The Data Observatory Foundation (“DO”) is a public-private association whose main objective is to acquire, process and store in digital media the datasets that are generated by public or private organizations. Due to their volume, nature and complexity, these are data that require curation, exploration, visualization and analysis capacity to facilitate their availability for the development of science, technology, innovation and knowledge, and their applications in economic sectors.

Data Observatory’s mission is to implement the accessibility of data that would otherwise only be available to a small group of people. These data are relevant on a global level and have great potential for making an impact on the progress of science, innovation and technology, and their applications in economic sectors.

DO has been led by the Government of Chile as an initiative that emerged from public policies through a widespread interactive process with citizens, the private sector and the academic sector. Its origins are rooted in CORFO’s (Corporación de Fomento de la Producción, or the Corporation to Promote the Manufacturing Industry) Strategic Programs (2016), which established roadmaps that were co-created by actors coming from multiple sectors such as astronomy, just to name one.

 

Year 2016: The Genesis

 

Our Atacama Desert, an outcome of the planet´s geological evolution over a period of millions of years, is a unique place for studying our Universe. Since 1960, and as a consequence of a Chilean State policy that appeared in the 19th Century, the Atacama Desert has become established internationally as a “natural laboratory” for astronomical observation, and has attracted the world´s main and most state-of-the-art astronomical observatories ever since. It is estimated that by the year 2025, 73% of the world’s total observational capacity and 96% of the Southern Hemisphere’s total observational capacity will be concentrated in the Atacama Desert. This represents an investment of over U$ 6 billion in high technology.

Chile has witnessed how the scientific field has developed into a key element of national academia. The growth rates in program production, professors and advanced human capital have been exponential. As a consequence, the field has acquired a higher level of success in building international collaborations and in the amount and quality of its publications. Nevertheless, the impact that astronomy and its community have made on the integral development of the nation haven’t turned out to be as significant as it was expected when the State Policy was developed in the 19th Century.

This shortcoming motivated the Ministry of Economy and CORFO, through its Intelligent Industry Strategic Program, to use a portion of the FIE or the Fondo de Inversión Estratégica (Strategic Investment Fund), to find measures and investment sources that could increase Chile´s prominence in international astronomical collaborations, and therefore allow this field to have a larger role in the development of our country´s digital economy. In other words, to be able to render a more significant provision of human capital, components and services associated to large investments that are made in Chile on behalf of international organizations, on the one hand, and to increase the country’s adaptability to the technological revolution and harness its large volumes of data and artificial intelligence in other activities apart from astronomy, on the other hand.

Thanks to this approach, an initiative to foster the detection of opportunities in this area was introduced in Chile in the year 2016. The initiative FIE-2016-V022 was signed under the decree N° 150 (2016) of the Ministry of Economy, Development and Tourism, providing CLP $433.550.000 to elaborate a roadmap for economic development based on our unique astronomical assets.

 

Year 2017: The Project Takes Shape

 

ACTI, Asociación Chilena de Empresas de Tecnologías de Información (Chilean Association for IT Industry, a group of over 100 national companies), was in charge of managing the FIE project as an Intermediary Broker. The roadmap for astronomy that started to run in April of 2017 responded to the task of identifying opportunities, measures and investment options that would allow the country to increase its astronomical prominence and to promote the development of its digital economy in the realm of the fourth technological revolution.

The team that coordinated the completion of the roadmap defined the mapping of the international astroinformatics community, a community that is composed of approximately 3,000 people around the world, as its initial measure. In order to carry out this task, they conducted a survey that gathered nearly 400 responses. (View the report by consulting agency Mecanismos Sociales)

In the survey, international experts were asked to identify opportunities related to astroinformatics for Chile. The results were published in the article: “The Data Observatory, a vehicle to foster digital economy by harnessing the natural astronomical advantages that exist in Chile”, (Arancibia et al, 2018), and they demonstrate that the main opportunities for Chile are in the areas of computer science and the statistics that are related to data analysis. In other words, rather than looking at astronomy as an overall scientific discipline, the important area to focus on is Data Science, since that is where all the opportunities for Chile to grow as a country exist.

 

The survey also made it possible to detect names of national and foreign experts that were willing to participate in the elaboration of an institutional design that would be capable of securing developmental opportunities that were available in the astroinformatics domain. This is how the project’s Executive Board came to be integrated by prominent national and international academics. The members of the Board, directed by Massimo Tarenghi, are shown in Fig. 1

The above-mentioned Board was further complemented by an Advisory Council that was integrated by national experts who were selected to represent academic competence in the matter. As shown in Fig.2, there are representatives from public and private universities of our country.

The Advisory Council held regular meetings between the months of April, 2017 and September, 2018. Nearly 30 meetings were carried out during this period.

