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GO FAIR initiative to create implementation networks for stewardship of data

During the annual SURFsara Super D Event on December 12, 2017 in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, we had a conversation with Erik Schultes, International Science Coordinator at the GO FAIR International Support and Coordination Office in Leiden, the Netherlands. Erik Schultes originally comes from the United States and has worked for eight years in the Netherlands in a research group, led by Barend Mons, at the Leiden University Medical Centre. Over time, the research group developed more and more an interest in issues related to data stewardship in order to get a handle on it.

This led the research group to where it is now by opening an International Support and Coordination Office for GO FAIR. The office is based in Leiden, not necessarily associated directly with the university or the medical centre but located very close by.

To refresh our memories, what exactly is GO FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable)?

Erik Schultes: In April 2016, the European Commission announced the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC) initiative. Now that there is a very strong interest in figuring out the governance and the implementation of the EOSC, GO FAIR is a bottom-up initiative that has a mandate to coordinate the creation of a component, of an Internet that is made of FAIR data and services. It is really a fast-track implementation of EOSC. That is how it is seen in a European context but, of course, if data is really to be rendered FAIR, this is something that is global in scale. The mandate of the GO FAIR Office is international, starting in Europe but eventually going beyond Europe.

The GO FAIR Office is a bottom-up initiative by the Netherlands, France and Germany. Should it stay with those three countries?

Erik Schultes: No. In fact, there is interest among other Member States to join GO FAIR as well. The structure of this is all being worked out, as we move along. What we envision at this point and what we see is likely to happen is that there is an international coordinating office, now located in Leiden, but there could very well be, in some cases, national-level GO FAIR offices as well, coordinating national-level activities. The idea for the GO FAIR initiative is that there are implementation networks that are created or that are spontaneously coming up from below. Each of these networks might be interested in or focused on a component of a FAIR Internet of data and services. It is the job of the GO FAIR Office to coordinate these different activities in the different implementation networks.

So, the Office itself doesn’t do anything except coordinating?

Erik Schultes: Exactly, that is a great way to put it. We like to say in the Office that we don’t do anything. It is really up to other people. The primary goal would be to avoid the reinvention of the wheel in different isolated contacts, or to avoid the adoption of conflicting standards when maybe somebody’s decisions would have been kind of arbitrary anyway. We can be there as a hub to facilitate communication between different implementation networks that may have interdependencies. This can catalyze the process of launching an Internet of FAIR data and services in that way.

How is the Office funded?

Erik Schultes: The original funding for the GO FAIR Office in Leiden came from the Dutch government, from the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW). As of December 1, 2017, there is joined funding from the Dutch and German governments. The French government is very close to being a contributor but it is not sure whether they have yet signed on officially. There is also a list of other Member States that are ready and have been involved in discussions to join the GO FAIR initiative.

GO FAIR is just one element of the whole European Open Science Cloud initiative?

Erik Schultes: The GO FAIR approach is complementary to the EOSC pilots that are starting up now. It is different but complementary. It is seen as a launch path for EOSC, it is the main driving use case right now. In terms of the inherent international aspects of having data rendered automatically interoperable and discoverable, this is a global problem. So we can also facilitate solutions that might extend beyond Europe.