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DataPLANT advised on grant application and discusses compensation models with participants

The NFDI starts to shape the future scientific landscape and should be taken into account when planning research projects and cooperations. Together with a participant, the “Plant Genome and Systems Biology” group at the Helmholtz-Zentrum München DataPLANT discussed possible forms of support regarding both infrastructure services and consulting. Such cooperations would require agreed upon compensation models. Both parties acknowledged the fact of challenges regarding cost compensation models which comply with non-profit/public-benefit requirements and capable of being integrated into the central NFDI governance structure.

Calculation of costs and refinancing becomes unavoidable at some point to allow sustainable cooperation. Different funding streams need to be taken into account. Every institution has funds to pay for commercial third-party services and consulting, but it is nearly impossible to proper receive such funds as a research institution. Direct flows of money in a consortium of differently organized and funded research institutions is an issue to be iterated and solved via the corresponding cross-cutting topic. The data steward services can be clearly accounted for. Thus, it could be an option to use vouchers or coupons on services in exchange for redirected financing via a grant application. An endorsement model could be established to foster such developments, where research funding agencies see the NFDI as a service broker. The NFDI structure ensures good scientific practice by offering certified services which are in turn applied for by research groups. The funding agencies would divert a certain amount of support to the NFDI in relation to the equivalent of the services requested. A base level funding e.g. either through universities or the NFDI would compensate for consultation to non-successful applications. Such options need to be discussed and developed together with all stakeholders within DataPLANT, the general NFDI level, and the appropriate political sphere. Efficient ways of reimbursement without overhead and bureaucracy are needed to offer a sustainable model for long-term cooperation and viability. The concept outlined in the DFG NFDI workshop last year end of August including the concept of the NFDI as a registered society could be a feasible way for a non-profit oriented operation model for the individual consortia.

DataPLANT receives positive feedback from the DFG, but still work ahead

DataPLANT was present at the 3rd NFDI Community Workshop - Services for Research Data Management in Neuroscience hosted on the 10th February at Ludwig Maximilians University Munich to exchange with other NFDI consortia and discuss common topics like infrastructure provisioning. The NFDI4Neuro as well as the NFDI4BIMP intend to hand in their proposals in this year’s round of applications. The main topic of this community workshop was the exchange on infrastructure for the NFDI and especially on the providers’ perspective.

The provider’s perspective in the NFDI was elaborated by the BioDATEN science data center. Providers of research IT infrastructures are faced by significant technological changes especially fostered by resource virtualization. Many of the modern services and workflows are operated in an increasingly cloud-like fashion where data and compute moves into centralized, aggregated resources. Such shared resources allow to host new projects faster. The necessary excess capacity is much easier to maintain and justify in centralized resources as the shared overhead to provide is typically much less than in independent systems. Grant providers start to understand the changed technological landscape and to adopt their funding schemes allowing to buy-in into existing resources preferred to establishing single ones per new project. Users are faced by difficult to forecast requirements. It is often impossible for them to define the exactly “right” configuration of a required resource (sizing challenge). These challenges are answered by the IT industry and science driven cloud and aggregated HPC offerings. The aggregation of resources into larger ones can focus the increased efforts for market analysis, system selection, proper procurement and operation of (large scale) IT infrastructures onto few experts. Further on such a strategy would eliminate the contradiction of typical project run times versus the (significant) delay for equipment provisioning and the usual write down time spans of that equipment.

The massive changes in the IT landscape and of the user expectations increase the pressure for re-orientation of university (scientific) computer centers. For many of them cooperation is the chance to significantly widen their scope of IT services. It helps to keep up with the demand by the scientific communities and to offer a relevantly complete service portfolio. Organizationally, it allows for specialization and community focus. When defining future strategies and operation models they might find a new meaning in supporting research data management by providing efficient infrastructures and consultation to the various scientific communities. Further on it offers them the opportunity to participate in infrastructure calls. These developments offer for the researchers the offloading of non-domain specific tasks and services. Suitable governance structures are to be implemented to ensure a persistent relevance of future computer centers through user participation and feedback loops. Close cooperation and consultation (like already done in Freiburg for the bwForCluster NEMO and for the storage infrastructure bwSFS) helps all stakeholders to have suitable, up to date infrastructures tailored to their needs. Such structures are in their infancy for the NFDI, but future NFDI wide coordination should advance this topic.

The financing of IT infrastructures for the various scientific communities is often grant driven (and inherently not sustainable) for sustainable long term services and research data management. The future would see a changed flow of funding from simple project driven and organization centered practice to demand-driven streams to different providers. Large infrastructure initiatives like de.NBI or the NFDI need not only to solve the role of personnel employment (permanent vs. project based) but to define suitable business and operation models compatible with the VAT regulations and the federal and state requirements for cash flows in mixed consortia.

DataPLANT receives positive feedback from the DFG, but still work ahead

BioDATEN and DAplus+ are jointly involved in the nationwide NFDI process with DataPLANT Consortium (in the area of Fundamental Plant Research). End of January the review of the DFG assessment of the application and the oral presentation in Bonn (Link to the older message) in early December arrived. The reviewers gave a widely positive feedback, from which we deduce that DataPLANT is still in the group for consideration of funding. We would like to thank our collaborators from the Galaxy team, especially Anika Erxleben and from the Technical University in Kaiserslautern and Jülich Research Center. The feedback addresses various areas of the proposal, such as “Maturity and relevance”, “Research data management” and “Internal structure and sustainability”. Besides very positive remarks there are also some critical passages that should be considered in the answer.

Some snippets from the review: “The consortium is thematically closely focused on fundamental plant science research. This strong focus and the fact that, in addition to model plants, some cultivated plant species are also taken into account is seen as a clear strength of this consortium” … “The planned implementation of processes for metadata validation seems to make sense and the claim to improve the quality of existing metadata instead of discarding it is commendable. The assessment of the quality of raw data is a interesting additional approach, which, in view of the interpretation of the results by the users carefully must be developed. The quality of the already implemented and the level of measures planned beyond this is very high. One of the planned measures is the establishment of ‘data stewards’ as flexible on-site assistants to be deployed, who are very demanding but also … is very positive.” … “The consortium’s efficient internal structure is impressive, consisting of the various stakeholder groups and the clearly defined bodies, including the ‘Data stewards’ and ‘Data champions’. The topic ‘efficiency and sustainability’ is well received in the application addressed.”

The “Diversity” of the consortium lead, which was quite one-sided in the current application, needs to be improved in the further process. The consortium is now requested to respond to individual points in a three-page statement in reply to the reviewers remarks. In particular, the focus of the answer will lie on points such as “How are the data stewards recruited, trained and meaningfully distributed institutionally and made available to the participants” or “Possibilities of generalising the workflow approach”. The improvement of “diversity” should in particular expressed in a broader governance structure to be formulated jointly with the consortium. This will also incorporate initial experiences from the BioDATEN science data center.