Year 2023 with EOSC CZ: Interview with Jiří Marek, Head of the Secretariat EOSC CZ

In 2023, the European Open Science Cloud project (IPs EOSC-CZ) started in the Czech Republic, marking a significant step forward in connecting scientific institutions and reformation research data processing and sharing within the Czech scientific setting. What challenges arise in tailoring the European initiative to fit the Czech environment? Find more about the inaugural EOSC CZ journey in an interview with Jiří Marek, Head of the Secretariat EOSC CZ and Open Science Manager at Masaryk University, who dedicated nearly every one of the 356 days to EOSC last year.

7 Feb 2024 Marie Hošťálková

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The European EOSC initiative aims to foster cooperation among scientific communities and establish a sustainable system for storing and sharing data. But what does this exactly mean?

With the introduction of the EOSC initiative in the Czech Republic, the digitization of scientific research has launched a new era. This international effort has supported the aspiration to unite existing scientific communities through an efficient framework for handling research data, thereby promoting systematic digital collaboration. The things and ideas that experts in Open Science have been presenting for a very long time are now happening within Czech research.

So, how significant was 2023 for the EOSC initiative in the Czech Republic?

In 2023, the focus of the EOSC initiative rotated primarily around establishing fundamental infrastructure for storing and sharing of the so-called FAIR research data. It represents data that is Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable. The Czech scientific environment will build on this foundation in the coming years and gradually create the National Data Infrastructure (NDI) that will enable work with research data and support new collaboration across the scientific environment. The ability of data to be reusable, for example, brings the theme of sustainability also into the field of digitisation of scientific processes. We can thus imagine the reuse of scientific data as a form of circular economy in the digital world, which will allow us to maximise the potential of the results of scientific research.

Our main goal was to launch two new national projects, "IPs EOSC-CZ" and "IPs CARDS," within the Czech scientific community. These projects are crucial for establishing efficient management, sharing, and retrieval of scientific data. The EOSC-CZ project, managed by the e-INFRA CZ consortium, focuses on training, logistical support, and basic technical infrastructure for the National Data Infrastructure (NDI). The CARDS project, led by the National Technical Library (NTK), deals with systematic metadata management in data management.

What were the primary accomplishments of the past year? Do you see them as significant advancements, and if so, how big of a leap forward do you consider them to be?

In the last calendar year, my colleagues and I dedicated considerable effort to launching the project EOSC-CZ. The EOSC-CZ project has occurred a building stone for the EOSC initiative in the Czech Republic, mainly due to its strategic position within the overarching Programme Johannes Amos Comenius (P JAC). At the beginning of the year, we established the Secretariat EOSC CZ, which has become an important "hub" for research data management across the national ecosystem. And the project also established the EOSC CZ Training Centre to disseminate knowledge, information, and advice on FAIR data management.

The EOSC initiative is not new in the Czech Republic. In 2023, we did not "discover America" - we systematically built up on activities from previous years. The Czech scientists and experts have been involved in the activities of the European EOSC initiative for years. For example, since 2021, the so-called EOSC CZ working groups have been formed on the National Architecture for EOSC implementation in the Czech Republic. Nowadays, there are already twelve of them. There are, for example, the Working group on data management for artificial intelligence, Working group for Machine Learning or Working group for Physical Sciences. The EOSC CZ Secretariat has been assisting with their activities from 2023.

I must also mention one special event for us. In June 2023, we organized the National EOSC Tripartite Event and Czech Open Science Day in Prague. Its main goal was to summarize and assess the current state of open science in the Czech Republic and national readiness for FAIR data management. This meeting, where representatives of the European Commission, the European EOSC Association and a Member State met in one place, was held in the Czech Republic for the first time.

Regarding the readiness of the Czech environment for what awaits in the field of research data management in the coming period, the 2023 year was mainly about capacity building, both human and setting up processes.

In autumn 2023, the annual EOSC Symposium gathered representatives of the EOSC initiative from across Europe for their customary gathering. What significance did this year's Madrid meeting hold for the Czech EOSC?

Participating in the annual EOSC Symposium holds significant importance. It is a platform where the latest trends and international collaborations are explored. The European initiative fosters interconnectedness among countries, facilitating communication and mutual support. We spoke with colleagues from various nations, reflecting on the primary messages the EOSC initiative should convey to the global community and addressing prevailing challenges, such as the EOSC Nodes concept, encountered by scientists and researchers within the European Research Area.