Both the Executive Board and the Advisory Council contributed to the elaboration of an institutional design that was based on creating a public-private foundation. This design, outlined in the 2017 Critical Milestone Report (Informe hito crítico, 2017) was assessed and validated by CORFO, the FIE, and both national and international experts.

By mandate of the FIE, the institutional design was also assessed by EY in order to determine if the institutional model was financially feasible for the leverage of astroinformatics as a vehicle for national development. This review was carried out between the months of October, 2017 and February, 2018, and it included the participation of different national members of the NLHPC (National Laboratory for High Performance Computing) and the CMM (Center for Mathematic Modelling at Universidad de Chile).

Several activities to announce the project were carried out that year among national industry as well as academia. For example, in the month of August, 2017, CORFO organized a seminar to explore possible opportunities in astronomy for national industries. The seminar included the participation of different companies, ALMA, and universities such as Universidad Técnica Federico Santa María with the presentation of the ChiVO Project (Chilean Virtual Observatory). Likewise, the pilot project was presented to the Chilean Astronomical Society, SOCHIAS (Sociedad Chilena de Astronomía) during their monthly meeting held on September 12th.

In summary, the astroinformatics project takes shape thanks to the national and international scientific communities during the year 2017. There was work carried out regarding the definition of available opportunities in the domain of astronomy for the development of the country, in association with national industries and the main technology-related union associations. The Roadmap for Astronomy that gave birth to Data Observatory was well known publicly in most of the universities and the companies associated to data in Chile. Its content, in particular, was the result of a collective construction that included the participation of many people.

 

Year 2018: Proof of Concept

 

The results from the EY assessment were received in February, 2018, and the report concluded that astronomy, as a scientific discipline, was 5 to 10 years ahead of time regarding Big Data analysis in comparison to other industries. It also confirmed that the tasks that are regularly carried out by astronomers, such as data analysis, exploration, visualization, curation, and governance, were transferable to other knowledge areas like precision agriculture, mining exploration, climate change analysis, and their different uses in the country’s industrial and trade sectors.

In the month of March, with the onset of a newly elected Government, it was decided to continue the promotion of this State Policy. The Ministry of Economy took leadership of the Data Observatory Project and defined the following criteria for the success of the project:

  • To promote Chilean industry in its capacity to acquire and generate, analyse, visualize and explore, and govern and give access to large and complex datasets.
  • To make data and their associated tools accessible in order to generate new scientific discoveries (in other words: scientific articles, public knowledge, scientific project consultation, software download, use of APIs, scientific user accounts, general use of datasets, etc.).
  • To educate and train people in Data Science (in other words: development of human capital).
  • To improve the image and the networks that represent the national and resident scientific communities in Chile (in other words: development of social capital).
  • To increase the general knowledge of the public regarding the Universe (in other words: public dissemination).
  • To attract new foreign investment in Chile (in other words: investment and development of technological capacity).

The notion that Data Observatory required combined efforts on behalf of academia, the observatories, the Government and the manufacturing sector for its operation also became stronger that year. This model, known as the triple helix (i.e. engagement of State, University and Company) recognizes that the potential for innovation, technology transfer and growth increases when these three actors work in coordination (Etzkowitz & Leydesdorff, 2000). Consequently, the project was further publicized among different audiences.

For example, a speech entitled: “Chilean Governmental Astroinformatics Initiative: Introduction, and Progress Report” was offered during a seminar that was organized by the Department of Astrophysics at Universidad Católica in the month of June. Data Observatory was presented during a seminar held by the Department of Astrophysics at Universidad de Chile in the month of July, showing the results of the project in relation to astroinformatics. The speech entitled: “Chilean Governmental Astroinformatics Initiative: Introduction, and Progress Report” was offered at Cerro Calán Department of Astronomy, Universidad de Chile. (http://www.das.uchile.cl/das_seminarios_2018.html). On July 6th, the Data Observatory Project was presented at Universidad de La Serena, and on December 6th, it was presented during the Big Data symposium held by Universidad de Valparaíso (VIII Research Conference).

Before creating Data Observatory as a foundation, it was necessary to validate the hypotheses that had been outlined in the reports prepared by EY and the consulting agency named “Mecanismos Sociales”. In particular, that there was an opportunity available in the field of astroinformatics that would enable the generation of technology in the country, and such technology would eventually be transferable to other domains beyond astronomy. In order to verify this hypothesis, a Proof of Concept (PoC) was carried out in September.

