More and better science in a FAIR-data world

PwC helps the European Commission devise strong arguments for FAIR-compliant data policies by assessing the cost of its non-existence.

The challenge

The European Commission’s Directorate-General for Research and Innovation (DG RTD) seeks to boost European research and innovation and optimise their impact. Within DG RTD, the Open Science Unit supports new and digital ways of doing research and diffusing knowledge.

"One pillar of open science is FAIR data; data that’s findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable. In Europe, we invest more than 110 billion euros in science research each year. Once data’s published it’s not reusable, meaning that the public money used to fund it is being wasted," explains Jean-Claude Burgelman, Head of DG RTD’s Unit for Open Data Policies and Science Cloud. He adds, "While we intrinsically understand the need for FAIR data, until now, there was no understanding of what not having FAIR data was costing."

To gain that understanding as background for a sound argument for the creation of FAIR data policies, DG RTD tasked PwC with a study to calculate that cost.

What's FAIR data?

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Data and supplementary materials have sufficiently rich metadata and a unique and persistent identifier.

Repository icon for storing data

Metadata and data are understandable to humans and machines and data’s deposited in a trusted repository.

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Metadata uses a formal, accessible, shared and broadly applicable language for knowledge representation.

Icon resuseable document

Data and collections have clear usage licences and provide accurate information on provenance.

 Jean-Claude Burgelman, Head of DG RTD’s Unit for Open Data Policies and Science Cloud

Making more out of data

The FAIR principles provide guidance for scientific data management and stewardship to encourage maximum usage of data and are relevant to all stakeholders in the digital ecosystem. To assess the cost of not having FAIR-compliant data, the team undertook extensive desk research into what’s been done on FAIR to date, how FAIR data’s been monetised in the past and what cost-benefits models exist. Based on this, they sought to estimate the cost to research in Europe should data not be findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable.

"The resulting number is extremely impressive and persuasive. The results of PwC’s research is a clear and quantifiable figure that - even if not 100 percent accurate given the difficulty of calculating the lack of something, a concern that PwC didn’t hesitate to point out - offers a sound argument for FAIR," Jean-Claude Burgelman says.


"When you're unsure in which direction you should go, it’s good to have someone like PwC walk beside you."

Jean-Claude BurgelmanHead of DG RTD’s Unit for Open Data Policies and Science Cloud




A fun and collaborative process

PwC’s honesty throughout the process wasn’t the only trait that Jean-Claude Burgelman appreciated in the team.

"While clearly experts in their field, the team made a real effort from the very beginning to listen and understand what we were looking to achieve. There was constant communication and close collaboration and we were truly able to learn from each other. When you're unsure in which direction you should go, it’s good to have someone like PwC walk beside you. When we needed to adapt or change, we did, making it a fun and collaborative process," he enthuses. "The overall results were achieved thanks to the joint efforts of a dedicated team,” he adds.

Jean-Claude Burgelman with Nicolas Loozen from PwC Belgium

Cultivating more and better science

Next, DG RTD will consider how to design and implement a policy that fosters the required climate for FAIR data in Europe to support the European Commission’s aim of enabling all European researchers to be able to deposit, access and analyse European scientific data through a European Open Science Cloud by 2020.

"The compliance of all research data in Europe with FAIR principles will allow science to be more productive; time and investment won’t be wasted on repeating research," Jean-Claude Burgelman explains. He goes on, "imagine if you were to expand that usage of data to Europe’s 21 million smaller and medium-sized businesses. If only a tiny fraction of them used that data, the potential for innovation is substantial. Indeed, if only one new innovation resulted, FAIR data would have served its purpose." And he concludes, "FAIR data will not only enable us to have more science, but better science."

At PwC, our purpose is to build trust in society and solve important problems. It’s via working on assignments like this that seek to have a positive impact on the competitiveness of our region that we’re able to fulfil that ambition.

Contact us

Floris Ampe

Floris Ampe

Partner, PwC Belgium

Tel: +32 477 61 79 91

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