A sneak peek into the SSH component of EOSC: interview with the SSHOC Marketplace team

From the beginning of 2019, DARIAH is contributing to the development of the SSH component of the European Open Science Cloud. This bold endeavour is coming to existence through the Social Sciences and Humanities Open Cloud (SSHOC) project where Europea n infrastructures: DARIAH, CLARIN, SHARE, ESS, and CESSDA (who is leading the project) teamed up to build a transformational resource for the arts, humanities and social sciences, aligned with the EOSC but also with the requirements of these research communities. Not much after the project celebrated its first year, I spoke with the DARIAH-SSHOC team, Frank Fischer, Matej Ďurčo, Laure Barbot and Clara Petitfils about how the SSH Open Marketplace is taking shape. 

  • Hi Frank, Matej, Laure and Clara from the SSHOC Team and thanks for joining us here!  Could you start off by letting us know a little bit about the SSHOC project? What kind of experiences (or frustrations :)) sparked it to life and how will it make the life of SSH researchers easier?

The SSHOC project  is one of five cluster projects that are supposed to connect disciplinary clusters to the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC). The EOSC is the European Commission’s “virtual environment with open and seamless services for storage, management, analysis and re-use of research data, across borders and scientific disciplines”, if we follow the definition. In the SSHOC project, DARIAH partners with the other Research Infrastructures from the SSH domain (CESSDA, CLARIN, ESS, SHARE) and dozens of European partner institutions to include our disciplines in the shaping of the EOSC. We want to further the innovation of infrastructural support for digital scholarship.

In concrete terms, we see an urgent need within the Social Sciences & Humanities communities to have a dedicated place where they can discover and exchange information about the variety of tools they use for their scholarly work. To make it a reality, DARIAH is a leader of the work package that revolves around the building of the so-called SSH Open Marketplace, but also contributing to many subtasks of the larger project. The SSH Open Marketplace sets out to be a discovery portal which assembles and contextualises tools, services, training materials and datasets useful for SSH research communities, proposing solutions for every step of SSH research data life cycles.

  • How should we imagine this marketplace, will it be a one-stop shop, an app store or none of these?

Rather than another catalogue, what we aim with the SSH Open Marketplace is to build a “well-stocked workshop” as we describe it in the system specification. The metaphor suggests that we won’t only offer tools, but also good advice. This good advice will come in the form of three key aspects: curation, contextualisation, and community support.
Curation means we will have both manual and automatic measures in place to continuously monitor and amend the quality of the information.
Contextualisation means interlinking related pieces of information into a kind of knowledge graph.

The third pillar,  community, stands for the additional input we will invite from the users, as well as the possibility for the users to exchange among each other.

Of course, all three aspects come with  complex technical and human challenges. We need to be able to provide a place where it’s easy to discover and browse into a rich collection of tools, services, training materials or additional resources (like chosen datasets or relevant research papers) that enlightens and facilitates the use of open methods, but also to build a collaborative portal, easy to improve with simple and quick contributions for those interested in contributing to the curation effort. 

  • Abandoned platforms and previous failed attempts to create an infrastructure for shared technology services in SSH teach us important lessons. It seems that shared tools and deposited datasets are not only meant to deliver information and services, but they are also meant to maintain social groups and exchange around them. In the light of this, how should we imagine the social life of the marketplace? 

You’re right, it’s one of the major challenges we have to face with the creation of the Marketplace! We really take experiences and recommendations of previous projects (like Project Bamboo, or the DiRT directory) or ongoing ones (Standardisation Survival Kit, OpenMethods to cite just a few of them) seriously.

Collective curation is not an easy process to set up, especially when you have to deal with a diversity of disciplines, practices and standards.

We won’t have magic answers here, but we pay a great deal of attention to stay as close as possible to existing research communities and infrastructures. In that respect, it’s a great chance to build the SSH Open Marketplace in the European Open Science Cloud context, in which SSHOC promotes a “human centric” infrastructure. Concretely, we’ve started the creation of the Marketplace involving the (future) users and contributors since the beginning, via interviews or workshops. We plan to continue with focus groups or hands-on sessions. The SSHOC project can also count on a very dynamic team, led by LIBER, that organises training events and network activities to support the SSH Open Marketplace. 

