Creating research efficiencies through common needs
EU-funded researchers believe related projects could achieve far greater efficiencies if they pool their resources and efforts in data collection and management across disciplines.
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Research projects in similar or related domains often face the same challenges, such as the way data are collected and managed, and how this information is made accessible to partners and end-users. Addressing these issues separately can mean duplicating efforts unnecessarily, wasting time and resources. Even worse, adopting different or contrasting solutions could eventually lead to incompatibility among certain research fields.
The EU-funded PARTHENOS is a thematic cluster which aims to support the development of two new European research infrastructures, namely, CLARIN (Language resources and Technology) and DARIAH (Digital Research Infrastructures for Art, Culture and Humanities). The project is developing common standards for collecting and processing data through coordinated joint activities that involve researchers from different disciplines, to identify and exploit areas of commonality. It will deliver guidelines, standards and methods and provide pooled services and shared solutions to the same problems.
“We believe that this approach will pave the way towards data-based interdisciplinary research across related domains,” says PARTHENOS project coordinator Franco Niccolucci from the University of Florence in Italy. “Identifying commonalities and encouraging interoperability will help facilitate the exchange of information as well as data reuse."
Creating harmony across disciplines
The four-year PARTHENOS project was launched in 2015 to analyse the collection and management of data in human sciences, to find solutions that could be used in research, ranging from language studies and digital humanities to cultural heritage and history. The project is focusing on harmonising data policies, standards and data organisation.
PARTHENOS began by creating teams from different domains to explore data policies, standards and organisation. “This was our first major step towards the kind of collaboration envisaged by the project,” says Niccolucci. “These teams have begun to develop possible research solutions which have been sent to users for testing and approval. On the basis of their feedback, these solutions will be adjusted or amended. We are currently in this last stage of final adjustment but have already achieved a good level of user satisfaction.”
One interesting result from this process is the way that knowledge can be organised in such a way that data become interoperable, i.e. usable across different disciplines. The project has developed a joint data model to describe knowledge in the different domains, which suits the needs of all disciplines involved and thus may be used by all of them.
The wise method
“This model enables data that is created by researchers in digital humanities, for example, to be used by historians with no need for rearranging,” explains Niccolucci. “This could one day mean that the model becomes a sort of lingua franca, capable of supporting cross-discipline collaboration and data reuse. We are following a bottom-up approach that starts from the viewpoint of users’ needs, because we firmly believe that any proposed solutions cannot be enforced but rather must be built up through consensus and freely accepted.”
This ‘wise’ method, as he calls it, is expressed in the project title: Parthenos is one of the names given to Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom celebrated in the Parthenon temple in Athens.
Niccolucci is confident that the PARTHENOS project, due for completion at the end of April 2019, has already demonstrated how collaboration and data openness benefit everyone. “We hope this project will make a substantial contribution towards building a European shared data research area, the so-called European Open Science Cloud, which is one of the pillars of the European research strategy,” he says.