(The following is a transcript of my recent podcast episode on this topic.)
There is a FAIR Implementation Profile ontology, and it talks about FAIR-enabling resources. So these are corresponding to questions. For each of the fifteen FAIR principles, this FAIR-enabling resource, the idea is that you’ve identified a challenge or you’ve made a choice about some resource that’s going to help you fulfill that – either that resource is available, or it’s planned, or it’s proposed, or you’re going to phase it out, that sort of thing.
Twelve FAIR-enabling resources have been identified as broad categories that help address each of the challenges with FAIR principles. One is an identifier service. This is a service that provides for any digital object, (1) algorithms guaranteeing global uniqueness; (2) a policy document that guarantees persistence; and (3) resolution of the identifier to machine actionable metadata describing the object and its location.
This is all into under Findable. Another FAIR-enabling resource is metadata schema. So this would be a specification, a schema, that specifies metadata fields describing attributes of data or other digital objects. Another FAIR-enabling resource would be a metadata-data linking schema. So this would be, specifically, a specification – schema – that provides a unique, persistent, ideally bi-directional machine actionable link between metadata and the data they describe. And the final FAIR-enabling resource for the Findable principles is a registry, which is a service that indexes metadata and data and provides a search over that index.
For Accessible, there are three identified FAIR-enabling resources. Communication protocol: so this is a specification for how messages are structured and exchanged. There’s authentication and authorization service. So this is a service that mediates access to digital objects according to specified conditions.
And another FAIR-enabling resource is a metadata preservation policy. So this would be a document that describes the conditions under which metadata are to be provisioned in the future, maybe part of a data management plan.
Okay. Five more FAIR-enabling resources identified. We’re going to Interoperability now. One is a knowledge representation language: a language specification whereby knowledge can be made processable by machines. Another FAIR-enabling resource is structured vocabulary: a controlled list of uniquely identified and unambiguous concepts with their definitions represented preferably using web standards.
Finally, in Interoperable, a FAIR-enabling resource would be a semantic model, a specification that defines qualified relations between entities describing data or other digital objects using structured vocabularies.
The two remaining FAIR-enabling resources, under Reusable, are (1) data usage license – so that’s a document that describes the conditions under which a digital object can be legally used. And finally, a provenance model; a specification – schema – that specifies metadata fields describing the origin and lineage of data or other digital objects.
So these are a bunch of FAIR-enabling resources. I was thinking about this a bit, and I wanted to distinguish between things that actually have to be running in order for data to be alive and for you to actually find it, access it, interoperate with it, reuse it, versus things that are resources that those services will need that are more “one-time” things.
For example, a metadata schema isn’t really a service, so to speak. It’s something that you can do and be done with. You might need to make revisions of it, so maybe there’s some change management procedure. But in terms of the actual service, it isn’t quite like an identifier service, where you want to be given an identifier and be able to know where to go, and resolve that identifier, and determine if you have the right identifier and then get the data, get the metadata. So that’s an actual service that needs to be run. If not continuously, whenever you decide you need identification, you can spin up that service and do that, but it’s an actual service that needs to be run in order for you to have living findability, accessibility, interoperability, reusability.
So of these 12 FAIR-enabling resources, I’ve thought about how to condense them into FAIR-enabling services. What are the actual services that are really important across these that someone needs to worry about if they want a FAIR data ecosystem in their lab and their lifecycle for research, that sort of thing.
I’ve identified these as (1) An identification service, an identifier service. You need to be able to identify things. And this is identifying metadata, datasets, as well as vocabulary things. So this spans, say, F1, the A principles, as well as I2 in terms of making a vocabulary FAIR, being able to unambiguously identify vocabulary terms. So identification is a big service that’s needed.
The second service is validation. So, you could be given a metadata schema and given statements and assertions, but how do you know they actually conform to the schema? Are you going to look those up by hand? Are you going to kind of cross check with a sheet of paper that you have in front of you that says the schema? No, you really want a validation service that will validate statements according to a schema that you’re imposing.
The third service is indexing. So this is related to the registry. You need something that, given a bunch of statements that have identifiers that resolve, a bunch of statements that are valid according to the schema – so you’ve identified, you validated. You then need to collect them and be able to find what you need. And so that involves indexing. So that’s an actual service where you can search the index. An index is the basis of search. Otherwise you’re just doing a full scan of all your statements. You won’t get any leverage. You won’t be able to winnow down with any efficiency at all. So this index thing, this ongoing indexing, where you have an index and you maintain an index and when you identify new concepts or data, assign them identifiers, validate your statements about them, you want to throw them in the index and you want your registry to re-index things. So that indexing needs to be a service.
The fourth FAIR-enabling service to me is translation. So, this is the essence of interoperation. This is the point of having a knowledge representation language and a semantic model where you’re defining qualified relations. The idea being, you have a bunch of metadata and you want to use it for something else. So you need some service to actually translate it. If you have data in some format, you want to be able to translate it. You want these qualified links to know that, if you have metadata of this format, say of a schema.org Dataset and you want a DCAT Dataset, you know the corresponding mapping and you can perform that translation. So that would be a FAIR-enabling service that would leverage resources like semantic model, structured vocabulary, language – ultimately, it would leverage your index as well. So, translation would also be dependent on an index, just like search is.
And the final service that I think is important here is tracing. So, given something, you want to trace “where did it come from?”, and how you can use it. So this connects directly to your, static or not, policies about usage rights, data usage, and your provenance model. And this is how you can actually trace where things are, to determine if you can reuse it. So this is something active that you want. You want something, and again, this would ultimately leverage an index as well. So you’d have a bunch of data objects and metadata objects and vocabulary terms, all of which would need to be identified, so that’d be an identifying service. All of your statements about things, about provenance, mapping for translation, indexing, all of that would have to be validated. So you have the validation service, and then finally you have the indexing. And that puts everything in. And the indexing is the basis of support for search, which I don’t think needs to be a separate FAIR-enabling service – there are various ways of searching over an index, given it. But it also enables this translation based on the semantics that you have in your model and your resources, and tracing to determine, can I use this? What’s the provenance of this? Was it based on things that fell under this certain license? And so, depending on the license of my transformations, this is what I can use it for.
So again, these FAIR-enabling services are: Identifying, Validating, Indexing, Translating, and Tracing. And I hope to go into more detail about how these relate to the FAIR principles and the resources, and sort of elaborate on them individually over the coming weeks.