Research and scientific discovery are rooted in a rich, fluid ecosystem of shared information that includes data, publications, software, physical samples, and a myriad of other research products. A combination of technological advances and increasing pressures on global resources is prompting a major shift in how data and research products are shared and valued in the Earth, space, and environmental sciences (ESES). This shift is complicated by legacy systems of communication, incentives, and cultural norms. Open sharing [European Commission, 2016] of data and research products will mitigate many of these challenges and enable new frontiers of discovery. Toward this goal, scientific publishers, geoscience data repositories, funders, and other stakeholders recently met as part of the Enabling FAIR Data project, funded by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation through AGU. By leveraging the FAIR principles [Wilkinson et al., 2016]—findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable—this emerging community is working together to ensure that data, physical samples, and software are treated as first-class research products to open new opportunities for ESES research.
Community Driven, Community Led
The Enabling FAIR Data project mobilized a community of more than 300 cross-sector leaders to improve data handling across the ESES. Building on the achievements of the Coalition for Publishing Data in the Earth and Space Sciences (COPDESS) initiative [Hanson et al., 2015] and using the FAIR Data Principles as a framework, AGU partnered with Earth Science Information Partners (ESIP) and the Research Data Alliance (RDA) as primary data communities to generate new capabilities and connect with data experts. The value of the inclusive, community-driven approach was the vibrant and full picture of existing work painted by the array of participants. To address the ESES-specific challenges identified, we primarily amplified and connected existing pieces and then developed new materials where needed.
The first step in the community development process was bringing together a representative group to share their perspectives and work to find connections [Stall et al., 2017]. International cross-community participants organized and developed charters around identified challenges and split into action groups to address these roadblocks to open and FAIR ESES data. The volunteer-led action groups were the following:
- Repository Guidance for Researchers
- Publishers in the ESES
- FAIR Resources and Training for Researchers
- Data and Digital Object Identifier Workflows and Handoffs
- Culture Change Through Credit
- Key Elements of Active Data Management Plans (DMPs)
The groups leveraged community venues at the ESIP Winter Meeting 2018 in Bethesda, Md., and at the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, colocated with the RDA Eleventh Plenary Meeting in Berlin, Germany. Deeply embedded assumptions in the culture emerged from these discussions, beginning a process of “assumption wrangling.” The work of shifting the culture to align with FAIR principles is ongoing.
Community-Based Support for Researchers
The action groups, over a period of 5 months, identified gaps in researcher support and then brought together international experts to develop the needed social and technical infrastructure to streamline researcher workflows:
- Repository Selection Decision Tree for Researchers [Enabling FAIR Data Community, 2018a] demonstrates the complexity researchers face to find the best possible repository for data.
- Repository Finder Tool enables identification of FAIR-aligned repositories where research data can be deposited. (A FAIR-aligned repository complies with the goals in the Enabling FAIR Data Commitment Statement specific to scientific repositories.) It was developed by DataCite leveraging the Repository Selection Decision Tree and the re3data international registry of repositories. Usability testing was carried out by the ESIP Usability Cluster and DeveloperTown. Curation of repository records is by the re3data Editorial Board.
- Author Guidelines for Data [Enabling FAIR Data Community, 2018b] ensures journal data policies are consistent for researchers publishing in ESES journals.
- Data Management Training Clearinghouse offers centralized access to training materials on FAIR Data Principles and other topics. It was developed by a collaboration between ESIP, the U.S. Geological Survey’s Community for Data Integration, and DataONE. Additional funding was provided by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
Helping Repositories Be FAIR
The ESES repository community offers diverse data expertise and services to support the wide range of ESES research communities. To better understand what is needed to achieve FAIR data in ESES repositories, an inventory [Enabling FAIR Data Community, 2018c] was designed and piloted by one of the action groups. The inventory provided a snapshot of repository status and readiness for trustworthy services in an otherwise opaque part of the data ecosystem. On the basis of the outcome, the Enabling FAIR Data project focused on FAIR’s F and A: findable and accessible. Also, in response to the inventory results, a repository cohort has been established in partnership with CoreTrustSeal and the World Data System and supported by the Council of Data Facilities to advance the implementation of FAIR principles in ESES repositories.
The value of a community-based approach can also be seen in the group’s ability to include prepublication outcomes from the European Union–funded Technical and Human Infrastructure for Open Research (THOR) project as a result of involvement from those project participants. The action team captured the complex connections between the submission process of a manuscript to a journal and the deposition process of data to a repository. The workflows [Enabling FAIR Data Community, 2018d] clarified the communication necessary to share common data citations to link publications with supporting data and other research products.
A Commitment from the Community
The researcher and repository tools adopted and developed by the project support a larger set of community-defined goals to implement open and FAIR data. The Commitment Statement galvanized this momentum in the ESES community. The statement reflects distinct stakeholder perspectives and roles and defines goals for each ESES stakeholder that collectively support open and FAIR data. Individual or organization signatories commit to achieving full alignment within 1 year of signing. Those interested in becoming a signatory should click the Sign On button provided with the Commitment Statement.
Repositories will strive to support researchers with open and FAIR data services and support scholarly publishing with services for data citation, persistent identifiers, and human- and machine-readable descriptions.
Publishers will strive to ensure that data and other research outputs supporting publications are openly accessible at the time of publication in a FAIR-aligned repository, no longer accept article supplements as the primary archive for data, adopt the Author Guidelines [Stall et al., 2018] to provide a common expectation, and implement standard identifiers for authors, data, and research products.
Societies, communities, and institutions will strive to support open and FAIR Data Principles in their activities and policies and promote open and FAIR data activities as important criteria in promotion and tenure, awards, honors, etc.
Funding agencies and organizations will strive to promulgate open and FAIR Data Principles in their activities and policies; align DMP content, DMP review processes, and DMP enforcement with FAIR principles; and support the description of plans for sharing physical samples and software in DMPs.
Researchers will strive to make all research products (e.g., data, software, physical sample information, etc.) FAIR and open by depositing them in FAIR-aligned repositories, cite all research products created or reused in publications, and include a data availability statement in publications to specify where the research products that support the paper can be accessed.
Frequently asked questions are available with community-generated and -vetted guidance toward open and FAIR data and research products.
The First Step in an Important Journey
The community-driven Enabling FAIR Data project is advancing the culture shift needed in the ESES by bringing cross-sector stakeholders together to promote the common goals of open and FAIR data. The community-identified, -developed, and -adopted tools and guidelines bring together ESES publications, data, physical samples, and software, but this is just a first step. Ongoing commitment from institutions, governments, funders, and researchers is necessary to ensure application of open and FAIR principles to data, software, and physical samples.
Fortunately, the Enabling FAIR Data project revealed an energetic, collaborative, and growing community that is ready to act, and the work thus far has empowered that community to make change. We are on our way to realizing a practical vision of open and FAIR data involving and benefiting the entire research community and the world.