In March 2006, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) held the first Scientific Information Management (SIM) Workshop in Reston, Virginia. The workshop brought together more than 150 SIM professionals from across the organization to discuss the range and importance of SIM problems, identify common challenges and solutions, and investigate the use and value of “communities of practice” (CoP) as mechanisms to address these issues.
The 3-day workshop began with presentations of SIM challenges faced by the Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) network and two USGS programs from geology and hydrology. These presentations were followed by a keynote address and discussion of CoP by Dr. Etienne Wenger, a pioneer and leading expert in CoP, who defined them as "groups of people who share a passion for something that they know how to do and who interact regularly to learn how to do it better." Wenger addressed the roles and characteristics of CoP, how they complement formal organizational structures, and how they can be fostered. Following this motivating overview, five panelists (including Dr. Wenger) with CoP experience in different institutional settings provided their perspectives and lessons learned. The first day closed with an open discussion on the potential intersection of SIM at the USGS with SIM challenges and the potential for CoP.
The second session began the process of developing a common vocabulary for both scientific data management and CoP, and a list of eight guiding principles for information management were proposed for discussion and constructive criticism. Following this discussion, 20 live demonstrations and posters of SIM tools developed by various USGS programs and projects were presented.
Two community-building sessions were held to explore the next steps in 12 specific areas: Archiving of Scientific Data and Information; Database Networks; Digital Libraries; Emerging Workforce; Field Data for Small Research Projects; Knowledge Capture; Knowledge Organization Systems and Controlled Vocabularies; Large Time Series Data Sets; Metadata; Portals and Frameworks; Preservation of Physical Collections; and Scientific Data from Monitoring Programs. In about two-thirds of these areas, initial steps to forming CoP are now underway.
The final afternoon included a panel in which information professionals, managers, program coordinators, and associate directors shared their perspectives on the workshop, on ways in which the USGS could better manage its scientific information, and on the use of CoP as informal mechanisms to complement formal organizational structures. The final session focused on developing the next steps, an action plan, and a communication strategy to ensure continued development.