Recognition for the role of image data stewardship

February 20, 2024

Together with the expert staff at our Nodes, Euro-BioImaging supports the adoption of practices that yield FAIR image data and analysis workflows to help researchers get the most out of their imaging data and promote scientific rigor. But making image data FAIR often requires skills, time and specific knowledge that researchers might not have. This is where data stewards come in - they support researchers to make image datasets FAIR and openly available via public repositories. But how do we acknowledge their hard work? At Euro-BioImaging’s initiative, the BioImage Archive has made it possible to credit data stewards involved in supporting dataset submission. This is an important step towards recognizing the important contribution of data stewards in enabling quality data for the European Research Area.

Consensus on FAIR data

As demonstrated by the Lund Declaration 2023, there is a consensus across Europe about the importance of reusable high-quality research data to strengthen and advance knowledge and increase the competitiveness of European research and innovation. As governments and research organizations express their commitment to Open Science, new roles need to be created and resources must be made available to underpin this undertaking. This includes “…promoting networks of data stewards…” as mentioned in the Lund Declaration, to support researchers on the road to FAIRification. EOSC Association has been instrumental in setting the groundwork for the emerging data steward role in its Task Forces. We now see the role is becoming more common in tenders, grants and at research infrastructures and research organizations. In the imaging community, we are proud that several of our national Nodes have received funding to hire Image Data Stewards.

But what is an image data steward?

In 2022, Euro-BioImaging hired a FAIR Image Data Steward, Isabel Kemmer, for supporting FAIR image data mobilization in the BY-COVID project. Her role in this project is to ensure the uptake of image datasets with a particular focus on COVID-19 and infectious diseases into public repositories. “I assist individual dataset holders with curating and depositing their COVID-19-related datasets, and executing data management plans. In addition, I develop general guidelines for depositing and managing image data,” explains Isabel Kemmer about her daily work. ”To effectively mobilize data, I also support the interoperability of different image metadata standards“. This involves aligning metadata within and across scientific disciplines so that metadata is consistent and compatible. This is especially important for multimodal and correlative datasets. In this way, data stewards improve data reusability by building trust in data through appropriate metadata.

On the other hand, Isabel is also engaged in outreach activities to educate the BY-COVID consortium and the community at large about the importance of FAIR data: “I am particularly proud of the “Guide to FAIR BioImage Data” webinar that I organized and hosted. This brought together researchers, facility staff, repository staff and the general image community to learn about and discuss easy steps towards FAIR data.” The recordings of this workshop are available on YouTube.

Another way Isabel reached out to the community was by writing a review on “Building a FAIR image data ecosystem for microscopy communities” published in Histochemistry & Cell Biology. “Isabel has already made a significant impact and supported publication of key data sets in the BioImage Archive in a short amount of time,” says Antje Keppler, Director of Euro-BioImaging Bio-Hub and chair of ERIC forum.

Caption: The role of a data steward. This illustration is created by Scriberia with The Turing Way community, used under a CC-BY 4.0 license. DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.3332807

Incentives and much appreciated recognition

As a step in the right direction, FAIR data stewards are increasingly part of the imaging landscape. However, it is crucial to consider how to acknowledge and incentivize data stewards for their contributions to the European Research Area.

The BioImage Archive not only allows but encourages datasets to be attributed to multiple collaborators and facilitators with different granular roles and links these contributions to the researcher's ORCiDs for easy tracking. Therefore, we would like to express our appreciation to the BioImage Archive for recognizing the efforts of data stewards in the dataset submission process.

“The work of a data steward can be tedious," Isabel expresses, "and the level of involvement depends heavily on the maturity and complexity of the datasets provided by the researchers. That said, it's now particularly rewarding to have a direct track record of the work I've put into each dataset.”

Long-term impact

“This is only the beginning” as Matthew Hartley, BioImage Archive Team Leader, explains, “From the repository point of view, we can implement recognition of the data steward role, but the next step as a community is to collectively recognize the value of these roles. There’s a real value in having data stewards who can help users get their data into repositories and this should be recognized. We hope that other repositories will follow suit.”

In the long run, we expect our FAIR Image Data Steward’s expertise and direct interaction with researchers and imaging experts to guide the influx of high-quality image data and metadata into the realm of Open Science, empowering the Euro-BioImaging stakeholders and the global scientific community.

Antje Keppler explains: “There’s a lot of momentum right now, especially following the Lund Declaration. Ensuring sustainable funding for data steward roles will really change research and innovation on a European scale. We have already seen the impact this role can have on the scale of a single EU project. When data stewards will be more widespread, we will truly enable quality data for the European Research Area.”

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