CeRDI applies eResearch and the development of innovative digital solutions to bridge the gap between academic research and government, industry and community needs.
CeRDI’s research approach is characterised by the following attributes:
- Partner engagement - listening skills and the ability to translate information from partners into research projects with outcomes that stakeholders value. CeRDI has a reputation for consistency, reliability, timeliness, credibility and excellence.
- Fostering long-term partnerships - sustained beyond the period of initial grant funding (many partnerships have continued for more than 10 years) and undertaking practical and applied research that deliver on outcomes.
- A multidisciplinary team - comprised of researchers with specific discipline expertise, technical and support staff and HDR students drawn from within the research centre and elsewhere in Federation University. Essential foundations for innovation, knowledge and technology transfer.
- A diverse portfolio - stretching across a range of disciplines, with a multiplicity of organisations contributing to overall financial sustainability.
- Prioritising a high level of co-creation - through close linkages and engagement with staff from partner organisations including researchers, government, industry and community, which catalyses knowledge mobilisation and ensures beneficial outcomes for partner organisations.
- Continuous innovation - in data federation, knowledge management, web publishing, spatial mapping, data visualisation and decision support systems.
- A leader in eResearch and digital innovation - adding value to areas of Federation University research strength, aligned with the national eResearch framework and the National Strategic Research Priorities.
At CeRDI, its approach to eResearch and digital innovation has focussed on the development of interoperable spatial knowledge systems that meet the needs of our research investors across a range of diverse disciplines. Most of these systems are collaboratively designed and developed to federate qualitative and quantitative data from disparate sources, both in the public and private sectors. The data federations are almost always provisioned as customised web-based portals that are used for data discovery, dynamic modelling and visualisation, decision support, and knowledge dissemination.
The demand for these bespoke knowledge systems has driven significant and growing investment in our research that has clustered around six core themes:
Natural Environment, including land, water and biosphere, with research investment in catchment management, citizen science, community-based monitoring, protection and conservation of threatened species, implementing environmental sensor technologies, environmental modelling and decision support systems, and monitoring, evaluation, reporting and improvement (MERI).
Agriculture, mostly focused on broad-acre farming, with research investment in precision agriculture, soil performance and health, on-farm data aggregation and visualisation (public-private data federations), farm decision support systems, on-farm sensors and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, remote and proximal sensing technologies, cropping trials, and real-time soil moisture sensing and interpolation.
Hazard Planning and Resilience, including emergency management planning and disaster recovery, with research investment in emergency services, fire, flood, landslides, coastal inundation and erosion, community engagement tools, community monitoring tools, strategic planning for emergencies and natural disasters, and planning and preparedness for climate change.
Health and Wellbeing, including social justice and regional health challenges, with investment in spatial mapping of sports and recreational activities and services, diagnostic tools to assist with dementia, tools to inform researchers and communities on health justice, alcohol use, family and domestic violence, and sport and leisure injury epidemiology.
Heritage and Culture, including Historic Urban Landscapes (HUL) and Aboriginal land management, with investment in urban planning, social perceptions, landscape amenity, tourism, and tools to support indigenous cultural assets management.
Regional Development, mainly focused on supporting regional communities in strategic planning, with investment in digital strategies and improving digital literacy, fostering smart cities, business accelerators, portals to support strategic and statutory planning in municipalities, and information portals to support regional communities.
In addition to from delivering applied research outcomes for partners and investors, CeRDI’s eResearch activities include a number of academically focused priorities categorised into its three ‘research pillars’: Data Discovery, Technological Innovation, and Longitudinal Impact.
Discoveries in the data
Almost all traditional research projects start with assembling the available literature, information and data on the topic of enquiry. Hence using eResearch technologies to quickly and easily federate information and data across multiple domains from disparate custodians provides large and novel data sets, the analysis of which can lead to new discoveries and insights in that domain.
For example, federating agricultural data (e.g. soil tests, crop and animal yields, soil moisture, weather records, fertiliser use, etc.) from a diverse range of disparate private and public sources and combining those data with environmental data (e.g. water quality, groundwater levels, flora and fauna sightings, fire history, etc.) sourced from equally disparate custodians, can quickly provide a researcher with unique evidence with which to analyse environmental stewardship on agricultural lands. Such information can be further enhanced with socio-economic data (e.g. Landcare grants, land values, bank and finance data, population and age data, etc.) to explore research questions pertaining to regional Australia. Similarly, health data, when combined with sports participation data, police data, economic data, census data, and municipal data contributes unique data sets for research in rural sociology.
