Background and Terms of Reference for an ad hoc Strategic Committee on Information and Data (SCID)



The nature and use of scientific data and information, the conditions under which scientific data and information are produced, distributed, and managed, and the role of scientists and other actors in these processes have been changing rapidly in recent years.  These changes are partly a result of the revolution in computational capacity and connectivity that together have expanded the quality and quantity of research data.  They are also related to the emergence of new questions in scientific research that require different types of data.  Taken together, these changes are providing scientists throughout the world with more and enhanced access to research data and information.  The benefits of this include the growing involvement of scientists in international research projects and increased scientific and policy interest in global scale and comparative research activities.

The Priority Area Assessment (PAA) on Scientific Data and Information (ICSU 2004) includes over 50 recommendations on future needs and priorities.  It highlights the importance of professional data and information management and the need to build capacity in this area in all countries; the importance of coordination within the ICSU family and beyond, and the need to modernize or replace existing structures. Its overall conclusion is that there is a need for a new coordinated global approach to scientific data and information.  It is recognized that such an approach will require considerable national and international investment but the potential returns in the longer-term are enormous.

ICSU Strategy

On the basis of the PAA recommendations, the ICSU Strategic Plan, 2006-2011 (pp41-42), includes the following goal:

“To facilitate a new coordinated global approach to scientific data and information that ensures equitable access to quality data and information for research, education and informed decision-making.”

In order to achieve this it proposes that ICSU will establish an ad hoc Strategic Committee on Information and Data (SCID) and also explore the need for multi-stakeholder Scientific Data and Information Forum (SciDIF).


A number of specific commitments with regards to the re-focusing of ICSU’s existing data and information services are made, including:


-        The World Data Centre (WDC) system and the Federation of Astronomical and Geophysical data Services (FAGS) will be reformed taking account of user needs, including those of existing and new ICSU programmes.  This will form part of development of the broader strategic framework for data and information.

-        The Committee on Data for Science and Technology (CODATA) will be encouraged to develop a long –term strategy.



An ad hoc Strategic Committee on Information and Data (SCID)


The proposed remit for SCID is to oversee the implementation of the key recommendations in the PAA report and in particular those that concern ICSU Interdisciplinary Bodies.  A key conclusion of the PAA was that ICSU should foster greater communication, coordination, and collaboration within and across members of the ICSU community and with other partners on issues, practices and structures for scientific data management. A multi-stakeholder Scientific Data and Information Forum (SciDIF) was proposed as a mechanism to achieve this.  However, since the publication of the PAA report a number of significant multi-stakeholder forums have already been established.  These include  the planning exercise for a Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) and the launching of a Global Information Commons for Science Initiative, both of which have been supported by ICSU.  The electronic Geophysical Year (eGY) is also acting as a focus for coordination and collaboration on data issues and the International Polar Year is having a federating effect on all those involved in data and information management as regards polar research.  The need and potential structure, for SciDIF needs to be re-evaluated by the ad hoc Committee (SCID) in the light of these developments.  


Reform of WDC and FAGS


The World Data Center system consists of over forty designated World Data Centers (WDCs), which collect, manage, and distribute a wide range of defined geophysical, solar and environmental data. The World Data Center programme was created during the International Geophysical Year of 1957-1958, and in 1968, ICSU established a Panel on World Data Centers to coordinate and monitor the activities of the centers. Financial support for specific WDCs is obtained from a variety of sources, usually national governments.


FAGS was established in 1956 and includes 12 permanent data services, each operating under the authority of one or more of the three sponsoring unions: Astronomy, Geodesy and Geophysics and Radio Science. The services are maintained nationally and their role is to collect, analyze, interpret, and disseminate observations, information and data related to astronomy and geophysics.  The services are independent, but ICSU and the union co-sponsors contribute to the overarching coordinating function which is performed by the Council of the Federation.


The PAA on Data and Information, as well as an earlier PAA on The Environment and its Relation to Sustainable Development (ICSU, 2003), concluded that, whilst there are distinctions between the WDCs and FAGS, both networks need restructuring to meet the current and future needs of the international scientific community. For example, both the geographical and disciplinary spread of these networks is still principally dictated by the nature of the International Geophysical Year 50 years ago. 




CODATA was established as an ICSU interdisciplinary body in 1966. Its principal objectives are improvement of the quality and accessibility of scientific data, as well as the methods by which data are acquired, managed and analyzed; the facilitation of international cooperation on data issues; the promotion of awareness of data issues in the science and technology community; and consideration of data access and intellectual property issues.  Its core funding (~€200,000 per annum) comes from member subscriptions.  It has 23 national members and 15 international union members. A mixture of policy and operational activities are performed mainly by special task groups, which are established and/or renewed at biennial general conferences. It also organizes a number of ad hoc activities and was actively involved in the World Summit on the Information Society (Geneva, 2002, Tunis, 2005), which has led to the development of a Global Information Commons for Science Initiative (GICSI) . These activities are coordinated by an Executive Director based in Paris, who is supported in her direction by an Executive Board.


The PAA on Data and Information observed that “the recent direction of CODATA  is to be complimented for its energy and foresight”.  However there was some concern as to the lack of future focus and strategy.  It concluded that:


“CODATA should develop a clear long-term strategy that focuses on key international data management and policy issues, giving special attention to the needs of developing countries.”






Terms of Reference for an ad hoc Strategic Committee on Information and Data (SCID)


Taking the report of the CSPR Assessment Panel on Scientific Data and Information as its starting point, and in the light of developments subsequent to that report:


  1. To guide and oversee the reform of the World Data Centre (WDC) system and Federation of Astronomical and Geophysical data analysis Services (FAGS);


  1. to liaise with CODATA in the development of its strategic plan;


  1. to advise CSPR on any other actions that might be appropriate for ICSU to consider in order to facilitate a coordinated global approach to scientific data and information, including the potential need for a Scientific Data and Information Forum (SciDIF).

Proposed ad hoc Committee Membership


The membership should include a number of independent data experts covering both the provider and user perspectives.  It should include representatives of the following bodies/activities:














September 06   CSPR agrees ToR for ad hoc committee

Sept-Dec         consultation with relevant bodies on Membership

Feb 07             CSPR agrees final membership

April O7           Unions meeting

May 07            WDC Directors meeting (attended by members of ad hoc committee)

July 07             1st meet. of ad hoc committee (plans for WDC/FAGS reform)

Sept 07            interim report to CSPR

Nov 07            2nd meet. of ad hoc committee

Feb 08             report to CSPR

March 08         3rd meet of ad hoc committee

October 08      General Assembly



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