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[From our man in Hawai'i and Melbourne - Nick Thieberger]

The Australian government has millions of dollars that it will be spending on what it calls the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) to support new technologies in research in Australia.

"Through NCRIS, the Government is providing $542 million over 2005-2011 to provide researchers with major research facilities, supporting infrastructure and networks necessary for world-class research."

DEST released a paper outlining what it called 'capabilities' which it proposed to fund, and they were ALL in the sciences, including lots of shiny pointy instruments (synchrotron, new telescopes and so on) to do the whizzbang experiments that are so popular and capture the imagination of politicians. While the physical science community has amazing capacity to pull in big research dollars, there are not that many of them, and even fewer who actually want to use each of these very expensive instruments.

On the other hand, the Humanities, Arts and Social Science (HASS) community is huge, and also does the kind of work that, in the main, is immediately relevant to those who fund it (taxpayers). So, in the consultation that followed, the clamour of HASS proponents resulted in a new 'capability' being added to the 'roadmap', but without any funding (yet) associated with it. There will be an 'Innovation White Paper' announcement before the end of 2008, and the current roadmap leads to the White Paper.

All of this is important for us, as it is the bucket from which national infrastructure like a National Data Service may be funded, and where policies on standards for data repositories like PARADISEC will be set. It is where funding will come from for the national computer facility that houses the online version of the PARADISEC collection.

The ARC is also following these developments, and it is likely that they will be increasingly interested in seeing funding applications that understand how to create reusable and interoperable data, safely housed and described in a suitable repository. HASS researchers do not always know that they need digital infrastructure, and don't understand what it could do to change their research practices. A few exemplary projects have taken centre stage, including PARADISEC, Austlit, the Australian Social Sciences Data Archive (ASSDA), iCinema, the Spatial Information Architecture Laboratory, the Archaeological Computing Laboratory, and AUSTEHC.

A sensible approach by government could be to fund projects like these and to assist them to advocate among their peers. But this is not happening and many exemplary projects risk losing trained staff due to hiatuses in funding. A useful document about developments in what they call 'cyberinfrastructure' in HASS in the USA is the document 'Our Cultural Commonwealth'. It discusses the nature of HASS data as forming part of the public good, and details the distinctive needs and contributions that HASS researchers have for cyberinfrastructure.

Comments

Nick - thanks for sharing this with us. It sounds like it could be an exciting new development for Australia.

Note that the US National Science Foundation established an Office of Cyberinfrastructure a few years ago and is already funding projects in this area. Terry Langendoen, a linguist, was Programme Director of this NSF Office until recently.

The UK has some new initiatives in this area as well, including the AHRC Beyond Text Strategic Funding Initiative (I am on the Steering Committee), and other e-Science developments that began in 2001, including the National Centre for e-Social Science. Unfortunately, not much linguistics or language studies is supported by these developments so far.

I heard that the Expert Working Group for Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences held a workshop entitled 'HASS Capability Workshop' at ANU recently. I don't know the details but I think it was to discuss e-research in the HASS area. Does anyone have anything to report?

Kazuko, I was at that HASS expert working group meeting meeting on behalf of PARADISEC, which is what prompted me to write the blog entry originally. The Strategic Roadmap for Australian Research was released today (September 4th) and is available here:
Infrastructurehttp://www.innovation.gov.au/ScienceAndResearch/Pages/default.aspx

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