Why is EBRAINS engaging in community building activities?

EBRAINS has made a commitment to build a scientific research infrastructure that empowers empirical and theoretical neuroscience that is of relevance to a highly diverse and collaborative neuroscience community. We understand that ‘the success of the EBRAINS research infrastructure will depend on its ability to mobilise the relevant scientific communities that make use of the infrastructure provisions’. In line with this, the Human Brain Project is encouraging the growth of EBRAINS users and collaborators through the development of EBRAINS communities for members that in a diversity of ways can gain and contribute to activities of the infrastructure.

Inclusive community building has therefore become a central part of the strategy for infrastructure development and a dedicated task for this has been created within the central infrastructure work package. Also, all work packages of the Human Brain Project are encouraged to pool resources to ensure that the goal of building an inclusive EBRAINS community is realised. For Work Package 9 – Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) – this has meant building on the successes of its extensive stakeholder engagement activities in previous years and seizing new opportunities to engage with the wider neuroscience community. Within this work package (along with collaborating tasks in other work packages) there is an understanding that inclusive community building offers a unique opportunity to integrate RRI principles and practice into the developing EBRAINS communities.

Is there need for an EBRAINS community in Africa? 

The simple answer is yes. This is because the neuroscientists in Africa are a potential user community that are currently not engaged with EBRAINS and it means that Neuroscientific data from this region is not adequately represented in the infrastructure and cannot influence the ongoing translational research being conducted. This raises questions about the suitability and applicability of products of therapeutic value that are derived from EBRAINS for the African populace.

To bridge this gap, members of the RRI group within the Human Brain Project have begun to reach out to neuroscience communities in Africa. One way we have done this has been through networking and participation in neuroscience events in Africa. For example, we participated in the recently concluded 18th Scientific & Annual General Meeting of the Nigeria Society of Neuroscience (NSN) where a four-part symposium lasting 90 minutes was presented. During the symposium, Bernd Stahl introduced the HBP and EBRAINS to the attendees and briefly described the past 7 years of the Human Brain Project and explained how the African neuroscience community can benefit from and contribute to EBRAINS. Next, Simi Akintoye gave a talk about “the Importance of Data Protection and Governance in Neuroscience” where she highlighted some of the data protection and governance issues in neuroscience. This was followed by myself, George Ogoh. I gave a presentation on RRI in neuroscience and described RRI, the various approaches, and its importance in neuroscience. Damian Eke concluded the symposium with a presentation on the African BioData Foundation, a non-profit organisation that seeks to provide solutions to many of the storage-related challenges that African neuroscientists and others in the life sciences face.

Arrangements are also being made for EBRAINS to participate in events organised by the Society of Neuroscientists of Africa (SONA). SONA is a non-profit organisation registered in Nairobi, Kenya and is the umbrella organisation of the neuroscience societies and groups spread all over Africa. It holds biennial international conferences and many of these are joint conferences with national neuroscience bodies. It is also affiliated with the International Brain Research Organisation (IBRO) and supported financially by the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS) through travel grants. Talks have reached an advanced state for EBRAINS to present a symposium in the forthcoming 15th SONA/ 4th Ghana Neuroscience Society Conference which is scheduled to take place on October 27 – 30, 2021. This event which is being hosted in Accra, Ghana will take place in a hybrid format, where some attendees will be physically present while others will attend virtually using online video conferencing tools.

In conclusion…

The success of the EBRAINS research infrastructure depends on its ability to mobilise relevant scientific communities to contribute to and utilise the resources and tools that the infrastructure provides. Recognising the importance of being inclusive and having a diverse set of users, the African neuroscience community are being invited to make the most of the infrastructure provisions. Events like those organised by SONA are of strategic importance to EBRAINS because they bring together a large community of neuroscientists and provides an opportunity to develop new EBRAINS user communities. It also opens great opportunities for attendees to learn how to responsibly use the growing tools, services and resources offered by the EBRAINS research infrastructure to expand their research.

About the author

George Ogoh is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility, De Montfort University working in the the EU Flagship Human Brain Project.

Stahl, B.C., Akintoye, S., Bitsch, L., Bringedal, B., Eke, D., Farisco, M., Grasenick, K., Guerrero, M., Knight, W., Leach, T., Nyholm, S., Ogoh, G. Rosemann, A., Trattnig, J., Ulnicane, I. (2021) From Responsible Research and Innovation to responsibility by design. Journal of Responsible Innovation, pp. 1–24.

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