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Digital Competence Center (DCC) can respond even better to institutes’ wishes

Implementation Plan Investments Digital Research Infrastructure facilitates exploration of AI applications

Since 2021, NWO-I has had a Digital Competence Center (DCC), which is led by Reinder Radersma. This DCC was established to support researchers at the NWO Institutes in data and software use. On 1 May this year, Olga Minaeva was appointed to support Reinder. Her appointment is partly due to the institutes’ wish for workshops that will give them more insight into new digital techniques, such as artificial intelligence (AI) applications. What does the DCC do and what are its plans for the coming period? Reinder and Olga tell us more about this.

Digital skills and advice

The DCC was established to help researchers at the NWO Institutes develop digital skills and to advise them about making their data and software accessible. Reinder: “Examples are learning to program in Python, but also how researchers should manage data and how they can use version management when they write software. NWO encourages the use of data and software according to the FAIR principle. FAIR is an acronym for Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable. This aligns with the NWO Open Science policy, which strives for complete Open Access publication of scientific articles and research data insofar as that is possible.”

Tackling problems through cooperation

Besides setting up training and workshops, Reinder also leads a steering group from within the DCC, which includes representatives from all institutes, who together discuss interests or questions from the institutes. “Colleagues at the institutes know exactly who they must approach in their own organisation regarding digital issues, but if these experts do not have an immediate answer, then we discuss the issue in the group. A case in point is ‘how to deal with data repositories’, the locations where researchers store data during or after a research project. Tackling such problems through cooperation is a more efficient approach than having each institute tackle such issues by themselves”, says Reinder.

Using AI in a secure manner

During her PhD at the University of Groningen, new colleague Olga Minaeva learned a lot about data science and programming and gained experience with the use of AI (artificial intelligence) tools such as ChatGPT. She is extremely interested in AI and within the DCC, Olga’s knowledge of AI tool supplements Reinder’s expertise. Olga is positive about the possibilities of AI: “The use of these tools saves researchers a lot of time that they can then devote to other work. AI is here to stay. So, if we now learn how to use AI correctly, then we are in control of how we will deploy it in the future. Of course, there are risks attached to using AI and you need to recognise those. Do not let yourself get carried away by all the possibilities that AI offers. I will be giving advice about how you can use AI in a way that is legal as well as secure for both people and data.”


Reinder has positive experiences with using ChatGPT to write texts and for coding: “ChatGPT provides an explanation about what you want to do, provides an example and subsequently explains what you have achieved.” Olga adds that ChatGPT also finds errors in codes: “That is particularly frustrating if you are programming in R (a coding language, ed.) and get an error message. It could be about a comma that you failed to notice, or the data has the wrong format, but you can’t be sure. If you ask ChatGPT what went wrong, then it will give a repair proposal. Sometimes ChatGPT makes a mistake and then corrects this with ‘my apologies, this is my correct answer’.”

Implementation Plan Investments in Digital Research Infrastructure

Reinder explains the new position at DCC is funded by money from the ‘Implementation Plan Investments in Digital Research Infrastructure’. On behalf of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, NWO carried out activities in two main areas: computer facilities and digitisation. The main part of the funding went to the new supercomputer Snellius (at SURF) and the rest went to the establishment of the TDCCs (thematic DCCs), DCCs, and the Netherlands eScience Center, which all work on digitalisation. Reinder explains that the NWO-I DCC and the eScience Center often work together: “We provide the basic workshops and they provide the advanced trainings. Sometimes we organise a training together, such as last year about astronomical data science. There are various successful collaborations between NWO-I Institutes and the eScience Center too. Much fruitful exchange also exists within SURF (the cooperation of Dutch education and research institutions in which the members consolidate their digital strengths, ed.), which NWO is a member of.”

Sustainable further development

At the beginning of March, NWO published the outcomes of the positive evaluation of the implementation plan, with the recommendation to the NWO Executive Board that key points from the implementation plan should be developed further in a sustainable manner. This is part of the framework NWO Strategy 2023-2026 ‘Science Works!’. This strategy includes ambitions for a robust system and unhindered collaboration, such as better support of researchers concerning digitisation, including an effective and efficient set of funding instruments. These ambitions of NWO are in line with recommendations from the evaluation.

Reinder and Olga are now ready for their first joint activity: They will conduct brainstorming sessions at the institutes to itemise the training needs for using AI applications.

More information

You can find more information via the theme page DCC on the NWO-I website.

Text: Anita van Stel

Newsletter Inside NWO-I, June 2024
You can find the 
archive of the newsletter Inside NWO-I on the NWO-I website.

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