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Published December 1, 2022 | Version Final
Report Open

Community-driven Governance of FAIRness Assessment: An Open Issue, an Open Discussion

  • 1. Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM)
  • 2. The University of Oxford
  • 3. Universidad Carlos III de Madrid.
  • 5. Copenhagen University Library
  • 6. German Aerospace Center
  • 7. Tampere University
  • 8. Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BSC)
  • 9. The University of Tartu
  • 10. ZB MED Information Centre for Life Sciences


Although FAIR Research Data Principles are targeted at and implemented by different communities, research disciplines, and research stakeholders (data stewards, curators, etc.), there is no conclusive way to determine the level of FAIRness intended or required to make research artefacts (including, but not limited to, research data) Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable.

The FAIR Principles cover all types of digital objects, metadata, and infrastructures. However, they focus their narrative on data features that support their reusability. FAIR defines principles, not standards, and therefore they do not propose a mechanism to achieve the behaviours they describe in an attempt to be technology/implementation neutral.

FAIR is evolving in some expected and some unexpected ways. FAIR “Reusability” sub-principle R1.3 states that "(meta)data should meet domain-relevant community standards," which predicts a proliferation of FAIR interpretations by individual communities as they select their preferred approach to FAIRness. Similarly, as expected, there is an active movement around the adaptation of the FAIR Principles to digital objects other than data (e.g., software and workflows), again with individual communities interpreting what FAIRness means in these expanded contexts. However, there have also been attempts to expand the FAIR Principles themselves in recent years, including features of digital objects beyond reusability, including popularity (reuse/citation), reproducibility, reliability, data quality, etc. All of this is occurring with no overall coordination or planning.

A range of FAIR assessment metrics and tools have been designed that measure FAIRness. Unfortunately, the same digital objects assessed by different tools often exhibit widely different outcomes because of these independent interpretations of FAIR. This results in confusion among the publishers, the funders, and the users of digital research objects. Moreover, in the absence of a standard and transparent definition of what constitutes FAIR behaviours, there is a temptation to define existing approaches as being FAIR-compliant rather than having FAIR define the expected
behaviours. While it is anticipated that communities will define domain-specific FAIR metrics and tests, it is desirable to avoid "gaming the system" and have broadly agreed-upon approaches to FAIRness that do not favour a specific implementation of technology.

These observations suggest a growing need to align the different interpretations of the FAIR Principles. However, this whitepaper does not suggest that the FAIR Principles themselves require governance. Indeed, the document argues that the Principles should remain untouched. Specialised communities should extend/edit those Principles to adapt and make them more relevant to their community and their specific research outcome intended to be FAIR.

This whitepaper identifies three high-level stakeholder categories -FAIR decision and policymakers, FAIR custodians, and FAIR practitioners - and provides examples outlining specific stakeholders' (hypothetical but anticipated) needs. It also examines possible models for governance based on the existing peer efforts, standardisation bodies, and other ways to acknowledge specifications and potential benefits.

This whitepaper can serve as a starting point to foster an open discussion around FAIRness governance and the mechanism(s) that could be used to implement it, to be trusted, broadly representative, appropriately scoped, and sustainable.


Community-driven Governance of FAIRness Assessment.pdf

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