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FAIRifying Data Management: An example from the Humanities

Ingrid DilloA Blog post by Ingrid Dillo (WDS Scientific Committee Vice-chair; Deputy Director of WDS Regular Member: DANS, Data Archiving and Networked Services)

In this WDS Blog post, I want to highlight a set of guidelines developed in a community that is not yet very well represented within the membership of the World Data System, but that is getting more and more involved. I am talking about the Humanities. Coming from the Humanities myself, and being active in a broader international data environment, I know from experience that the Humanities data community has a lot to offer other disciplines. Humanists often struggle with very fuzzy, multi-interpretable, scattered, and incomplete data, and so they need to be highly resourceful. For the Digital Humanities, therefore, international collaboration is a sine qua non.

An example of such international collaboration is the PARTHENOS Project that comprises 16 European partners, including DANS (a WDS Regular Member). PARTHENOS stands for ‘Pooling Activities, Resources and Tools for Heritage E-research Networking, Optimization and Synergies’. It is inspired by Athena Parthenos, the Greek goddess of wisdom, inspiration, and civilization.

PARTHENOS aims to strengthen the cohesion of research in the broad sector of Linguistic Studies, Humanities, Cultural Heritage, History, Archaeology, and other related fields. This is being achieved through, for example, the definition and support of common standards and the harmonization of policy definitions and implementation.

One of the activities under the umbrella of PARTHENOS concerns the definition of common policies and implementation strategies for Research Data Management (RDM). The ubiquitous FAIR principles were chosen as a framework to structure a set of guidelines and recommendations. The concrete (and freely available) outcome of this activity is the very practical booklet: Guidelines to FAIRify data management and make data reusable.

The booklet offers a series of guidelines to align the efforts of data producers, data archivists, and data users in the Humanities, and thus make research data as reusable as possible. The guidelines are the result of the work of over 50 PARTHENOS project members, who were responsible for investigating commonalities in the implementation of policies and strategies for RDM and who conducted desk research, questionnaires, and interviews with selected experts to gather around 100 current data management policies—including guides for preferred formats, data review policies, and best practices (both formal and tacit).

The booklet also offers recommendations for two important stakeholder groups:

  1. Researchers and research communities, 
  2. Research infrastructures and in particular, data repositories.

By focussing on (meta)data and repository quality, a set of twenty guidelines was extracted. For easy reference, the guidelines have been grouped under the four FAIR principles.

The guide starts with an important message: Invest in people and infrastructure. Investing in data infrastructures and trustworthy data repositories, as well as in hiring and educating data experts, is an important prerequisite to be able to implement any data management guideline. This way, we can enable researchers to comply with data management mandates coming from funders and journals.

Please have a look at the set of guidelines and see whether they are reusable in your domain.