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28 Jul 2017

ENERGIC- OD puts FAIR principles into practice across the EU

In his  post on the Research Data Alliance(RDA) blog, Bas Cordewener invited readers to contribute to the  “FAIR in practice” initiative carried out by Jisc. This project aims at exploring and highlighting the best FAIR practices in order to inform the wider research community on how to deal with FAIR principles.

With this contribution, I intend to provide an example of excellent FAIR practice from the geospatial information systems (GIS) field: The European Network for Redistributing Geospatial Information to user Communities- Open Data (ENERGIC-OD).  Before I do so, I will elucidate what FAIR means.

What is FAIR ?

FAIR is an acronym indicating data which is Foundable, Accessible, Interoperable and Re-usable. The FAIR principles lie at the very heart of the Open Data movement. This movement is an advocator of free data which is easy to access and reusable without any restrictions. FAIR principles, nonetheless, are hardly ever put in practice in the Open Data world. A recent report published by the Open Knowledge Foundation (2017) reveals three major problems affecting Government Open Data: 1) lack of discoverability, as data is almost impossible to find; 2)great difficulty in utilising the data; 3) lack of a standardised open license which prevents data from being freely shared and re-used. Examples of good FAIR practices, however, do indeed exist. In what fallows I will present a very successful one.


ENERGIC-OD is a project funded by the European Commission as part of FP7/CIP programme. The project launched a pan-European Virtual Hub (pEVH) facilitating the use of geospatial (GIS) open data across Europe. The readers can access and utilise the pEVH here.  pEVH brokers together a potentially infinite number of geo-spatial/topographic open data sources, harmonising them, rendering them accessible through a single API and ready to be reused for various purposes. Data brokered by the pEVH is available under freemium license:  data is free to use, while users can pay for some extra features of the pEVH. The freemium model is of crucial importance for the Open Data movement as it promotes knowledge exchange while extracting value from such an exchange and from the services provided by the various actors involved.

To demonstrate the viability of the pEVH, the ENERGIC-OD consortium developed 10 applications based on pEVH-brokered data. These applications range from an app promoting communication between citizens and land consolidation authorities to an app allowing people to participate in the scientific observation of coastlines.  These apps are just an example of what can be achieved with ENERGIC-OD.


ENERGIC-OD represents an excellent example of FAIR practice. The very nature of the pEVH ensures discoverability of geo-spatial data sources, as these are collected and concentrated in one virtual location. Additionally, a function of the pEVH called web-crawler ensures that the hub automatically searches the web for new GIS sources. These aspects allow the pEVH to optimally put in practice the Foundability principle. pEVH technology then harmonises and renders accessible in a single API the data previously stored, thus fulfilling the principles of Accessibility and Interoperability. Subsequently, the freemium license ensures the free reutilisation of the data; such data is also enriched by the pEVH which creates metadata, facilitating links between different datasets and thus stimulating innovative reutilisations of the data. In such a way ENERGIC-OD fulfils the Re-use principle.

The international nature and the pan-Europeanism characterising the ENERGIC-OD consortium demonstrates that FAIR practices have the strength to unify Open Data communities from many countries within the EU, providing common standards for data sharing and re-use. ENERGIC-OD is FAIR; other projects can be so too, adopting similar strategies.

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