What is Research Data Canada?

blog arrowPosted on: Jul 12, 2016

What is RDC? What are its origins? And where it is going? My name is Mark Leggott, as the inaugural Executive Director of Research Data Canada one of the activities I am committed to is connecting with our stakeholder community in Canadian research organizations through various forums. One key effort in our communications strategy is regular blog posts, which will provide a more detailed view on specific topics a few times a month. This will be augmented with regular Tweets (via @rdc_drc) highlighting new developments, as well as more detailed white papers and the creation of special information resources and tools.


Let’s kick this off with answering the questions I ask above.


Research organizations have always had a requirement to effectively manage research data, whether it be to ensure researchers can maintain their research programs or to respond to legal requirements. More recently a number of new factors have raised these expectations, including: the desire to see the results of publicly funded research be more broadly accessible; the need for researchers to leverage data from many disciplines; the interest in reproducibility to verify research outputs, and the need to respond to funder interests in effective data management. RDC has its genesis in the efforts of a number of individuals and organizations to respond to the emerging interests and intersect with similar interests at an international level. The ultimate goal of these efforts is to achieve the highest level of societal impact from the research enterprise in Canada.

Genesis of RDC[1]

In 2008 a group of institutions and individuals invested in the development of a national strategy for research data management formed a group called the Research Data Strategy Working Group. The RDSWG itself emerged from earlier efforts to raise interest in research data at a federal level and to promote an investment in research data infrastructure, one that would help preserve the output of publically funded research in Canada. These early efforts included the participation of universities, institutes, libraries, granting agencies and individual researchers.


The RDSWG continued the conversation with a variety of efforts, culminating in a meeting in September 2011[2] where over 150 senior researchers, high-level policy makers, university administrators, and members of the private sector, convened in Ottawa for the first National Data Summit. A key set of recommendations from the Summit report[3] led to the creation of RDC, which was intended to replace the RDSWG and form a “national coordination mechanism.”


A coordinated and national approach to managing and providing access to research data is required to ensure that Canadians and others derive greater and more long-term benefit, both socially and economically, from the extensive public investments that are made in research. Such an approach would represent a logical extension of the Government of Canada’s Open Government Initiative, which already aims to make government generated data widely available.


Initial support for RDC came from the National Research Council both for administrative assistance and for the services of the inaugural (and current) Chair, Pam Bjornson. Much of the early work of RDC was unfunded and based on the passions and energy of a dedicated group of individuals who recognized the importance of effective approaches to research data management in ensuring a competitive R&D sector in Canada, as well as a realization of the emerging critical need to manage the raw resources of the knowledge-based economy. As the result of ongoing conversations, and a critical digital infrastructure meeting in 2014, it became clear that RDC would need a stable base of funding if it was to continue to have an impact. CANARIE was approached as a possible home for RDC. This was a logical intersection given CANARIE’s role as a provider of digital research infrastructure, most notably its work in developing research software tools, which present compelling opportunities for collaboration. CANARIE’s support was confirmed with the addition of RDC as part of CANARIE’s 2015-2020 funding mandate, and my start as RDC’s first Executive Director in February 2016.

Structure of RDC

Membership has varied over the last four years, but the primary member base has been from federal and academic institutions. The efforts of the RDC are overseen by a Steering Committee, which currently has close to 30 members. In addition to the Steering Committee, RDC has four standing committees: Communications, Outreach, and Education; Policy; Infrastructure; Standards and Interoperability. The work of these committees has resulted in a number of reports and best practice documents, as other outputs.


As part of CANARIE, RDC now has a stable base of funding and resources, and a commitment to facilitate the development of an effective and sustainable ecosystem in Canada. This also allows RDC to leverage CANARIE services and networks: both those defined by people as well as fibre! These resources will augment the growing stakeholder community that gets things done in the name of RDC, and intersects with a variety of other efforts, including the CARL Portage project, Compute Canada, CUCCIO, the Leadership Council for Digital Infrastructure and more.

Mandate of RDC

RDC’s early efforts revolved around the need to promote best practices in research data management with a large stakeholder community. This stakeholder community has grown and now includes federal and provincial governments, universities, and nonprofit and private research organizations. RDC’s mandate includes:


  1. Facilitate relationships and collaborations in the RDM stakeholder community to build a national framework
  2. Research and recommend best practices in data stewardship in all areas of research
  3. Link researchers with RDM organizations and services that best meet their needs
  4. Provide program funding for RDM efforts that exemplify best practices and build capacity in Canada
  5. Represent Canada‘s RDM community, efforts, services and resources internationally


Overall, the scope of RDM in the Canadian research environment has changed and become more complex in the last few years. RDM as a fixture within the Canadian landscape is a development we are going to make the most of, with your help. We would like this to be a conversation, and encourage you to comment, question, and generally engage in our RDM work. Follow us on Twitter (@rdc_drc) and check out our blog on the regular!


[1] Chuck Humphrey has an excellent blog post on the early developments leading up to RDC.

[2] http://bit.ly/1Ph64gU

[3] https://www.rdc-drc.ca/download/report-of-the-canadian-research-data-summit/?wpdmdl=675

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