Pool Nordic Competencies!

Michaela Barth, PDC

The national e-infrastructure providers in the Nordic countries possess a wide range of competencies within the operation and development of services if we consider their combined resources. However, this competence is partially fragmented and is not coordinated between the different countries. Thus, for NeIC – the Nordic e-Infrastructure Collaboration – to make the Nordic countries capable of tackling e-infrastructure challenges beyond what is currently possible on individual national scales, pooling competencies from the five membership countries has become imperative in order for the collaboration to succeed. 

Pooling competencies was therefore selected as one of the four focus areas in the NeIC strategy implementation plan  with the other imperative focus areas being:

  • sharing resources,
  • securing long-term funding, and
  • strengthening dialogues with stakeholders.

Each of these focus areas (“Pool competencies, Share resources, Secure long-term funding, and Strengthen stakeholder dialogue”) has its own set of activities and milestones.

The NeIC strategy implementation plan seeks to implement the strategy for the years 2016-2020 that the NeIC Board updated in 2015. This NeIC strategy update was in response to five of the ten concrete actions involving e-infrastructure in the revised Nordic eScience Action Plan  which was delivered to the Nordic Council of Ministers back in June 2015. 

The Nordic Council of Ministers responded by directing NordForsk to facilitate the implementation of the plan and consequently NeIC – which is organisationally hosted at NordForsk – was seen as the natural body to coordinate the implementation of the corresponding e-infrastructure actions.

The pooling of competencies is being pursued through the following activities: 

  1. mapping skills, as well as identifying and prioritising needs,
  2. establishing Nordic cross-border training programmes, and
  3. making NeIC more attractive for competent personnel.

Working group members, initially just for activity b), were nominated by the national e-infrastructure providers. In addition, the working group decided to combine activities a) and b) by defining the focus on training as a pilot case and by defining a common work plan for those two activities. The first step in this process was to get a deeper understanding of the training status in the different countries so the group could make comparisons and have a fruitful exchange of ideas. A series of one-to-one interviews with the national training coordinators, along with face-to-face group meetings and biweekly video calls, were all part of the process used to establish a common basis for the discussions and then produce a document giving a more or less complete training status overview.

The group's work plan and the first deliverable (that is, the document that was produced outlining the training status) are available on the NeIC Pool Competencies wiki page: wiki.neic.no/wiki/Pool_competencies .

Additionally, the pooling competencies “PoCo” working group agreed on a set of quality assured questions about training that were designed to be included in the national user surveys – both to improve the usefulness of the information that the national organizations get from these surveys, and to assess the willingness of Nordic e-infrastructure users to travel in order to benefit from training opportunities in other countries. A further achievement is the establishment of a joint training calendar (which can be plugged in to the national training websites) and a training metaportal. (This was celebrated with a big press release .) The calendar is used for coordinating and surveying the present training offerings in the Nordic countries. Findings from this calendar will be used as the basis for decisions on funding new training. A corresponding mailing list (which is not explicitly intended for the end users) is currently under testing. 

A NeIC training policy (and recommendations for corresponding national training guidelines on opening national training activities for other Nordic participants) is in progress. Furthermore, there will also be a NeIC mobility enhancement programme enabling Nordic participants to get travel grants to participate in training events in other Nordic countries. In the course of developing the training programme – which is the final goal of activity b) – the working group sketched the scope of the activities to be handled by a future training programme manager.

The other side of the coin when it comes to making training more readily accessible – namely moving the courses closer to the participants – is being achieved by creating transferable courses along the lines of the concept that NeIC is also adopting in the CodeRefinery scientific software project . To this end, the “PoCo” working group also acts as a logical reference group for proposals for additional training money available through NordForsk.

The NeIC training programme manager is taking a proactive role in finding people willing to make their courses more transferable and will eventually also coordinate the online training efforts. The NeIC mobility enhancement training programme will be run in a manner that is similar to a small NeIC project with the current “PoCo” working group as the logical steering group. The training programme manager position is currently being advertised so the training programme can start in 2017. Two people would be needed to perform a peer review of applications for the mobility enhancement grants (to travel to courses abroad within the Nordic countries), so the training programme manager and the chair of the steering group for the training programme could take care of the peer reviews. The cut-off dates for applications for the mobility enhancement grants are planned to be on the 1st and 15th of each month.

Some results from NeIC employee survey

For activity c) a NeIC employee survey with about 25 questions was created and conducted (see above). The survey took about 20 minutes to complete and received 40 responses (that is, about 85% of the NeIC staff at the time responded to the survey). The ongoing analysis of the answers will provide input to the final formulation of the corresponding employer survey. The next milestone in activity c), namely developing a NeIC Human Resources Policy, will be tackled in early 2017.

NeIC is in the process of become a driving force to further the development of competence across the entire Nordic e-infrastructure community. To achieve this, the current skills distribution needs to be mapped and matched with the current state-of-the-art within the field, and, of course, also with the needs of the e-infrastructure user communities in the Nordic countries.

In addition to the current efforts related to training, competencies will also need to be pooled in other fields. For that the NeIC Board members were asked to provide a ranking of suggested hot topics (like security or procurement) where further pooling of competencies could yield significant benefits. Data management was chosen as the number one priority where more competence mapping and pooling is clearly needed. The different Nordic countries are in different states of maturity in this field. A Nordic platform where stakeholders meet and discuss the entire life cycle of research data, as well as becoming familiar with each other's terminology and interests, will be useful. NeIC has taken the first steps to populate such a platform by accepting nominations for suitable representatives from the individual national e-infrastructure providers.

If you have further questions about NeIC activities, please contact Michaela Barth  who is the main person responsible for the NeIC “Pool Competencies” focus area.