Friday, October 24, 2014

CGIAR Open Access mandate: Work in progress in the case of ICARDA

Agro-Know has a long time involvement in Open Access through its participation in related EU-funded projects (such as VOA3R and agINFRA), its participation and contribution in related initiatives and events and more lately through our active involvement in the FAO AGRIS Network (Agro-Know is hosting & responsible for the Data Processing Unit of the traditional AGRIS service) but also through the expertise and experience of each team members (such as agricultural domain experts, information scientists and librarians, software engineers and web developers etc.). In this context, almost five months after the CGIAR presentation, Agro-Know made a contact with the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), one of the 15 CGIAR Centers and it was agreed that Agro-Know would be responsible for the following:
  • Provide an overview of the current situation of ICARDA and the Dryland Systems program regarding information available, repositories and related processes and workflows;
  • Recommend the optimal approach for ICARDA and Dryland Systems, in terms of technology, skills, processes and responsibilities in the organizations;
  • Taking responsibility to prepare the ICARDA and Dryland Systems Open Access Plan, following the Guidelines set out by the CGIAR Consortium.
ICARDA staff during the briefing session on OA

First meeting

The first step of this process was a week-long visit (between 3-9 of September 2014) to the ICARDA headquarters, which are now in Amman, Jordan. During this visit, Johannes Keizer from FAO and me had the opportunity to meet with the Communications, Documentation and Information Services (CODIS) team led (then) by Mr. Michael Devlin. The aim of this first visit was:
  1. to meet the CODIS team and other ICARDA/Dryland Systems staff that would be involved in the processes related to the Open Access implementation plan;
  2. to evaluate the current status of the ICARDA/Dryland Systems metadata management workflows and infrastructure;
  3. collect as much information as possible related to the structure, the status and the requirements related to the design of the open access implementation plan;
  4. to provide all the necessary initial information for setting up the basic workflows and tools and initiate some basic processes;
  5. to inform ICARDA directors and other key staff about the benefits of Open Access, discuss any objections they had and briefly describe their involvement in the new processes;
  6. to inform the ICARDA staff about our initial findings and suggestions for the next steps through a briefing session on the last day of our visit.
(L-R) Me, Jack Durrell (ICARDA), Johannes Keizer (FAO) & Michael Devlin (ICARDA)
Indeed, during the visit, we had the opportunity to arrange focused, individual meetings with several of the staff members of ICARDA, including program directors, information managers as well as with people with a more technical background and role (but still currently involved in the information management processes), and inform them about the CGIAR Open Access Policy and plans, providing at the same time information on the advantages of Open Access as well as responding to any questions. At the same time, through focused interviews, we collected feedback needed for compiling our report, such as the structure of the teams, the types of information products available, the thematics covered by the information products of ICARDA and Dryland Systems etc. All feedback received was documented and was taken into consideration, along with the related CGIAR guidelines, in the preparation of the workflows and documentation for the implementation of the Open Access policy for the case of ICARDA. Our visit concluded with an Open Access briefing presentation to the ICARDA staff, during which we briefly presented our findings and considerations for the next steps of the OA implementation.

Working on the Open Access plan for ICARDA & Dryland Systems

After getting back to the Agro-Know office, a working group (Development Team, as we like to call it) was formed, that would focus on the specific task; the group consists of information managers with experience in agricultural information management, people with experience in Open Access, agricultural domain experts and a project manager for coordinating all activities within the team. By sharing all notes and related documentation from the visit to ICARDA, we completed the first part of the requirements' collection and moved to the next phase, which was the documentation of the current status and our proposed revisions regarding the set up of the infrastructure and workflows to support the implementation of the Open Access policy in the case of ICARDA and Dryland Systems. So far, we have collaboratively worked (with the precious help and feedback from the CODIS team) on the development of a first draft version of the document that was shared some days ago, and we are currently working on the next steps, including the definition of the metadata elements and controlled vocabularies to be used in the case of the ICARDA and Dryland Systems repositories.

