Building the plane as you fly: The truth behind the development of a research infrastructure

Hi y’all!

Greetings from Käärijä’s land. My name is Anna Sendra Toset and I’m currently working as a Project Manager at Tampere University for the DARIAH-FI research infrastructure (RI). I joined this fantastic group of people back in August 2022, and my work since then has mainly consisted in trying to reveal the needs and expectations of Finnish social sciences and humanities (SSH) scholars regarding this new facility. To this end, we conducted up to 34 semi-structured interviews between September 2022 and February 2023 with potential end-users of different backgrounds, both related and unrelated to the development of DARIAH-FI. Participants, which included SSH scholars and computer/data scientists, were recruited via internal communication channels and taking advantage of the roadshow events organized to present the RI in various universities around Finland.

Photo by Anna Sendra Toset from the roadshow event at University of Helsinki

When thinking about the conversations we had with all these potential end-users, the first thing that comes to my mind is that developing a RI for conducting data intensive SSH research is not an easy task. This is not new, and I’m not going to detail here all the factors that influence the creation of a facility like DARIAH-FI, but I can safely say they are plenty. These elements are sometimes complementary, sometimes contradictory. For instance, one example of contradictory factors are flexibility and user-friendliness. According to our data, most participants want to work with easy-to-use resources, but at the same time value the possibility of adapting whatever thing they’re using to their research questions. The problem remains that a resource cannot be both at the same time. What a crossroads, am I right?

The second thing that comes to my mind is that, of all the factors, the ones that seem to be at the core of the needs and expectations of Finnish SSH scholars are continuity and support. Regarding continuity, there are many examples across all the interviews of resources used by the participants that stopped working or that continue to work but now have been discontinued. Concerning support, participants’ testimonies clearly highlight that the fields of digital humanities (DH) and computational social sciences (CSS) lack the documentation, educational materials and even staff assistants needed to support SSH research processes. Altogether, this affects the sustainability of a RI, not to mention how all the effort and development work eventually becomes useless.

The latter need/expectation connects to the third thing that comes to my mind in relation to the conversations we had with all these potential end-users. Except for University of Helsinki, it seems that most higher education institutions in Finland need to undergo a paradigm shift in terms of education in DH and CSS. Overall, available courses, workshops, and other academic activities aimed at learning DH and CSS related skills are scarce. If they exist, then the problem is that the courses, workshops, and other academic activities aren’t tailored enough to the needs and expectations of Finnish SSH scholars (e.g., they are addressed to all skill levels at the same time). Still, the role that DARIAH-FI needs to have within this paradigm shift remains to be seen, as this transformation is something that goes beyond the creation of this new facility.

Photo by Brendan Church on Unsplash

In his post of October 2022, Risto Turunen (aka the National Coordinator for the RI) wrote that DARIAH-FI wants “to solve those big problems that cannot be solved by any individual researcher or research group”. In compliance with the interviews, the difficulty here not only lies in the variety of these big problems, but also in the capacity of determining which of these issues the RI should address so that the facility is as representative and useful as possible to all the Finnish SSH research community. While this adds a layer of complexity in terms of development, it also makes things more fun and exciting for us. As one of the participants stated, our work feels like building a plane as we fly it. This expression becomes even more precise when considering that it will be necessary to have constant dialogue with the end-users of DARIAH-FI along the way.

With all this in mind, if you work in Finland and would like to have a say on what the future will look like (or you did already, but want to repeat), we hope that you will join us in this adventure. There are many questions that remain unresolved, and we need your help to find the answers. For example, you can participate in some of the activities organized by the RI (*cough* upcoming DARIAH-FI (public) workshop in the autumn *cough*). In the meantime, we encourage you to follow our updates and keep an eye out for scientific publications that will explain what we have hinted here in more detail.

See you (hopefully) soon!

Anna Sendra Toset, Project Manager at Tampere University for DARIAH-FI

DARIAH-FI: YLEISET KYSYMYKSET

DARIAH-FI: GENERAL

DARIAH-KONTTORI:

Turun yliopisto

Veronika Laippala

DARIAH-KONTTORI:

Jyväskylän yliopisto

Tanja Välisalo

DARIAH-KONTTORI:

Itä-Suomen yliopisto

Paula Rautionaho

DARIAH-KONTTORI:

Oulun yliopisto

Marika Rauhala

DARIAH-KONTTORI:

Aalto-yliopisto

Eero Hyvönen

DARIAH-KONTTORI:

Helsingin yliopisto

Risto Turunen

DARIAH-KONTTORI:

TampereEN YLIOPISTO

Sanna Kumpulainen

DARIAH-KONTTORI:

Suomen Kansalliskirjasto

Johanna Lilja

DARIAH-KONTTORI:

CSC – Tieteen tietotekniikan keskus

Katri Tegel

DARIAH-FI OFFICE:

CSC – IT Centre for Science

Katri Tegel

DARIAH-FI OFFICE:

National Library of Finland

Johanna Lilja

DARIAH-FI OFFICE:

Tampere University

Sanna Kumpulainen

DARIAH-FI OFFICE:

Aalto University

Eero Hyvönen

DARIAH-FI OFFICE:

University of Oulu

Marika Rauhala

DARIAH-FI OFFICE:

University of Eastern Finland

Paula Rautionaho

DARIAH-FI OFFICE:

Jyväskylä University

Venla Poso

DARIAH-FI OFFICE:

University of Turku

Veronika Laippala