Different universities and companies with big computational challenges were invited to participate in the PoC. In total, over 15 groups arrived with different proposals to be developed (Details of participants). Likewise, the technology industry was called upon for providing cloud computing capacity to support these groups in the challenges they had been facing. Following is a list of a few of the pilot projects that were developed:

  • The High-Throughput Imaging Lab project by Universidad de Santiago (USACH)
  • The Data Observatory Discovery System (DOdisco) project with Amazon Web Services (View project detail).
  • The Astronomy 4.0 Alma Operations project with ALMA Observatory, Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez and Metric Arts.

In parallel, during the months of October and November, the operational design for Data Observatory (Concept of Operations) and the implementation plan for the Foundation were developed. These documents set the groundwork for the public call for tenders that was carried out to establish the founding members for this Foundation (Link for documents).

In November, the Data Observatory Project was presented at Universidad de Antofagasta, where two potential collaboration projects were identified. One was related to visualization tools and massive data processing, and the other was regarding tools to facilitate cloud/offline tasks using data from Gaia.

In December of 2018, an assessment to evaluate the opening of a training program in astroinformatics and its potentiality for Data Science was entrusted to Universidad de Chile, Cerro Calán Department of Astronomy, through CORFO (Grant 161FI6626, Regional Office for Coquimbo). (View report).

Finally, on December 27th, the President of the Republic signed the Decree that authorized the Minister of Economy to create a non-profit private law foundation “whose main purpose is to acquire, process and store in digital media the datasets that are generated by public or private organizations, and that due to their volume, nature and complexity, they are data that require curation, exploration, visualization and analysis to facilitate their availability for the development of science, technology, innovation and knowledge, and their applications in economic sectors”. (DS N°164-2018). The year 2018 concludes with the necessary authorization to create the Data Observatory Foundation.

 

Year 2019: The Public Call for Tenders

 

The Comptroller General of the Republic of Chile (Contraloría General de la República de Chile), CGR, acknowledged the Supreme Decree DS N° 164-2018 on January 4th, 2019, and did not question the purpose of DO which is the exact same one that was later included in the statutes.

The Ministry of Economy published a Call for Tenders on its webpage (https://www.economia.gob.cl/data-observatory) on January 7th, and in an insert of the “La Tercera” newspaper (page 26). This call for tenders was directed to any national or international natural person or legal entity that was interested in being incorporated as a founding member of Data Observatory, including financial and/or other relevant contributions related to DO’s Mission Statement (e.g. computing capacity, data storage and talent, among others).

During the month of January, the team from the Ministry of Economy contacted several universities, companies, and union associations to circulate the Call for Tenders. In particular, meetings were held with the following institutions: Universidad de Chile (Center for Mathematic Modelling), Universidad Católica, Universidad Federico Santa María, the Chilean Astronomical Society (SOCHIAS), the Chilean Association for IT Industry (ACTI), Chiletec (Asociación de Empresas Chilenas de Tecnología, or Association of Chilean Technological Companies), Google, Amazon Web Services, Microsoft, Sonda, Latam, Falabella, Quiñenco, Intersystems, among others. At the time the call was published, the design of DO was well known among most of the Chilean entities holding interests in data-related matters.

A second insert was published in the “La Tercera” newspaper on January 23rd, announcing the extension of the Call to Tenders until March 15th, 2019. Therefore, the Public Call for Tenders that was entitled: “Call for Presenting Proposals of Value” remained open during 10 weeks and was widely broadcasted among national universities and industries.

The call was closed on March 15th, and of the three proposals that were received, UAI and AWS were the winning bids (a third party was not considered due to non-compliance with the guidelines). Once the proposals were assessed, these organizations became the founding members of the DO Foundation (view press release).

The members from the legal departments of MINECON (Ministry of Economy) and CGR (Comptroller General of Chile) worked on drafting the statutes for the Foundation between the months of July and September. At the same time, CGR acknowledged the Supreme Decree DS N° 75-2019 to incorporate MINCIENCIA (Ministry of Science, Technology, Knowledge and Innovation) as part of the President’s authorization to create the Foundation. Once again, there were no objections regarding the merit of the purpose of DO.

The Legal Departments of the Ministry of Economy and the Ministry of Science met with CGR on the 8th of October to review the preliminary DO statutes. CGR submitted a few observations regarding the statutes. The DO statutes were then adjusted to incorporate the observations that were made by CGR, in agreement with all of the founding partners.

The Ministries of Economy and Science signed the statutes on November 21st along with all of the founding partners, AWS, and Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez. The statutes took into consideration all of the comments that the teams at CGR had sent on an informal basis to MINECON.

Afterwards, the statutes were sent to the Municipal Secretariat of the City of Santiago on December 6th, where they were reviewed and approved by the Municipal Secretary of the City of Santiago, who then commended them to the National Registry of Legal Non-Profit Entities on December 18th.