How Can You Make Vocabularies FAIRer?

Experts developed and tested practices for preparing, publishing and maintaining FAIR vocabularies for the research community at a recent workshop.
Make vocabularies FAIRer

A recent workshop brought together the research community to work on vocabularies, an important tool for enabling data to be used and reused across disciplines and systems.

A vocabulary sets out the common language a discipline has agreed to use to refer to concepts of interest. Vocabularies are used to organise and classify data. If those vocabularies are FAIR (finable, accessible, interoperable and reusable), they can be used and reused within and across applications and domains. Vocabularies are also fundamental to creating interoperable data systems.

A Workshop on FAIR Vocabularies

In September 2021, a virtual workshop on the FAIR publication of vocabularies was held over 4 and a half days. The event was sponsored by the Committee on Data of the International Science Council (CODATA), and Data Documentation Initiative Alliance (DDI), and supported by the Australian Research Data Commons (ARDC) and the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE).

Representing a range of domains and organisations

The gallery view of a Zoom meeting
Some of the participants in the FAIR vocabularies workshop 2021, including Rowan Brownlee and Dr Lesley Wyborn from the ARDC.

The workshop brought together 25 participants from across Australia, representing a variety of disciplines and organisations across geospatial data, earth and environmental science, official statistics, humanities and social science, health, and Indigenous data, alongside a group of technology experts.

Through the workshop activities, the participants developed and tested practices for preparing, publishing and maintaining FAIR vocabularies for the research community.

Working together to make vocabularies FAIR

Participants brought their own examples of ‘un-FAIR’ vocabularies. In the first activity, small breakout teams examined the vocabularies, using the framework of the Ten simple rules for making a vocabulary FAIR. The ‘un-FAIR’ vocabularies were: colour names (from the Munsell colour system), dwelling types (from AS 4590), historical police districts and administrative areas, and a small ecology classification (GBIF Establishment Means).

Maintaining FAIR vocabularies over time

FAIR vocabularies are not static. They change over time. So the second exercise focused on considering how to maintain and revise vocabularies. As a result, the workshop identified 6 key areas for governing and managing a FAIR vocabulary:

  • Scope and context
  • Stakeholders
  • Content management
  • Revision and change requests
  • Implementation and communication of changes
  • Persistence and sustainability.

Developing a catalogue of vocabulary tools

To help users make their vocabularies FAIR, a technical team compiled a list of FAIR vocabulary tools, tabulating a summary of their functions, and relative strengths and weaknesses.

Read more about the workshop

More details of the participants and agenda, along with summaries of the main outcomes of the workshop are available from the FAIR Vocabularies workshop website.

Meet and talk with workshop participants

If you are interested in learning more about the workshop and its outputs, come along to the next Australian Vocabulary Special Interest Group (AVSIG) on 1 March 2022 at 11am AEDT.

Receive your invitation to the Australian Vocabulary Special Interest Group (AVSIG) by joining the AVSIG group.

The ARDC is funded through the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) to support national digital research infrastructure for Australian researchers.