs

In my experience, the DCN (my favorite CoP!) does a pretty great job of doing all of these things, but it was heartening to know that these are important to others as well as our group. ESIP has even published a guide: “How to cluster in ESIP,” for those who are interested in exploring tips for success for CoPs.

The session closed with an oft-quoted African proverb, and unofficial motto of RDA —

If you want to go fast, go alone.

If you want to go far, go together.

If you are interested in learning more, all RDA sessions were recorded and will be made available on the RDA YouTube channel:

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