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Information Management, in situ: the value of embedding an IM in a Synthesis Working Group

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Issue: 
Spring 2011

M.Gastil-Buhl (MCR)

Moorea Coral Reef investigators commenced a series of monthly “Data Mining Workshops” this year. When I was asked to attend I did not know what to expect.

“Data Mining Workshops provide an invaluable opportunity for MCR LTER researchers to come together and synthesize across many different data products. One goal of all LTER sites is that the site should be more than the sum of its component datasets. It is this opportunity to bring together multiple investigators with different points of view and the collection of datasets they bring that provide added value to LTER site science. [These workshops have] catalyzed some important science breakthroughs.” – Andrew Brooks, MCR Deputy Program Director and investigator

It has been exciting to participate in these workshops and to witness the moment when one investigator sees a connection between their own data and another investigator’s data. Hearing them ask details about each other’s data products gives me clues about what metadata I could add to more fully describe those in the catalog. Several MCR data packages have been enhanced following suggestions made during these workshops.

Our workshop format is participatory, very show-and-tell. We look at each other’s data, all sitting around the same table. Sometimes they jump out of their seats to write on the whiteboard.

“Originally we formed these workshops to get more information from our time series, to explore ways to more fully integrate components of the time series program. We saw these workshops as a way to help us address some fundamental science questions as well as bringing us together as a more integrated group. Different from a big science meeting where there are presentations and questions, these are working meetings. Disparate interests can come together in ways that we might not have seen otherwise.” – Alice Alldredge, workshop convener and MCR investigator

Individual investigators first mined their own data, highlighting trends which might be explained by data from another discipline. From that impetus, collaborations have formed between investigators who had not previously fully taken advantage of the opportunity to work together.

Having an IM embedded in a science workshop helps both the IM and the scientists. I learn how to better serve their needs. I observe which data discovery tools are working well for them and specific ways to improve those tools.  The best training for better informatics is to witness the dataset synthesis process. Local workshops are a microcosm of network-wide synthesis projects. Network data synthesis working groups can benefit from inclusion of an IM on their team.  The working group gains a participant knowledgeable about data catalogs, formats, and the NIS; the IM gains the broader perspective of network synthesis.