Thursday, April 10, 2014

Agro-Know in SEMIC 2014

The SEMIC 2014 Conference (Semantic Interoperability Community), titled "Metadata Governance & Management" was held on 9/4/2014 in Athens, Greece at the premises of the National Center of Public Administration and Local Governance, as another one of the related events in the context of the Greek Presidency of the Council of the European Union in collaboration with the Greek Ministry of Administrative Reform and e-Governance. It engaged about 199 participants from almost all EU member states (there were about 220 registrations) plus the 24 speakers (also from USA and Japan, among others), and aimed to explore how Public Administrations can use semantic technologies to make information exchange efficient and effective, allowing them to operate at lower costs and provide better services.

In this direction, the Conferfence consisted of 2 large sessions, each one of which consisted of smaller sessions:

  1. Introduction / Keynote speeches: Included, among others, a presentation from Vassilios Peristeras from the European Commission (and one of the people behind the Rural Inclusion ICT-PSP project that we were working on under the GRNET umbrella) ho highlighted the fact that there are already enough vocabularies and approaches developed so there is no need to develop new ones; instead, the existing ones should be reused. The outcomes are publicly available through the JOINUP web site
  2. Session 1: Metadata Governance and Management
  3. Session 2: Semantic Interoperability
The full program of the Conference can be found here, while the presentations will also be available shortly from the same link.

Skipping the details from each presentation (most of which I found really interesting), it was obvious that everyone highlighted the need of using existing standards and reusing existing work instead of duplicating effort and working from scratch. Most of the solutions presented were based on existing standards and identified the need for linking publicly available e-Gov data. Good practices and recommendations were presented in several cases, such as the use of persistent and unique identifiers (URIs), documenting all developments such as standards, providing both a human- and a machine-readable format of the data/metadata.

Muriel Foulonneau, one the reviewers of the now over VOA3R project was also there, presenting the really interesting approach of re-using existing "building blocks" = components from other projects instead of developing additional standards, in the context of the e-SENS project. I am really fond of reusing existing material instead of developing new ones, so I vote for the approach presented in Muriel's presentation. Her presentation was followed by the one by Ralph Hodgson, CTO of TopQuadrant, a person and a company heavily involved in semantic interoperability and standards, not limited to the public sector and e-government. I also enjoyed the presentations of John Sheridan titled "Linking Legal Data" and the one by Martin Le Vrang which presented a really practical application of semantic interoperability in the context of online job search in EU - really close to what we are working in AK in the context of projects like CerOrganic & AGRICOM.

Of course I also enjoyed the last presentation of the Conference, provided by Johannes Keizer about AGROVOC, VocBench and AGRIS, as case studies of the semantic interoperability between different systems in the agricultural sector. This was by far the most closely related presentation to my interests.

The main outcomes of the Conference were the following:

  • Using unique, persistent URIs; 
  • Avoid using machine non-readable formats (PDF) when publishing data; instead use formats such as HTML (human-readable) and XML/RDF (machine readable);
  • Reusing existing standards instead of developing new ones, such as the ones already available through the JoinUP portal, the eGov Core Vocabularies, the DCAT AP for describing datasets etc.; 
  • Define and develop sustainability plans for each new project and workflow; 
  • Share all developments, standards etc. and keep them open;

During the Conference I had the pleasure to get involved in discussions with long-time friend and colleague in projects +Johannes Keizer (also here), Muriel Foulonneau (about both the VOA3R and agINFRA projects), Nikos Loutas (ex- Rural Inclusion project member) and Vassilis Peristeras (also about the background of the Rural Inclusion project), as well as Maria Kardami, Information Systems Developer at Publications Office of the EC. I also had the chance to meet again Charalampos Koutouris from NCSR Demokritos, which was one of the participants of the Big Data School which we organized some months ago - he provided some really interesting feedback and his experience.

Overall the Conference was a really useful experience, keeping us updated on the use of the semantic standards in the public sector as well as providing opportunities for networking and dissemination.

SEMIC 2015 will probably take place in Latvia, so keep tuned!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Meeting Christopher Brewster

As mentioned in my previous post, I had the pleasure to meet Dr. Christopher Brewster at the European Data Forum 2014, which was held in Athens, Greece between 19-20/3/2014. Dr. Brewster is a lecturer at Aston Business School, UK and among the variety of his research interests, there are two that we share; Knowledge Representation , Semantic Web and Agriculture and Food Supply Chains (well, it seems that they are at least three!). Among others, he was actively involved in the Smart Agri-Food project  and is currently involved in the FI Space project.

Dr. Brewster during the presentation

Dr. Brewster was kind enough to accept our invitation and visit the AK offices on Friday 21/3/2014, where he made a really interesting presentation, titled "The potential impact of data integration and open data in the food supply chain". The presentation discusses the issue of food supply chain data, taking into consideration aspects such as open food data, mentioning data platforms, initiatives and standards, legislation, the status in various EU countries etc. After the presentation we had the opportunity to spend some time talking about the issues highlighted in his presentation and present our feedback on these and I hope that we will have the opportunity to collaborate in the near future.

