Scaling the hurdles to 'global' science collaboration
Science spins the wheels of progress all over the world. When it is accessible and easily shared and discussed, the results are richer and more widely applicable to societies in different regions. Yet several hurdles - technical, behavioural, legal and practical - stand in the way of free-flowing scientific, academic and personnel exchanges. A large international consortium, backed by the EU, came up with solutions to scale these hurdles.
© Trueffelpix #71626829 2019, source:stock.adobe.com
Updated on 10 April 2019
The EU-backed MAGIC project set out to streamline global scientific and academic collaboration by making the whole experience that much easier. It tackled the technical (incompatible systems, access and security issues, limited time and resources...) and behavioural obstacles (low awareness, trust, knowledge and training gaps ) holding back progress.
Programmes to boost knowledge-sharing, training and access to e-infrastructure were among the main achievements of the project. Access was underpinned by a set of agreements for Europe, Latin America and other participating regions, which consolidated what the MAGIC team call the "middleware building blocks" needed to complete a "marketplace of services and real-time applications" for international research groups and science communities.
MAGIC was led by RedCLARA, the largest interlinked academic community in Latin America, which has close ties with peers in Europe (GEANT), the US (Internet2), as well as networks in Africa, Asia, Oceania and elsewhere. International cooperation was sewn into the fabric of the project.
The project had a running start, thanks to the work of a related EU-backed initiative, called ELCIRA, which ended in 2014. But MAGIC also faced fresh challenges emerging as technology (and attitudes to it) quickly evolved, from advances in the cloud and collaboration tools and services, to growing concerns over privacy and security which affect and are affected by regulatory environments in different regions. A case in point is the new EU General Data Protection Regulation (GPDR), which has been billed as the most important change in data privacy in 20 years.
"With this as the backdrop, we wanted to lay robust foundations to support national research and education networks, or NRENs, which could stand the test of time," says Luis Eliécer Cadenas Marin, executive director of RedCLARA.
Tangibly, this meant further developing the model and underlining protocols for seamless access to interoperable platforms for science, research and academia with the related training and mobility that enriches all these. For example, teams worked on some new deployments and standards to securely manage group membership information and interaction via prolific third-party services and apps.
Not reinventing the wheel
The MAGIC team had no intention to reinvent the wheel. Established e-infrastructure and platforms, such as Europe's GEANT, but also eduGAIN and EduRoam, were leveraged during the project, with additional emphasis on new paradigms in data security, interoperability, and real-time access protocols.
While a large chunk of MAGIC's work was technical, including group- and middleware workarounds to build a global application market for collaboration tools and services, an equal amount of energy went into soft skills like training and knowledge-sharing, and access agreements between partners for infrastructure. Reaching consensus among participating world regions on the importance of these issues was critical. But once achieved, this reinforced efforts towards the adoption of standards, such as those proposed by the Global CEO Forum.
"No matter how great the benefits of technologies are, nothing replaces human contact and the level of information you get by interacting face-to-face as well with those you aim to help," according to Maria Jose Lopez Pourailly, RedCLARA's communications manager. Here, staff exchanges, researcher mobility and international training opportunities can reinforce the improved 'virtual' interaction, the project revealed.
MAGIC trained more than 100 NREN technicians how to use its tools in the likes of Chile, Amman, Jordan, Jamaica, Lebanon, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Barbados as well is in locations across the EU. The team also collaborated with regional NRENs to produce Spanish and Portuguese versions of their training and awareness-raising videos. This led to 16 new countries joining EduRoam and seven new federations were established, with a further five under negotiation, making internet roaming access for academics and researchers a reality worldwide.
"MAGIC was a success because of the absolute commitment to collaboration and research by all project partners," according to Eliécer Cadenas. That commitment was translated into a "vibe", which carries on well after the formal part of the project ended. "It's why MAGIC is still helping communities and NRENs worldwide," he adds, "fostering and promoting global collaboration when and where it is still needed."