The cost of implementing a standards-supported data sharing vision is as large as the number of stakeholders who must operate synchronously. The extensive ‘social engineering’ and community liaison need to be managed and funded, and rewards and incentives need to be identified for all contributors in the development and implementation of standards. The stakeholders’ communication is naturally organic, but unfortunately this also means it is quite patchy and ad hoc. We need to nurture an open, integrative, and pre-competitive communication environment that connects all parties during the development and evolution of standards and policies, but that also cultivates the collective expertise and experience, recording invaluable feedback cycles, and facilitating the complex unpacking stakeholders’ dynamics, where it can be refined and used to inform the next steps.
Ownership of open standards can be problematic in broad, grass-roots collaborations; the embryonic legal framework in this area requires new or improved models to encourage maintenance of and contribution to open standards and support their evolution. Only rarely are appropriate funding mechanisms provided to support such a large, time consuming, mainly volunteer-based, undertaking. Robust relationships among all stakeholders can help to ensure a long-term sustainability strategy for these endeavours, where the costs will further accrue as the standards or the tools are refined, adopted, and evolve to serve new data type and users’ needs. When funds are mobilized, budgetary constraints will also require our building a comprehensive picture of the current portfolio of
enablers to make sure that those areas that are in greatest need are addressed, harmonization is encouraged, and wasteful reinvention is ended.
When a standard is mature and appropriate standard-compliant systems become available, these then must be channelled to the appropriate stakeholder community, who in turn must use them to facilitate a high-quality data cycle, from data generation to standardization, and through publication to subsequent sharing and reuse. They also need to either endorse and require them in the data policies and begin to actively monitor adherence.
Although daunting, potential solutions to these issues are in fact within our reach, and thus provide an opportunity to create new relationships and collaborative models. Here are two examples: First, BioSharing , which works as a registry for community-standards, allies with the International Society for Biocuration and several other existing resources’ portals and catalogues. As such it creates common metadata descriptors to best categorize data sharing resources and builds a distributed ecosystem of inter-connected resources . Second, the ISA Commons, which illustrates how the synergy between research and service groups, across a variety of life science domains, can work to build an network of data collection, curation, and sharing solutions that progressively enable the ‘invisible use’ of standards .
At this time, however, this remains a drop in the ocean; to achieve these goals all stakeholders must play their part. The real impact of standards and their economical value will be measured as we continue to facilitate their usability to improve data sharing and will demonstrate how this, in turn, underpins new biological insights and drives science of the future.