CODATA Workshop on
Advancing Interdisciplinary Global Challenges Research Through Data Integration
CNIC, Beijing, 30-31 July 2018
The pressing global challenges of the 21st century to which science is expected to respond, such as climate change, sustainable development and disaster risk reduction, are inherently complex phenomena, and demand interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary responses if knowledge is to be translated into action. However the ability to integrate the abundant and diverse data generated by the digital revolution to expose deep relational patterns in these phenomena is inhibited by the use of different data standards between disciplines or inadequate vocabularies and ontologies. As a consequence, the maximal exploitation of data and its interdisciplinary integration can only normally be achieved within and between closely allied fields. Although some disciplines have made dramatic progress in their ability to generate and analyse data, there are many that are lagging in this capacity, with the consequence that the general capacity to expose and model deep patterns in the complexity characteristic of the great global challenges remains relatively rudimentary.
The Committee on Data (CODATA) has responded to the creation of the new International Science Council (ISC) – which provides a unified voice for the social and natural sciences – by developing a programme designed to ensure that interdisciplinary science develops the capacity for deep, interdisciplinary data integration in addressing global challenges. This is likely to be the work of a decade, but has the potential to create a dramatic shift in the way that interdisciplinary science is done in the 21st century, and magnifies its impacts. The programme has two strands:
- Strand 1: Pilot projects in specific interdisciplinary research areas that demonstrate the power and useable benefits of online data integration, and provide solutions to the current difficulties, leading to generalisation of widely applicable methods.
- Strand 2: Support for disciplines that have not yet developed the standards that are necessary for effective online data integration and real time programmatic access to data.
The conception of the programme has been supported by the International Council for Science (ICSU) and the International Social Science Council (ISSC) that have merged to create ISC. As part of its contribution to this development, the Chinese Association for Science and Technology has generously supported the foundational stages of the programme. In this, three interdisciplinary pilots have been identified: infectious disease, resilient cities and disaster risk reduction. In each of these areas there is a strong interface between science and action and a need to draw on data and research about human activities and natural processes. The three pilots will be supported in their work by a data science and standards team, which will explore how the interoperability and integration of the heterogeneous data essential to these research areas can be achieved:
- How can the development of standards and shared concepts, controlled vocabularies and ontologies be advanced to assist the integration of data to understand complex systems?
- How can such endeavours become more easily scalable so that research initiatives can invest more in analysis and planning interventions, rather than laboriously cleaning data or extracting it from outdated formats?
This initiative builds on a series of CODATA Workshops supported by ICSU and ISSC http://dataintegration.codata.org/. After its further development at the Beijing meeting, the developed initiative will be presented to the ISC for its endorsement as a strategic programme of the new Council. The initiative also aims also to promote the engagement of disciplinary communities, as represented by International Scientific Unions, with the development and governance of standards, particularly with respect to interdisciplinary research and interoperability.
The purpose of the workshop is three-fold:
- To acquaint Chinese colleagues with the programme, and seek their engagement and involvement in it.
- To invite collaboration with major Chinese and international research programmes, such as the Digital Belt and Road, Integrated Research on Disaster Risk and Urban Health and Well-being.
- To plan development of these strands of work as a basis for major funding and so that they may be presented to the new International Science Council (ISC) as a fundamental part of its future work programme.