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How FAIR are we in the Nordics?

Cecilie Maagaard Winther

The bad news is, we are not very FAIR in the Nordics, the good news is, that with a dedicated effort we can get there.

How FAIR are we in the Nordics? Unfortunately, not very FAIR. Work Package 4 with Andreas Jaunsen in the lead has conducted a survey of 98 digital repositories.

In short, we have conducted a survey and extensive FAIR evaluation of 98 digital repositories in the Nordic and Baltic region. Our study confirms what the NeIC report on Open Science in 2018 indicated, namely that the majority of the data archives and repositories in the region for the most part are not FAIR,” says Andreas Jaunsen, special advisor at Nordforsk and WP4 Lead.

First survey of its kind

Most of the 98 evaluated repositories score in the low-end of the scale. The survey is the first one of its kind, where the FAIRness of individual repositories has been estimated using machine-actionable metadata and data based on selected datasets.

Andreas Jaunsen suspects the data repositories in the Nordic and Baltic region are neither better nor worse off than the rest of the world.

“These data are being shared, so the data owner has already made an effort to make their data available in order to share them either with a community or with the public in general. So, the fact that they are sharing the data is already a good thing, as it supports the goal of openness in research,” he says.

A lot of data becomes trash

The problem though is that a lot of researchers still have not picked up on the open science movement, and it is likely that the majority of data are still lying on discs and memory sticks at the bottom of drawers in offices all over the world. There they are being forgotten, and with every month that passes, less and less people will remember what is on those discs and memory sticks, until at some point this information is lost and the data becomes trash and can never be reused.

“So, what we are trying to do with this project, is to raise awareness about FAIR, and why it is important to share FAIR data, which means you follow some basic principles and standards to document the content of the data so it can be reused seamlessly,” says Andreas Jaunsen.

The 3 important areas of FAIRification

The FAIR principles consist of 15 best practices that are intended to make data more findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable. The WP4 team is focusing its efforts on three areas for FAIRification:

“One, you provide an identifier to point to the data, two, you provide access level and licensing information using standard keys that can be understood by machines and three, you try to follow the FAIR digital object concept, which means that a dataset consists of an identifier, the metadata and the data package. These elements should be cross-referencing each other so that they become a self-contained unit. And what we found is, more often than not, this is not the case,” says Andreas Jaunsen.

A light at the end of the tunnel

Fortunately, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Because a small part of the repositories in the survey do actually very well. And what they seem to have in common is that their level of FAIRness is a result of a clear strategic choice. It is for instance universities that several years ago decided to invest time and money either in buying a service or training people within their organisation to build competence centres.

“That is evidence to us in this study, that institutes, communities or universities that wish to make their data FAIR and make that a strategic goal, can achieve results. Their data will be much more easily discovered by other researchers,” he says.

Emphasise the importance of FAIR

According to Andreas Jaunsen the biggest challenge is simply to get researchers to realise that following the FAIR principles is crucial for making their research more visible. It is crucial for their citation index, it is crucial to document that they are conducting transparent research and it is crucial to enable reproducibility of their claimed findings from those datasets.

“If data is not published in this FAIR way, they will not be found, they will not be used, and they are basically re-useless,” he says.

To help the uptake of the FAIR principles in the digital repositories in the Nordic and Baltic region, the WP4 team will host three support events, so-called hackathons, to boost and to help the repositories to improve their FAIRness.

“But of course, they have to choose to come to these events and to put FAIR on their agenda. So again, the challenge is to communicate to the communities that this is important and that they need to spend some time and effort on FAIRification,” says Andreas Jaunsen.

According to him, there are already a few of the repositories that have made changes in order to become more FAIR.

Get a closer look at the report here.