FAIR and Open Science
Making research data Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable
The way that research is conducted and communicated is rapidly changing. Open Science policies and practices are transforming how research inquiries are designed, managed, shared and assessed, such that it is no longer sufficient to simply publish the results of publicly funded research without also making the underlying data that supports and validates the conclusions as open and accessible as possible. The European Commission emphasises a certain timeliness and urgency to this new research paradigm in their definition of Open Science as “An approach to the scientific process that focuses on spreading knowledge as soon as it is available using digital and collaborative technology” (The EU’s Open Science Policy).
Open Science, also commonly referred to as Open Research or Open Scholarship, represents a bundle of approaches and practices for collecting, managing, and disseminating research in as open and transparent a manner as possible. It is further underpinned by globally recognised ideals that encourage collaboration and exchange, ensure equity in access to research products, allow for the validation of research results, and widen the impact of research investment. (See, for example, the UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science, 2021).
In 2016, the FAIR Data Principles were developed in recognition that good research data management throughout the research lifecycle is critical to the success of Open Science. Researchers who implement practices based on these guiding principles produce data that are Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable (FAIR). Read more about DRI’s support for Research Data Management and the FAIR Principles.
DRI and Open Research
The DRI has been a longstanding advocate for Open Science principles and practices, highlighted by contributions to expert groups and funded research projects in collaboration with the Research Data Alliance, the OECD, ALLEA, and Europeana, the European Commission, and the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC).
The DRI is also making key contributions to national efforts through its training, outreach and engagement activities and collaboratively through the National Open Research Forum (NORF). DRI staff members Dr. Daniel Bangert and Dr. Michelle Doran coordinate NORF’s efforts to drive the national agenda for open research, including developing and supporting actions to strengthen, promote and better support national objectives for open research as outlined in the National Framework on the Transition to an Open Research Environment (2019) and the National Action Plan for Open Research 2022-2030. Since 2022, NORF and DRI have operated and administered a NORF Open Research Fund which allocates funding to deliver actions prioritised in the National Action Plan for Open Research. As National Open Research Coordinator, Daniel Bangert represents Ireland on several international open science groups, including the Council for National Open Science Coordination and the Informal Commission Expert Group on National Points of Reference on Scientific Information. You can read more about DRI and NORF at https://dri.ie/norf.
The DRI also acts as the national node for the Research Data Alliance (RDA) in Ireland and is responsible for the support and promotion of RDA activities across Ireland. The DRI is currently involved in two RDA-lead tasks in European-funded projects, EOSC Future and WorldFAIR. You can read more about DRI contributions to both of these projects on the DRI Projects page at https://dri.ie/projects.
As a national research data repository for the humanities, social sciences and cultural heritage, the DRI strives to support and align the unique needs of these research communities with international best practices that facilitate the reusability of data across disciplinary boundaries. Former DRI Director Natalie Harrower contributed to the European Commission’s high level expert group on FAIR data and the ‘Turning FAIR into a Reality’ report (2018), a key guide for the definition of FAIR in Europe and a foundational resource for FAIR implementation in the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC). DRI’s contribution continued under the umbrella of the EOSC Executive Board Working Group on FAIR, which produced a series of recommendations including Six Recommendations for Implementation of FAIR practice, Recommendations on FAIR metrics for EOSC and Recommendations on certifying services required to enable FAIR within EOSC. Further details on DRI’s implementation of the FAIR principles can be found on the Statement on FAIR Principles page.
Providing sustainable links between research communities and the holdings of cultural heritage and memory institutions is of particular importance to the DRI. The DRI contributed to guidelines on How to Facilitate Cooperation between Humanities Researchers and Cultural Heritage Institutions (2019) and has run outreach events such as Using FAIR Data from the GLAM Sectorand Publishing GLAM data as FAIR Data, a two-part series of webinars organised by the DRI and RDA with support from Europeana Research. From 2012–2020, DRI via the Royal Irish Academy chaired the ALLEA e-Humanities working group, producing two significant reports to support the advancement of data practices in the Humanities. Going Digital: Creating Change in the Humanities(2015) made recommendations around archival sustainability and data training required for achieving Open Access and Open Data goals across the Humanities, while Sustainable and FAIR Data Sharing in the Humanities (2020) contained a set of suggestions on how to align digital data in the humanities with the FAIR principles. Finally, the DRI’s biannual conference series DPASSH brings into focus the unique challenges and opportunities afforded by arts, social sciences and humanities research data.