Dr. Brewster, Nikos and Andreas exploring possibilities for collaboration

Friday, April 4, 2014

Agro-Know in the EDF 2014

The European Data Forum (EDF) 2014 took place between 19-20 of March 2014 and it was only one of the data-related events that would take place during the 6-month Greek presidency of the EU Council. According to the website of the event, "The European Data Forum (EDF) is an annual meeting place for industry, research, policy makers, and community initiatives to discuss the challenges and opportunities of data in Europe, especially in the light of recent developments such as Open Data, Linked Data and Big Data". This is at the heart of what we are currently working on in AK; we are getting deeper and deeper in the open, linked and big data, always in the agricultural context. This means that there was no way that the AK team would not be represented at the event.

The event was collocated with the Europeana Cloud Plenary, which was attended by my colleagues +Theodore Mathioudakis+Effie Tsiflidou and +Andreas Drakos who are contributing to this effort. Andreas also helped with the Agro-Know booth that was setup at the EDF2014 and which was full of brochures of Organic.Lingua, as the sponsoring project of this activity, agINFRA and of course Agro-Know ones.

Andreas & Vassilis @ EDF2014
Even though I did not have the time to actually attend the speeches of the first day of the forum (unfortunately I could not attend the second day - the full programme is available here), I had a great time being there and meeting people who were interested in the AK products; at the same time, I had the time to take a look around and see what the other booths were about, finding interesting people, projects and products. I had the pleasure to meet Karel Charvat again (after the EFITA 2011 Conference), one of the most active persons that I know, actively involved in several initiatives. Among  the other participants, I got engaged in a discussion with Natalia Manola from Athina Research Center, a person actively involved in several data-related projects like DRIVER, OpenAIRE and OpenAIREPlus. Our first meeting was during the RDA 2nd Plenary Meeting in Washington D.C., last September. Last but not least, I had the pleasure to meet Dr. Christopher Brewster from the Aston Business School of the Aston University, UK - we had the opportunity to meet again during the next day at the AK office.

Created with flickr slideshow.

I also got to see +Sarven Capadisli, one of the people I admire for their work in linked data; this was the same case with Deirde Lee from DERI, Ireland, an old time acquaintance from a joint project with GRNET back in 2010. Both of them were engaged in conversations almost during the whole day so I did not find the appropriate time to get to know them better.

Overall it was a really interesting experience which provided us with the opportunity to expose our work to a related and wide audience (yes, the AK booth got busy at some points!) and to get to know interesting people working in similar topics and with whom we could establish collaborations in the near future. Andreas and Elena were there during the 2nd day of the event which was as useful as the first one.

Post-processing EDF2014 (info from the official web site)

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Food for thought: Agricultural Knowledge and Innovation Systems Towards 2020

(blog post initially posted at the Agro-Know blog)

We recently came across a really interesting publication by the European Commission’s Standing Committee on Agricultural Research (SCAR), titled "Agricultural Knowledge and Innovation Systems Towards 2020". The publication is available through the EU Bookshop, which is always a valuable source of  policy documents and reports.
SCAR was established back in 1974 and is responsible for the coordination of agricultural research efforts across the European Research Area, including questions of advisory services, education, training and innovation. SCAR set up a Strategic Working Group (SWG) of civil servants from the European Commission and the EU Member States to reflect on the Agricultural Knowledge and Innovation Systems (AKIS) - you can find a really interesting publication on AKIS, titled "Agricultural Knowledge and Innovation Systems in transition Findings of the SCAR Collaborative Working Group on AKIS" in the OECD iLibrary. SCAR consists of more than twenty (20) Collaborative Working Groups (CWGs) and Strategic Working Groups (SWGs) formed by Member & Associated State representatives. The role and the structure of the WGs are described in the report that we are referring to.

