Reflecting on the International Data Curation Conference: On FAIRness, preserving memory, and making collective curation ethical
Presenting my work and attending the International Data Curation Conference 2020 in Dublin, I reflect upon my experience talking about my research on data protection within data curation as well as the social, technical, and ethical considerations needed to build a stronger archiving community.
The International Data Curation Conference (IDCC) entered its 15th edition, organised in partnership with the Digital Repository of Ireland, and celebrated the theme of Collective Curation: the many hands that make data work. Hosted at Croke Park, the conference covered a broad range of topics such as data management, digital preservation, as well as legal and ethical access. I was fortunate enough to present my work on a data protection-focused data commons that could support a privacy-driven, more ethical means for data curation.
Over the course of IDCC, I was able to speak to experts in data management, archivers, digital preservation, as well as those with different perspectives on these processes. I was excited to learn about the different ways collaborative curation could happen at various institutions and organisations. As it closely relates to my research, I was most interested in the ethics and appraisal lightning talks. The speakers presented their case studies from data policies in health focused organisations, sensitive personal data, and how community archives could be preserved. It was great to see that ethical considerations were taken into account at different stages of the curation process. More importantly, it was evident that embedding ethics into digital preservation and archiving is not only useful in assessing the validity of a project but is also necessary to increase the FAIRness (findability, accessibility, interoperability, and reusability) of data.
In addition to the conference being hosted in beautiful Dublin sites such as Dublin City Hall and Croke Park itself, one of the highlights of the conference was the Closing Keynote Lecture by Dr Sandra Collins, the Director of the National Library of Ireland. Speaking about preserving the personal, public, and national memory of Ireland, Dr Collins spoke eloquently about her work in preserving the Irish identity of not only extraordinary lives but also ordinary lives. Sharing personal photographs from her own family archive, she contrasts that with the National Library hard drives holding 40 terabytes of Irish website data. I particularly appreciated her acknowledgement that contemporary collecting is not neutral, so balance, representation, and inclusivity are all crucial for sharing the collective memory of the future.
An aspect that impressed me about the digital curation community was their engagement with technologies and platforms that support their work. From LIBNOVA to Software Heritage to Figshare and many other internal digital preservation and archiving platforms, different individuals and institutions trusted the software they used and worked collaboratively to problem solve and provide suggestions to how tools should be developed. Speaking to conference attendees, most were content with their provider. It would be interesting to hear more about why certain organisations used one particular platform over another. In future IDCCs and unconferences, I look forward to engaging with wider discussions on considering different digital curation regimes for specific causes, whether that may be ethical pursuits, data protection from the perspective of the data provider, or archiving tools for publications.
IDCC left me with a lot of food for thought on the importance of collaborative work in order to identify what should be preserved, how the data should be preserved, and what social, technical, and ethical considerations need to be made in the curation process. With the insights learnt from the conference, I aim to consider some of the case studies presented in presentations from IDCC to ease the process of protecting the personal data of individuals and groups beyond ethics boards, ethics codes, and data protection impact assessments.
Thank you to the IDCC Committee for organising a great conference and to Springer Nature for sponsoring my attendance at IDCC. For more information on my work, please visit my website at https://janiswong.org. A Conference Pre-print of my IDCC paper ‘Co-creating Autonomy: Group data protection and individual self-determination within a data commons’ will be published on the International Journal of Digital Curation website at http://www.ijdc.net/index.