Trustworthy digital preservation, including continual monitoring, preservation processing, and policy development, is also a key to ensuring sustainable access to data. The DRI obtained CoreTrustSeal certification in 2021 and has also endorsed the TRUST principles. The DRI is an active member of the Digital Preservation Coalition (DPC) and the Coalition of Open Repositories (COAR), and Dr. Kathryn Cassidy serves on the standing steering committee for the Open Repositories conference. DRI staff also contribute regularly to the organising and programme committees of major preservation conferences, such as the International Conference on Digital Preservation (iPres) and Preservation and Archiving Special Interest Group (PASIG). More information on sustainable data repositories can be found in the DRI’s contributions to the OECD report Business models for sustainable research data repositories. DRI disseminates these reports and the outputs from these activities to it’s membership base, which comprises of more than forty national, regional and local organisations, and to the broader community.
FAIR Data in the Humanities and Social Sciences
Research data in the humanities and social sciences challenge expected norms around data management and data sharing in both the design of the research process and the approach to long-term data stewardship. Humanities scholars, in particular, have expressed serious concerns with the interpretation of their research sources and methods as data, despite the flourishing of the digital humanities field in recent years which may rely on data-driven computational analysis and distant reading of digitised resources. The DRI is committed to engaging with these research communities in ways that help to further the goals of Open Science that are also respectful and responsive to the realities of research in these fields.
The DRI is conducting a FAIR assessment of the image sharing practices in the cultural heritage sector as part of the WorldFAIR Project, not only to offer recommendations on how this sector can improve the way research data is shared but as an opportunity to contribute to a discussion of how FAIR assessments can be more sensitive to the needs and practices of researchers in the humanities and social sciences. If you would like to be involved in this conversation, subscribe to the DRI Friends Newsletter to stay informed.
Supporting Access to Research Data Sources
Research in the humanities and social sciences relies heavily on primary information gathered from historical and contemporary sources, often removed in time from the events, persons or objects of study. Sources of data may include: field notes, archaeological finds, maps and geospatial data, archival records, publications, social media posts, artworks, architecture, photographs and audiovisual recordings, interviews, performances, interactive installations and social experiences, and to a small but increasing extent, computational data generated by AI and machine learning programs. While there has been significant growth in digitization efforts by cultural heritage and information organisations in recent years in order to make these data resources available, in many cases, complicated copyright and licensing requirements can pose challenges to preserving and maintaining accessibility. In addition, researchers in the humanities and social sciences often rely on a variety of customisable tools, ad-hoc data workflows and modified or completely unique metadata schemas to organise their data, suggesting that a significant amount of valuable information may be derived from documenting the research process itself.
The DRI encourages all depositors to share research data as openly as possible by applying open licences to their data, and has offered workshops and training opportunities on rights management and obtaining permissions. Read more about the challenges in applying open licences to cultural heritage data in A Conversation About Open Access to Online Collections.
Sharing Research Data in these Fields
The concept of an immutable dataset, always able to be referenced ‘as it was’ at a certain point in time, runs contrary to widely accepted methodological approaches in the humanities and social sciences which prioritise dialogue, discourse, and audience response. Researchers may be more inclined to share their work via open source tools that allow them to craft an interpretive layer or narrative structure for their data, and to add, edit, or otherwise continue to manipulate the data long after initial publication. Similarly, institutions sharing original records as data have a long tradition of updating or re-interpreting data for the public. While there are numerous software tools available to create these preferred outputs, there is concerningly a lack of support, service, and technical infrastructure to ensure the persistence of the data shared on these platforms as opposed to data deposited securely in disciplinary or generalist data repositories, leading some researchers to begin asking difficult questions about long-term sustainability. Issues around version control in these kinds of dynamic data environments are underexplored as well, leading to a potential lack of transparency and reproducibility, undermining the FAIR sharing of data.