Within this research pillar, projects are largely driven within the domains of the current research team and their established collaborations, especially in the three Cooperative Research Centres (CRCs) that CeRDI participates in: the CRC for High Performance Soils (Soils CRC), the Food Agility CRC (FACRC), and the Digital Health CRC (DHCRC). However, in eResearch, the opportunities for making new discoveries in large federated data sets is open to all researchers at Federation University.
Innovations in technologies
Interoperability, the means by which data is federated, requires adopting common systems (communication protocols), syntax (representative language), structure (data schemas), semantics (content vocabularies) and pragmatics (best practices in data management). To achieve this CeRDI researchers collaborate with and contribute to the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC), an international consortium of companies, government agencies and universities that develops publicly available international spatial data standards for data interoperability. These collaborations have resulted in some of the most impactful research outputs from the CeRDI team, as collaborators in the design, development, testing and publishing of the international standards in groundwater data exchange  and continued participation in soil data exchange standards .
CeRDI, through its research collaboration with the Australian Research Data Commons (ARDC) and the Australian eResearch community is committed to the Guiding Principles for Scientific Data Stewardship, known as FAIR – Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable – that have been implemented by many research organisations as a means to extract the maximum benefit from research investment. As the lead researcher in the design, development and implementation of the ARDC Agricultural Research Federation (AgReFed), CeRDI and our collaborating partners are piloting the integration of the FAIR data self-assessment tool into a large data cloud, as an exemplar for the Australian eResearch community.
Longitudinal societal impact research
CeRDI has also embarked on longitudinal research to qualify and quantify the value of investment in eResearch. The imperative for initiating this research was partly because it is novel research in the global literature, and partly because investors are increasingly seeking demonstrable justification for their investment. Typical questions might be:
- How does federating data help the user make decisions? /make money? /save time?
- Does providing access to the most current, comprehensive and up-to-date data change practices? /change policy? /change attitudes?
Since the intention of the web portals and tools are to meet certain use-cases, research is also undertaken to assess how well they meet end-user needs and ultimately lead to practice changes.
The societal impact of the web portals is measured using multidisciplinary research that employs interviews, survey instruments, expert reference groups and internet analytics. The aim is to explore the extent to which eResearch has led to changes in practice, or supported decision making by governments, industry, researchers and the community. In cases where this has been completed, the research confirmed that making multiple data sets visible in a single web portal enhances capacity by providing timely, informed and accurate responses to answer queries and increase productivity by saving time . The evidence was clear for:
- Primary impact: analytics show a steadily growing usage of the web portals as testament to increasing popularity in being the source for useful data and information
- Practice impact: surveys confirm that web portals changed the way citizens and industry practitioners source their data and the way in which government authorities respond to data requests
- Sector impact: interviews demonstrate that web portals changed the way in which sectors provision data by demonstrating a need for different forms and types of data
 Brodaric, B., Boisvert, E., Chery, L., Dahlhaus, P., Grellet, S., Kmoch, A., Letourneau, F., Lucido, J., Simons, B., & Wagner, B. (2018). Enabling global exchange of groundwater data: GroundWaterML2 (GWML2). Hydrogeology Journal, 26(3), 733-741. doi: 10.1007/s10040-018-1747-9
Brodaric, B., Boisvert, E., Dahlhaus, P., Grellet, S., Kmoch, A., Letourneau, F., Lucido, J., Simons, B., & Wagner, B. (2018). The conceptual schema in geospatial data standard design with application to GroundWaterML2. Open Geospatial Data, Software and Standards. doi: 10.1186/s40965-018-0058-3
 Schaap, B., Mendes De Jesus, J.S., Ribeiro, E., Van Egmond, F.M., Medyckyj-Scott, D., Ritchie, A., Wilson, P., Baritz, R., Dahlhaus, P., Gregory, L., Macleod, A., & Simons, B. (2017). Towards global soil data interoperability: GODAN soil data WG and SoilML (open) data exchange format. Soil Science in a Changing World, Wageningen Soil Conference, 27th - 31st August 2017, Wageningen University, The Netherlands. Book of Abstracts (eds. J. Wallinga, G. Mol, T. Mulder, A. Zaal & B. Jansen) (ISBN 978-94-6343-061-6) p.112
 Dahlhaus, P., Murphy, A., MacLeod, A., Thompson, H., McKenna, K., & Ollerenshaw, A. (2016). Making the invisible visible: The impact of federating groundwater data in Victoria, Australia. Journal of Hydroinformatics, 18(2), 238-255. doi: 10.2166/hydro.2015.169