The discussions held in Madrid with representatives of the EOSC initiative from Slovakia, Austria, and Poland were crucial for the Czech Republic. The mutual arrangements support cooperation in promoting Open Science principles. Overall, this participation afforded us a unique opportunity to contribute to the broader European discourse on the development and course of the EOSC initiative while enhancing our connections with fellow member.

And what do you, as the head of the Secretariat EOSC CZ, see as milestones in 2023?

It's heartening to see scientists from various regions of the Czech Republic actively engaging in this initiative. Despite potential perceptions within the scientific community of it being overly ambitious, elusive, or novel, their involvement underscores their commitment to advancing scientific collaboration and data management practices. Moreover, the Czech EOSC community isn't restricted solely to traditional research cities like Prague and Brno; representatives from other regional cities are also actively involved. Nowadays, this initiative unites over 250 researchers and experts, signalling promising progress and widespread support.

For a better understanding, there are two graphics. The first graphic illustrates the regional origin of the individuals involved, while the second represents the different working groups and the number of their members.

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And is there anything else that you consider significant in this context?

While it might seem insignificant at first glance, I perceive the launch of the website as another pivotal moment of the past year. This national information platform, available in both Czech and English, presents resources for working groups and active scientists but also enable to stay updated on developments in research data management across the EU. The Training Centre section on the website provides visitors with information and guidance on FAIR data.

What significant partnerships have emerged in 2023 within the EOSC initiative in the Czech Republic?

The entry of the EOSC initiative into the operational phase, what we like to call the "hot" phase, will bring changes in the daily scientific work of researchers at European and national level. This part requires a discussion on the national approach to the EOSC initiative and the building of strategic partnerships within the scientific community.

During 2023, there were opportunities to hold these discussions at the National EOSC Tripartite Event and Czech Open Science Day and during this year's Open Science Week 2023 event organised by the Czech Library Association. In addition, 18 Working Group Leaders meetings took place where the working group representatives discussed data management and its related topics across different research fields.

In 2023, there was a notable enhancement of closer collaboration with the European EOSC initiative. It was achieved through active participation of Czech representatives in various EOSC European bodies or projects and by integrating the Czech Secretariat EOSC CZ into European structures. Such cooperation facilitates the engagement of the Czech scientific community within the broader European framework.

What was a n important moment for you on a personal level?

A significant moment for me personally was presenting the EOSC initiative to an international audience in the Gong Hall auditorium as part of the plenary session of the European Commission's INFORM EU platform. Even though I often speak to Czech and international audiences, the spectacular setting in the industrial environment of the Dolní Vítkovice complex in Ostrava made this occasion particularly memorable.

During the presentation, we emphasized the importance of facilitating scientists' access to data in today's rapidly evolving scientific landscape. We highlighted the significance of information sharing and underscored our team's dedication despite challenges. The inaugural year of the EOSC-CZ project showed that collaboration extending beyond technical discussions in working groups is essential for the success of this innovative initiative. I firmly believe we will achieve our ambitious goals for open science in the Czech Republic, particularly in research data management. Therefore, I am delighted to see over 250 members actively participating in the working groups, signifying widespread support for our collective mission.

What does 2024 hold in store? What plans and expectations do you have for this phase of the EOSC initiative in the Czech Republic?

As we've run into 2024, we expect significant developments, with the beginning of the National Repository Platform (NRP) for research data standing out as another milestone. As another integral component of the EOSC puzzle in the Czech Republic, the NRP will provide researchers and scientific organizations with a tangible "data storage" solution. This project aims to establish an environment wherein researchers can effortlessly store, share, and access research data in collaboration with existing facilities. Our vision for the platform is to furnish researchers with tools that streamline the accessing essential information swiftly and seamlessly. Building upon the foundation laid by the EOSC-CZ project, the NRP project offers concrete solutions and changes mindsets. While the goals ahead are ambitious, they are by no means unattainable.

By the conclusion of 2024, we anticipate significant progress, including the fruition of tangible data storage solutions. Another pivotal moment on the horizon is the election of EOSC CZ working group leaders in March, a crucial step in fostering community engagement and cohesion within EOSC CZ. These are just a few of the many reasons why I am eagerly anticipating the year ahead.

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