The Next Phase
The UK has been an Observer of CLARIN European Research Infrastructure Consortium since 2015, and has been officially admitted last week as an Observer for a second three-year period. This has been achieved largely thanks to lots of hard work from Paul Meller of AHRC, and Andrew Prescott of Glasgow University. Countries are admitted as Observers in order to prepare a proposal for full membership, to build a national consortium, and to develop infrastructure at the national level. CLARIN is all about services to support the use of digital language data and tools in research across the humanities and social sciences. There are currently 20 full members and 4 observers.
The UK pays a fee for membership, which is now being handled by the AHRC, as part of UKRI. This level of membership makes researchers in the UK eligible for certain CLARIN funding opportunities, mainly involving travel and event participation. There is currently no direct funding for our activities from UK or European funders. In the current political situation, it should be noted that membership of CLARIN, or any of the European Research Infrastructure Consortiums, is not dependent on membership of the European Union. South Africa and Iceland have also recently been admitted as Observers.
As well as exploring possibilities for collaborating with CLARIN partners across Europe, we have the opportunity to contribute to the development of national research infrastructure roadmap. There will be an important consultation period early next year, when we can pass information to AHRC and ESRC regarding requirements and existing infrastructure services (more on this at https://www.ukri.org/research/infrastructure/).
The new arrangements for research funding in they UK present an opportunity for infrastructure initiatives such as CLARIN. Previously, we have struggled in the arts and humanities with the lack of an agency with direct responsibiliy for this area, a lack of funding, and the lack of a process to define a national roadmap. These barriers all appear to have gone away now, and we should try to take advantage of this opportunity.
Strengthening and extending the consortium
The CLARIN-UK consortium currently consists of eleven centres, which have contributed towards the activities and the payment of the fees in the initial three-year period. The plan now is to extend participationin CLARIN-UK to more universities and research organizations, a process which should be eased by the disappearance of the necessity for a financial commitment. Other centres are welcome to submit details of their unit, key staff, evetns, news, software, and datasets for the website, and to participate in meetings and other activities. The main criteria for inclusion on the website are that there is a strong relation to digital language data or tools, the UK and academic research, and that there is a commitment to sharing and connecting data and tools to support research.
One of the most important ways to push for full membership of CLARIN and a place on the national infrastructure will be to show that we have as wide a support as possible, and to demonstrate high levels of uptake and impact of digital language resources and tools.
How can we get involved with CLARIN at the European level?
There is much scope for involvement at the technical level. This can involve connecting software as web services to the Language Resources Switchboard. Metadata records for datasets and software can shared with the Virtual Language Observatory. Corpus search results can be offered for aggregation in the Federated Content Search. CLARIN Federation authentication can be used to authorize use of online resources to users in other countries via Shibboleth. Courses and summer schools can be advertised in the Digital Humanities Course Registry. Centres offering services can apply for certification as official CLARIN centres
Other forms of participation can involve proposing papers proposed to workshops and conferences, organizing ourselves into Knowledge Centres, making workshop funding proposals, applying for mobility grants to visit other CLARIN centres or to host visitors. Opportunities will be advertised on the CLARIN-UK website.
We need to gather information about the usage, uptake and impact of our current datasets, tools and services, in order to make the case to UKRI about the importance of infrastructure for language resources and technologies. It may be that we need some funding at this stage to support this information gathering, and the other network activities, so we need to investigate how this funding might be acquired. We need to fill certain roles in this latest phase of the consortium - CLARIN expects contact points for the national coordinator, and also for user involvement, legal and ethical affairs, course registry, communications, etc. Most of these roles involve offering a small amount of time for occasional contazcts, and sometimes come with the possibility of funded travel to meetings. Volunteers are welcome!
It is expected that there will be an opportunity to have a meeting early in 2019 to discuss all of these and other issues, and to really get started with CLARIN-UK 2.0!