Driving the FAIR agenda through incentives
In June, the FAIR incentives task force published its deliverable ‘Report and recommendations on FAIR incentives and expected impacts in the Nordics, Baltics, and EOSC.’
This deliverable describes ways of developing a FAIR research culture based on incentives. It explores the existing incentive structures in place for FAIR research practices in the Nordics and Baltics. It promotes additional efficient incentives based on findings from a qualitative study using a multi-stakeholder approach. It also reflects on the expected impacts an increased level of FAIRness may have on the Nordic and Baltic research communities.
The qualitative study included a literature review and interviews with 20 individuals representing all Nordic and Baltic countries and important stakeholder groups from the research community, such as researchers, ministries, research funders, research support staff, management-level university personnel, and a legal advisor. The main ambition of this study is to encourage researchers to comply with FAIR data practices in their research. We achieve this by demonstrating the benefits and existing incentives in place for FAIR compliance. The interviews allowed the task force to get experience-based input to the study, which is of high value when exploring incentives for doing research based on the FAIR Principles.
To get further input on the findings made in the qualitative study, the FAIR incentives task force organised a workshop targeted at community stakeholders and policymakers. The goal of this workshop was also to provide the relevant stakeholder with a deeper insight into the current state of play regarding FAIR and Open Science developments in the region and ultimately to achieve policy alignment among our countries. With all this input, the task force could put together a stakeholder-specific set of recommendations delineating concrete steps to be taken during specific levels of cultural change with the ultimate goal of achieving a cultural change towards increased uptake of FAIR data practices in research.
Figure 1: Theory of change model, including the added level of change – awareness-raising
Figure 2: EOSC-Nordic WP4 T4.3 subtasks and deliverable
Key recommendations and findings
Interviews with key stakeholders on FAIR incentives
Based on the interviews, we identified drivers and barriers to compliance with the FAIR data management practices. The findings are presented in generic terms and tailor-made per stakeholder group.
The report delineates seven FAIR incentives themes, in no particular order of importance:
Firstly, there is a need to cater for additional data management and publishing resources. This applies especially to funding, as it was seen as a very strong incentive for researchers to comply with FAIR data management practices. Also, the units would greatly benefit from the additional financial support that could be based on a funding distribution model based on the number of openly published articles.
Secondly, data sharing and publishing infrastructure should be based on sustainable grounds and allow for domain-specificity. The infrastructure should allow both human- and machine-readable metadata and be coupled with adequate tools, skills, and technical support.
Thirdly, the research support services should be enhanced, and the research data management skills should be improved by offering relevant training. This calls for a central research data management support service, which also can offer ethical and legal advice related to research data. Having an adequate amount of domain-specific data stewards in place assisting the researchers and data champions acting as role models for FAIR data management are also highly incentivising measures. Data management training is important in skills-developing and especially important is the training received during the early stages of the research career, as these positively affect FAIR data management compliance levels.
Fourthly, there is an urgent need to develop data-sharing metrics and a system based on recognition. New research evaluation metrics could be developed based in various ways, e.g., by monitoring the number of publications attached with PIDs, data download and reuse figures within and outside the institute and repository, and data citations. All of these metrics would feed into the merits system. The report additionally delineates examples of a few cases where the merits system can come in handy.
Fifthly, having clear and realistic requirements and structures on various levels in place for FAIR compliance is seen as a highly incentivising measure. Development on the EU level should be considered when shaping national-level agendas and directly impact funder requirements and organisational data policies. Strict requirements are the most effective for driving the FAIR agenda. Planning for all steps of data management by putting together a data management plan also makes it easier to meet the needs of FAIR data management.
Sixthly, a cultural change must inevitably happen on all levels to allow for a research culture based on openness and good quality research data management. To allow this change to be fully realised, the allocations of funding would need to make this a realistic goal to achieve.
Lastly, the communication practices around best practices on FAIR should be improved. Best practices are seen as a key driving force when it comes to making researchers comply with the FAIR principles and influencing the change towards increased FAIR compliance. Sharing success stories with peers is an effective mechanism for bringing the discussions to a practical level and making them relatable.
Community engagement with key community stakeholders and policymakers
The wider community engagement effort further strengthened the findings made through the rounds of interviews and enriched them with additional crucial points on FAIR incentives. The participants were unanimously agreeing on several points, e.g., that incentives are an important driver for cultural change, ministries of education and science and research funders should strictly mandate FAIR compliance, data standards, qualifications, certifications, and self-assessments should be developed for overall consistency, overall communication, and awareness raising is crucial for successful implementation of FAIR, and changes are needed at all levels.
The conversations with the community stakeholders also made it clear that FAIR data policies are currently being intensely worked on at different levels in the Nordic and Baltic countries. These discussions also noted that EU and international level compatibility is important when making national-level decisions on FAIR and that working collaboratively across borders on national policies is needed to harmonise the policies as much as possible.
The infrastructure needs to be based on sustainably built and interoperable RDM services in a user-friendliness manner to make it incentivising to use them. In order to leverage a change towards increased FAIR compliance levels, some top-level pushes were seen as a necessary good. A relevant notion is that strict requirements should be coupled with rewards for FAIR compliance. FAIR should be made part of research metrics to allow follow-ups on compliance. To meet this end, extensive support, training, and providing good examples and guidelines are crucial.
Incentives are an important driver for cultural change, and there is overall strong support from the research community to strengthen FAIR and Open Science efforts. However, to significantly increase the uptake of FAIR, we need to take the next step from raising awareness and promoting understanding to start acting towards an environment that makes it easy and rewarding for researchers to follow the FAIR principles. The necessary changes should be incorporated at all levels, and all stakeholders have a role to play in advancing the uptake of FAIR research practices.
Read more about the FAIR incentives study, the stakeholder-specific recommendations, and the expected impact in the Nordic and Baltic regions in the deliverable on the EOSC-Nordic Knowledge Hub.
Author: Josefine Nordling, CSC, task lead of FAIR incentives work and member of WP4 FAIR Data