Cover of the "Agricultural knowledge and innovation systems towards 2020" report
Cover of the "Agricultural knowledge and innovation systems towards 2020" report
The report itself is based on the need for revisions to be implemented in the current approach followed by AKIS, in order to ensure that it will meet the requirements for actually feeding an increased number of people in the following years making the best use of the available resources. In this direction, the repost reflects on "how innovation could be organised in the European research and innovation policy, using the framework of the European Innovation Partnership for Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability, and how this could be connected to agricultural policy and the Horizon 2020 research framework programme". The role of ICT in this context is really important and highlighted through the document, along with the role of the innovation which is a necessary component of the whole process. The report is providing interesting aspects on topics such as agricultural research policies and innovation in agricultural research, proposes approaches for engaging the agricultural researchers in targeted research & innovation, discusses alternative approaches and revisions to the existing ones, proposes approaches for stimulating the entrepneurship; all these filtered through the experiences of the 37 member countries represented in SCAR. However, the most relevant part for what we are working on in Agro-Know is presented in Chapter 6 of the document.
Chapter 6 is developed by the International Centre for Research in Organic Food Systems (ICROFS), co-authored by Ilse Rasmussen, an Agro-Know long-time friend and colleague in projects. The chapter focuses on the role that ICT in general and more specifically the social media may have in the transformation of AKIS and the innovation approaches proposed throughout the document. In fact, this chapter provides a useful overview of the hardware (e.g. mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets), software (such as software tools and platforms) and other aspects, which are described and analysed in some cases.  I am always interested to see commonly used platforms like Facebook, Flickr, Slideshare and Twitter used for serving agricultural knowledge sharing purposes - in some cases in a unique way, such as AgChat. In Agro-Know, we massively use such tools for the dissemination of the projects that we participate in and apart from that, for the dissemination of the AK-related news and events - and it seems that even these free (but widely used) tools are doing a great work. Additional ICT tools, such as the Flash Meeting platform, Google Hangouts and other platforms are also frequently used for virtual project meetings, online Workshops and delivering presentations; the Webinars @ AIMS series is a fine example of using an online platform for such purposes. Apart from that, there are platforms serving online course management and delivery for various levels of education, such as the agriMoodle platform, which is also developed by Agro-Know - in fact this refers to a number of Moodle components developed by AK for meeting the requirements of the agricultural learning communities.
The VOA3R platform for networking agricultural researchers, students and practitioners, providing virtual space for creating user communities, sharing resources and networking and on top of that access to million of agricultural research publications is another example mentioned in the report. We feel proud as AK to have been involved in each development, adaptation (under the GRNET umbrella) and also have plans to adapt it to meet specific requirements of existing communities and reuse it in this way.
agINFRA_logo_newThe low adoption of the ICT tools in agriculture, which is highlighted in the report, was something that we have also faced in the projects that we have been involved. For example, in at least two cases, there were agricultural training curricula developed, organized and made available through online course management platforms; however, access to the courses by the end users was usually limited due to various reasons including the lack of appropriate equipment, the lack of a stable internet connection and last but not least the lack of basic knowledge of using a computer and/or the software used for the delivery of the courses. Other issues such as the language barriers which did not allow users to access resources in other languages than their own were solved by solid solutions proposed by projects like the Organic.Lingua, which transformed the Organic.Edunet Web portal into a fully-multilingual portal which serves a relatively high number of languages through automatic translation features and cross-language information retrieval through a fully multilingual user interface. Other issues, such as the agricultural information scattered in several different databases, repositories and websites is currently being investigated (and solved) by the aggregation and linked agricultural open data approach and the integrated cloud/grid based services proposed by the agINFRA project. This is being taken one step further by the SemaGrow project, that aims to enhance the real-time performance of the global agricultural data infrastructures, by proposing a linked data-based approach. Agro-Know is actively involved in these projects and the last two have been discussed during the G8 conference on open data for agriculture about one year ago, as two of the most promising ones funded by the European Commission.
Agro-Know is also involved in initiatives such as the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN), the Coherence in Information for Agricultural Research for Development (CIARD) and the Global Food Safety Partnership (GFSP), while it also closely follows other related networks and initiatives, such as the Research Data Alliance (RDA) and more specifically the Agriculture Data Interoperability Interest Group and the Wheat Data Interoperability Working Group. All these initiatives have more or less a common goal; to identify the requirements of the agricultural community related to access to agricultural data and to allow and/or to enhance access to open and linked data, making use of infrastructures that can support the management of large volumes of information and knowledge and disseminate related open access policies and information between stakeholders. CIARD aims to "to develop common standards, share knowledge and contribute to coherent, effective and open institutional approaches to agricultural knowledge" and could be the link between the individual agricultural data providers, individual researchers, policy makers and other stakeholders, and the data infrastructures that are available for facilitating access to agricultural resources. In this direction , the CIARD R.I.N.G. (Routemap to Information Nodes and Gateways) acts as a global directory of web-based information services and datasets for agricultural research for development and could provide this link that could also be a key component of the processes proposed by the report. More information about the RING can be found in the CIARD RING handbook (PDF).

These are only some examples of existing tools, services and initiatives which can be used in this large-scale effort towards the reformation of the AKIS mentioned in the report. It is really important that all these initiatives previously mentioned are taking into consideration the previous work done in this context so that existing material can be adapted, adopted and reused in order to meet the requirements of the constantly growing sector of the agricultural information and data management. The upcoming "Global Consultation on Open Agricultural Knowledge for Development", a  joint CIARD/GODAN meeting in Rome (22-24/4/2014), will provide an opportunity for the members of these two large initiatives to meet, exchange ideas and find some common ground for joining forces and working toward opening up access to agricultural knowledge and information.