Towards a Cyberinfrastructure for Enhanced Scientific Collaboration: Providing its 'Soft' Foundations May Be the Hardest Part
24 Pages Posted: 10 Jan 2009 Last revised: 18 Jan 2009
Date Written: August 1, 2004
A new generation of information and communication infrastructures, including advanced Internet computing and Grid technologies, promises to enable more direct and shared access to more widely distributed computing resources than was previously possible. Scientific and technological collaboration, consequently, is more and more coming to be seen as critically dependent upon effective access to, and sharing of digital research data, and of the information tools that facilitate data being structured for efficient storage, search, retrieval, display and higher level analysis. The February 2003 report of the Atkins Committee to the US NSF Directorate of Computer and Information System Engineering urged that funding be provided for a major enhancement of computer and network technologies, thereby creating a cyberinfrastructure whose facilities would support and transform the conduct of scientific and engineering research. The articulation of this programmatic vision reflects a widely shared expectation that solving the technical engineering problems associated with the advanced hardware and software systems of the cyberinfrastructure will yield revolutionary payoffs by empowering individual researchers and increasing the scale, scope and flexibility of collective research enterprises. Animated by much the same vision, the UK e-Science Core Programme has been engaged in developing an array of open standards middleware platforms, intended to support Grid enabled science and engineering research. This paper, however, argues that engineering breakthroughs alone will not be enough to achieve the outcomes envisaged for these undertakings. Success in realizing the potential of e-Science - and other global collaborative activities supported by the 'cyberinfrastructure '- if it is to be achieved, will more likely be the resultant of a nexus of interrelated social, legal and technical transformations. The socio-institutional elements of a new infrastructure supporting research collaborations - that is to say, its supposedly 'softer' (non-engineering) parts - are every bit as complicated as the hardware and computer software, and, indeed, may prove much harder to devise and implement. The roots of this latter class of challenges facing 'e-Science' lie in the micro- and meso-level incentive structures created by the existing legal and administrative regimes. Although a number of these same conditions and circumstances appear to be equally significant obstacles to commercial provision of Grid services in inter-organizational contexts, the domain of publicly supported scientific collaboration will provide a more hospitable environment in which to experiment with a variety of new approaches to solving these problems. Towards that end, several 'solution modalities' can be proposed that feature a modular contractual approach to the flexible design of research collaboration agreements. The basic principles and the institutional mode of implementation that will be suggested are sufficiently general that they could also be made applicable for fields of information-intensive collaboration in business and finance that must regularly transcend organizational boundaries.
Keywords: e-Science, cyberinfrastructure, research collaborations, information technology, Grid computing, Grid services, legal institutions, intellectual property rights, inter-organizational contracts
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