  • What are scholars’ options to contribute to SSHOC, to enrich the Marketplace or to host their own digital scholarly outputs? How will their contributions be rewarded? 

Scholars are already engaged in the creation process of the Marketplace: as mentioned before, we based all the specifications on interviews with researchers, workshops and focus-groups to help us to implement technical solutions informed by real research practices. We also aim at creating a “follow-up users group”. As soon as editorial functions are implemented and the first data populate the SSH Open Marketplace, it will also be easier to contribute. If I try to summarize, scholars can be involved in the MP as test-users; very soon as content providers (submitting content or commenting/improving existing one); later on as ambassadors or trainers to disseminate the use of the portal or as members of the editorial team. Rewarding processes will be determined for each of these possible contributions.

Obviously, the first thing to implement is the possibility to give credit for the work done by contributors. We are also thinking about gamification processes in the curation that could eventually lead to concrete support for the more active contributors (travel grants for workshops or  conferences organised by the maintainers of the MP for example).

All these questions are closely related to the sustainability plan that will be developed during the next two years.   

  • Truly serving user needs while at the same time eliminating fears about working with a shared European cloud was a core preliminary requirement that governed the development of the Marketplace. What are your most important findings that shaped the design of the Marketplace? 

I don’t think there was an actual fear nor reluctance regarding a shared European cloud infrastructure: unfortunately, this kind of political initiative is still too far fetched from researchers’ daily habits and needs. I would rather say they were quite curious and for some eager to learn more about this form of initiative! That’s also why we got rather concrete feedback during the interviews; researchers were willing to help contribute to the design of the SSH Open Marketplace by providing precious insights.

The most important feature identified was the need to gather and contextualize what exists so far: many agreed that there were many tools and services available for them, but that they weren’t really able to find them or to properly use them. That’s why the contextualization of solutions is today one of the core aspects of the Marketplace we’re developing. 

  • +1: a personal question: you mentioned serendipity as an especially valuable component of discovery in the context of scholarly workflows . Was (is) it also present in the design phase of the Marketplace? What are the most interesting takeaways/lessons you learned so far during your work on the Marketplace? 

Indeed, serendipity is one of the fundamental aspects  of the SSH Open Marketplace, especially when it comes to the solutions or workflows the platform will suggest to its users. And I’d say it is present during the design phase, yes. Not only because we’re trying to set up a browsing experience based on “generous interface” principles – thanks to Andrea Scharnhorst, one of our DARIAHn colleagues from DANS for the Mitchell Whitelaw reference – but also because our work is in itself the result of a wide range of expertise. Investigating previous work about digital methods in SSH or other attempts for tools or services registries is also a way to (re)discover the beautiful achievements of research infrastructures communities. From the SSHOC WP3 report on (meta)data interoperability problems, to the results of the DARIAH DIMPO working group we used to build our user requirements work, through the experience of collaboration between CLARIN and DARIAH to run a common service (the DH Course Registry): we are reusing building blocks here! 

And indeed, mixing the rich variety of skills, it sometimes leads to exciting findings. That’s how we started the ToolXtractor experimentation. We wanted to find a way to see which DH tools were actually used in research, and it appears that it’s actually sometimes that will use in the SSH Open Marketplace context because it will help us to create the context we need between the contents we will showcase. 

Stay tuned! We will have soon a lot more to share about the SSH Open Marketplace! And if you are already curious, register on the SSHOC website to know more, or write us directly!

Thank you for your time! It has been great to learn more about the Marketplace. We are looking forward to the first possibilities to test it!

Images to this post were kindly provided by the SSHOC team for reuse.Source:https://sshopencloud.eu.

You can read the SSHOC deliverables here: https://zenodo.org/communities/sshoc/?page=1&size=20

Cite this article as: Erzsébet Tóth-Czifra, "A sneak peek into the SSH component of EOSC: interview with the SSHOC Marketplace team," in DARIAH Open, 19/03/2020, https://dariahopen.hypotheses.org/834.


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