Making Heritage Science Data FAIR and Impactful seminar: a review

Heritage Scientist Natalie Brown attended the Making Heritage Science Data FAIR and Impactful seminar recently organised by E-RIHS UK, along with the ICON Heritage Science Group (HSG) and National Heritage Science Forum (NHSF). Here’s her review:

As a heritage scientist I collect and use data on a daily basis; whether it’s documenting objects, collecting and analysing scientific data, or integrating data collected by others. However, like many other researchers, I have sometimes underestimated the value of my data to wider audiences. The Making Heritage Science Data FAIR and Impactful seminar was a good opportunity both for me to better understand my data, and an occasion to meet other heritage scientists and find out how they collect, use and manage data.

Professor May Cassar, director of the UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage and UK national coordinator of E-RIHS, kicked the day off by introducing the organisers and highlighted why this kind of seminar is so important for the heritage community. All three organisations engage individually with professionals around data and use, for example, one of the main streams of E-RIHS is digital data and FAIR principles is a core concept within the research infrastructure. ICON HSG aims to support access to heritage science data and improve dialogue between Heritage Scientists and related professionals to develop best practices, as we have recently seen with the ethical sampling guide and NHSF has recently published a national Strategic Framework for Heritage Science. As such, it was motivating to see the three organisers coming together to build a stronger, integrated heritage science community.

The day began with a series of presentations, followed by an expert round table, and tours of the new technology applied by heritage researchers at UCL. From the presentations, participants gained greater understanding of differing types of heritage science data and how FAIR principles (findable, accessible, interoperable, reusable) can be applied to them. There were also animated discussions about ‘born digital’ data, ‘big data’ projects, and the economic power of data.

The first session explored what heritage science data is and how different institutions collect, manage and store it. Three case studies were presented; Fishbourne Roman Palace (presented by Rob Symmons), ISIS Neutron and Muon Source – Science & Technology Facilities Council (presented by Antonella Scherillo), and Historic England (presented by Paul Bryan). Each presenter drew from their own experiences and it was beneficial to hear about the range of techniques currently being used for various types of data and different organisational infrastructures. Although FAIR principles are being used in heritage science, it was clear from the presentations that it is tied to an institution’s capabilities.

The second session focused on dissemination and impact. Tim Evans from Archaeological Data Service (ADS) discussed how ADS make their resources available through their online catalogue, as well as wider issues around data access and how we can improve this – something that E-RIHS is hoping to achieve through their DIGILAB platform. Sara Gould (British Library) and Luigi Galimeberti (Tate) continued the session, discussing their project to create a shared research repository showcasing the multidisciplinary research conducted by organisations; to monitor and evaluate the impact of the research across organisations; and play a fundamental role in centralising, preserving and making research accessible. Currently the project is in its pilot phase but it could offer an exciting opportunity for professionals to instigate FAIR principles across UK organisations. Maja Maricevic (British Library) brought the presentations to a close with a thought-provoking presentation about heritage data’s economic impact and the opportunities and challenges heritage organisations face when dealing with large amounts of data.

The seminar concluded with a round table discussion. Experts debated larger questions, such as changing technologies; the political landscape, and how this will affect FAIR principles; data ethics; how to best share data between institutions; and policy creation. They also discussed with the audience issues around resources and funding, data transfer, storage and how to disseminate data online. While not all the questions could be fully addressed by the panel, it was a great opportunity to start wider conversations about impact and FAIR heritage data.

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