By Ruth Duerr, National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC)
As a member of the Data Conservancy team, my role includes keeping up with developments in data management, and often these developments are not technical so much as organizational. Data management has a ways to go to be appropriately built in to the infrastructure of research, and organizations like the Federation of Earth Science Information Partners (ESIP) are examples of efforts to address the sustainability, standards, and infrastructure challenges of the many stakeholders.
It has been more than three months since the ESIP winter meeting held in Washington D.C. back in early January; but the more I reflect upon the meeting the more I realize just how significant a meeting it really was for data stewardship in general. Why? Because amongst the usual excellent but competing technical sessions, high powered plenary speakers, and the surprisingly powerful lunch-time talk by Ed Maibach, the ESIP Assembly overwhelmingly voted for three key initiatives.
The first of these simply raised the status of the Preservation and Stewardship Cluster to a Standing Committee. ESIP clusters are truly informal groups that spontaneously form whenever sufficient interest on a topic is raised for people to decide to get together, usually virtually, to discuss it regularly. They die when the last person who cares gives up. ESIP committees, on the other hand, are more formal groups with official charters and roles described in the ESIP Federation Bylaws. As approved overwhelmingly by the membership, the roles of this new Stewardship Committee are:
1. To develop, evolve, foster, and adopt best practices and standards that ensure continued and reliable information content, quality, and usability of Earth system science data for as long as they are deemed to be of value.
2. To facilitate the long-term preservation and stewardship of Earth system science data.
3. To facilitate reference to and access to Earth system science data.
The second and third initiatives voted on demonstrate that the cluster already had aspirations with regard to these new roles. The Assembly voted overwhelmingly to approve the Data Stewardship Principles and Recommended Practices and the Data Citation Guidelines, both of which had been in development by the cluster for the past two years. Moreover, both documents were placed in the hands of the newly formed committee for maintenance and dissemination.
The Data Stewardship Principles and Recommended Practices describe the responsibilities of data creators, data intermediaries (repositories, value-added providers, etc.), and data users. They were developed over the course of several face-to-face sessions at ESIP meetings based on a review of a wide variety of existing data policies.
The Data Citation Guidelines share a similar genesis with perhaps more heritage from the International Polar Year Citation Guidelines. Similar to the Principles and Recommended Practices, the Data Citation Guidelines were fleshed out and tested using real data through a number of ESIP sessions and through sessions at external meetings such as GeoData 2011, a joint NSF and USGS workshop.
Why do I think that this was significant? Simply because it represents the first time that a large and diverse set of US Mission agencies, data centers, research groups, commercial companies, tool developers, and even individuals have come together and agreed that data stewardship is important. They saw it to be important enough to codify into standard practices for data and recognized that data citation is something that needs to become part of the culture of science and that it is past time to make that happen. As Carol Meyer, the Executive Director for the Foundation for Earth Science was heard to say at the meeting “Now, ESIP stands for something!”