The next steps

The next steps include regular communication with the CODIS team and other people to be involved in the process (for clarifying aspects that are not clear to us yet), completing all missing information and polishing the document, as well as a second visit to the ICARDA headquarters (supporting the testing phase of our proposed workflows) that will focus on the following:
  • a number of face-to-face meetings with key ICARDA staff, for fine-tuning the information already available in the plan;
  • meetings with the CODIS team for hands-on sessions and testing of the proposed metadata management workflows;
  • a hands-on seminar with the focal points from each ICARDA team to be involved in the OA implementation processes (e.g. information managers), clarifying the tasks that need to be done from their side as a part of their work.
These will help us finalize the design of the processes involved in the OA implementation plan and ensure their proper functionality of the proposed workflows before the deadline which is set by the CGIAR Consortium by December 15th, 2014. After that, everything will be properly set up for the actual implementation of the CGIAR Open Access mandate in the case of ICARDA, which is expected to be start even before this deadline. In the meantime, Jack Durrell from the ICARDA CODIS team has prepared a related presentation regarding the needs and status of the Open Access status and progress in the case of ICARDA and Dryland Systems.


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Workshop on Wheat Data Standards and Interoperability

A really interesting workshop on Wheat Data Standards and Interoperability, titled "Bringing together the building-blocks of a common framework" took place between October 1-2, 2014 at Versailles, hosted by INRA. The Workshop aimed to continue the work that takes place in the context of the RDA Wheat Data Interoperability Working Group towards providing a common, open-standard framework for describing, representing, linking, and publishing wheat data.

Even though I was participating in the previous RDA Plenary Meetings on behalf of Agro-Know, this time I did not make it to the 4th Plenary meeting in Amsterdam (it was a good thing that my colleague +Andreas Drakos did!) nor to the INRA Workshop; for the latter, the hosts were kind enough to include my colleague Effie among the invited attendees so we had the opportunity to have a closer look on the progress of the group; of course I am still keeping an eye on everything related to the Group and participate (even remotely). However, I missed the chance to meet my good friends +Odile Hologne , Esther Dzale and Richard Fulss, with whom we usually have interesting discussions during the RDA Plenaries (and not limited to these events!).

Even though I miss travelling as much as I used to, I have to admit that I like the fact that my colleagues have the opportunity to contribute to the networks that Agro-Know is a member of and represent Agro-Know in such important events!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Agro-Know internal training: Using the Agro-Know blog

Following up on the AK trainings' topic, my time came for organizing and delivering a seminar to my colleagues. The seminar was about using the Agro-Know Wordpress-based blog, in an effort for me to persuade my colleagues to start sharing their news and updates through this corporate blog. The effort for delivering the course was a long story but for several reasons it was always postponed. This time we managed to organize everything in only a couple of days and on Moday I found myself presenting my slides before nine of my colleagues who expressed interest in attending the seminar - I would like to thank each one of them for their interest in the specific training.
The process was the usual one: Describing the seminar through a Trello card in the dedicated board for the AK trainings, deciding on the most appropriate day and time through a Doodle poll and delivering the seminar face to face in the Agro-Know meeting room.

Through my slides I tried to provide a short introduction to blogs and blogging, describe our Wordpress installation and then went straight to the point: How could one get ideas to write about in the blog and how to actually use the Wordpress environment for transforming his/her ideas into an interesting blog post. As I am currently maintaining three blogs (one personal, one professional and the Agro-Know blog), apparently I have no issue finding topics for my posts but still I understand anyone who gets stuck in this part so I tried to provide some ideas on getting ideas for a blog post. In addition, I demonstrated how a boring text-only post can be much more interesting through the embedding of multimedia files (e.g. images, presentations, videos, even tweets and Facebook posts).


The presentation was nothing special or fancy; each slide was mostly based on my personal experience while I got some ideas from related posts and websites I have visited during the last years. However, I hope that through this presentation my colleagues will be motivated to be more actively involved in the blog, contributing their own parts both as blog posts and comments in existing posts, leading to creative discussions. I have to admit, that encouraging my friends to start blogging is one of the biggest challenges I face as I am really keen on seeing the Agro-Know blog being even more frequently updated with the contribution of everyone in the team!

P.S. Special thanks to Dimitra for pushing me with that (I was rather disappointed from my previous attempts to organize the training) and for taking the only photo from the event as well as to Athina who took care of the practicalities and helped me a lot!