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FAIR data collaboration in the Nordics


This article was originally published on NeIC’s website and is written by Vilma Hakkinen, Communications advisor at NeIC.

Year 2022 marks the 10-year anniversary for Nordic e-Infrastructure Collaboration, also known as NeIC. To celebrate this milestone, NeIC will publish ten stories that showcase how the organisation has contributed to developing best-in-class e-infrastructure services beyond national capabilities and enhanced the productivity of research in the Nordic Region.

NeIC was established in 2012. It facilitates collaboration on digital infrastructure within the Nordic countries and Estonia by providing experts coming from different countries, organisations and fields opportunities to work together. This Nordic collaboration on digital infrastructure started already before NeIC was established. Since 2003, the Nordic countries have been collaborating on the Worldwide Large Hadron Collider Computing Grid (WLCG) at CERN, providing research computing and storage for high-energy physicists worldwide. The successful collaboration that started with the services offered by the Nordic Data Grid Facility (NDGF) was after some years expanded into NeIC, which was tasked to run the Nordic WLCG Tier-1 facilityalso known as NT1. The initiation of NeIC made it possible to facilitate collaborations to benefit other science areas.

This story focuses on FAIR data – data that is findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable – and how NeIC has contributed to a more FAIR Nordic Region. NeIC also announces the recently published report “Nordic FAIR Data Collaboration Opportunities“.

The FAIR principles

The FAIR data principles were published in 2016, and they have since been adopted by various research communities and organisations worldwide. Following the FAIR principles is also presented in a communication by the European Commission in February 2020 “A European strategy for data“, as a mechanism to increase and foster data interoperability between and within sectors.

NeIC has helped researchers in the Nordics and Estonia learn and follow the FAIR practices by offering training on FAIR Data Stewardship. Since 2019, three courses have been arranged by NeIC and partners to provide foundational skills for competent data stewards and data managers with knowledge of the FAIR principles and how to apply them. More than 150 people have participated in these trainings.

Providing FAIR training has also been a high priority in NeIC’s EU-funded EOSC-Nordic project, where one of the work packages focuses exactly on that: helping Nordic-Baltic repositories to become FAIR compliant and certified and promoting incentives for the uptake of FAIR data across the region. In 2021, EOSC-Nordic increased FAIR skills in the Nordic-Baltic Region by training 300 FAIR data stewards.

Experts investigating FAIR opportunities

In September 2020, NeIC’s board established a working group for one year to dig into collaboration opportunities related to FAIR data. This group worked to develop a science case for the concrete Nordic collaboration activities on FAIR research data management that would best serve research communities. The proposed activities would leverage, and not duplicate, national initiatives. The group consisted of experts from Nordic countries, with competencies that span across major research areas and data stewardship skills. The final report that summarises the main findings was presented to the board on 9 December 2021.

The group leader, Andreas Jaunsen, hopes that the report contributes to the discussion on increasing FAIRness in the Nordic Region.

“The report is an attempt to draw attention to the challenges related to FAIR implementation. It highlights that a multifaceted approach is needed if we are to succeed in enabling data-driven sciences. It is not enough to only ensure that repositories support FAIR data but also to recognize that incentives, policy and the culture around sharing data are all areas that we need to support the vision of Open Science on,” states Andreas Jaunsen.

The “Nordic FAIR Data Collaboration Opportunities” report can be read on Zenodo. Click here to access the report.

A FAIR future for the Nordics

Andreas Jaunsen sees that the greatest benefit of the Expert group to the Nordic research communities is its attempt to reform the current isolated approaches of promoting Open Science.

“The FAIR principles must be adopted across infrastructures, service and support providers to be embedded into best practices, policies and funder requirements. Only then will the norms and culture change occur,” he says.

Adopting FAIR principles are already emphasised on the national level in many of the Nordic countries. For example, the Research Council of Norway (RCN) has a policy for Open Access to Research Data that aims to ensure that all research data are accessible on equal terms and at the lowest possible cost and recommends to follow the FAIR principles. Projects that apply for funding from RCN are assessed, amongst other qualities, on these criteria.

Synchronising their efforts in further developing Open Science and FAIR practices is beneficial to the Nordic countries. According to Jaunsen, such efforts would be most effective if policies and incentives were harmonized across the region, while also coordinating training efforts, sharing support resources and services benefitted from a similar or shared platform. Collaborations such as the EOSC-Nordic have shown to be effective and successful constellations that harness the Nordic Added Value. This is also a goal for NeIC that has been instrumental in facilitating collaborations in the Nordic Region. Jaunsen believes NeIC is likely to play a key role also in future data initiatives.

Long-term initiatives are needed

A known challenge for most collaborations, EOSC-Nordic included, are sustainability issues and the necessity for long-term initiatives that exceed the typical funding periods of 2-3 years.

“Adopting the FAIR practices and reaching the Open Science goals takes time. In addition to infrastructural changes, a change of culture is required, and this usually calls for sustained efforts over 5 to 10 years. Coordination with similar international initiatives is also imperative. For these reasons, the Expert group proposed that a Nordic FAIR office would be advantageous to coordinate the various initiatives and interactions,” Andreas Jaunsen concludes.