open data y fair data

Open Data and FAIR Data: differences and similarities

Open Data and FAIR Data are two very similar concepts, since they share a similar philosophy when it comes to sharing data and enhancing collaboration among users, but they are not exactly the same. In the article we tell you what these two types of data are, what they look like and how they differ.

Information has become one of the basic resources of society. According to The Software Alliance report, 90% of business leaders say that data is one of their key resources, along with labor and capital, and a key distinguishing factor for their companies.

Not all the ways of presenting the data are the same and little by little new typologies are emerging to identify them with new purposes. Open Data, FAIR Data, Linked Data, Linked Open Data… These are just some of the terminologies. Sometimes, it is difficult to differentiate between them, especially when the concepts are very similar as is the case between Open Data and FAIR Data, which we will be explain below.

What is the difference between Open Data and FAIR Data?

The concept of Open Data is more widespread than that of FAIR Data, so it may be necessary to make a clear distinction between the two. Although they have some similarities, they are not exactly the same nor do they have the same audience.

The definition of FAIR Data is included in its own name, since it is the abbreviation of Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable, only that as it will be seen they are not always available for anyone. On the other hand, Open Data, according to the definition of the Open Data Handbook, are “data that can be used, reused and redistributed freely by any person, and that are subject, at most, to the requirement of attribution and to be shared in the same manner in which they appear”.

As can be seen, the main difference is the access to said data. Although in FAIR acronyms, we find the term accessible, it refers to it being accessible by the defined persons, at the defined time and by the defined method.

As a last point between both concepts, FAIR Data does not have to be Open. For example, a set of data that meets these defining characteristics, but is only accessible by the group of researchers that are working with them (therefore, they are not open). The FAIR Data motto makes this difference quite clear: “as open as possible, as closed as necessary”.

The opposite case is also perfectly possible: not all Open Data has to be FAIR. For example, a data set with an open license archived in an uncured repository that cannot be found.

Once the clearest differences are established, we will look in depth at the main characteristics and objectives of these different data.

Over time, Open Data will extend to other aspects of society.

FAIR Data, in favor of open scientific research

FAIR Data was born in the context of the scientific community, which benefits from cooperation and sharing data and information from research results. This is what is known as Open Science, which encourages the data obtained to be public access, especially those produced thanks to public funds.

Based on this need, the Scientific Data magazine of Nature published in 2016 the article “FAIR Principles for the management and administration of scientific data”, which details how this type of data should be and what characteristics must necessarily have.

  • Findable: This is the first step for the reuse of the data, which is to find them. The metadata are necessary so that they can be read by the machines and found by humans. Therefore, they must have assigned a unique and persistent identifier, with a correct and abundant description.
  • Accessible: Once the user has found the data, he must know how to access it, possibly through an authentication and authorization process. Communication protocols should be open, free and universally implemented.
  • Interoperable: Data needs to be integrated not only with other data, but also with applications or workflows for analysis, storage and processing. Therefore, both the data and the metadata must use a formal, accessible and compatible language.
  • Reusable: other researchers can reuse all data. In order to optimize this, it is important to make clear its origin and the conditions of reuse.

FAIR Data’s usefulness was so great that even the European Union expressed interest in these principles and incorporated them into the Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Program project.

Open Data, in favor of access to all data

Open data does not have a restricted context of action, but its main source is governments and public administrations, in favor of achieving the desired transparency nowadays.

In order to consider data to be open, it must not have any limitation that prevents anyone from using it, combining it and sharing it, even for commercial purposes. Therefore, open data is free to use, although the possibility is contemplated that its access, in some cases, may not necessarily be free, as creating, maintaining and publishing the data entails a cost.

To consider that a data is open, it should not have any limitation that prevents anyone from using it, combining it and sharing it, even for commercial purposes. Therefore, the open data are free to use, although the possibility is contemplated that its access, in some cases, is not necessarily free, since creating, maintaining and publishing the data entails a cost. A notable part about open data, beyond its contribution to transparency, is its reusability and how this can positively affect the local economy. The annual report of the Multisector Information Association (ASEDIE, by its acronyms in Spanish) highlights that companies that “use public and private data to create value-added products and services for society” invoiced € 1,720 million in 2016, with a growth of 2% with respect to the previous year.

Many local and regional administrations in Spain take into account the potential of the reuse of open data among citizens. The Transparency Ordinance of the City of Madrid seeks to encourage the use of “standard formats, free and open use”. The Open Government plan of the Generalitat de Catalunya has fifteen actions with the aim of bringing the data open to the public and promoting its use.

Despite their differences, FAIR Data and Open Data make clear the importance they currently have to share data, information and access, allowing collaboration and saving costs and time between scientists or between other user communities and possible reusers.

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