Skip to Main Content

FAIR Data: Accessible

The FAIR Data Principles are a set of community developed guiding principles for making data Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable.

Not all data can be made openly available and FAIR does not mean that data need to be open. As a rule of thumb data should be ‘as open as possible, as closed as necessary’.

  • If your data can’t be made openly available, access conditions should be made clear to researchers wishing to re-use your data, e.g. only available for research purposes.
  • Metadata will be accessible, wherever possible, even if the data aren’t.

Access Conditions for Research Data

Sensitive and confidential data can be safeguarded by regulating or restricting access to and use of the data. Access controls should always be proportionate to the kind of data and level of confidentiality involved. The access controls you can put in place will be guided by those available from your chosen Archive or Repository so it's important to talk to them about your options.

Below we describe different levels of access for data:

  • Open data

Data that can be accessed by any user for any reason, including commercial. Data in this category should not contain personal information unless consent is given.

  • Safeguarded data

Data that are available only under certain conditions. This is for data that contain no personal information, but the data owner considers there to be a risk of disclosure resulting from linkage to other data.

ISSDA provides access to safeguarded quantitative data in the Social Sciences under certain conditions, for example the user must be using the data for research or teaching purposes and must sign a legally binding End User Licence, which sets out additional terms and conditions.

  • Controlled data

This level of access control is suitable for data that may be disclosive. Access is generally approved by a Data Access Committee, who may require that certain training has taken place or that the data are only available from certain computers in a controlled 'data room'. 

  •  Embargo

Most data repositories allow you to place a temporary embargo on your data. During the embargo period, only the description of the dataset is published. The data themselves will become available in open access after a certain period of time.


The UK Data Service explain: "metadata can describe the content, context and provenance of datasets in a standardised and structured manner,  typically describing the purpose, origin, temporal characteristics, geographic location, authorship, access conditions and terms of use of a dataset."

Rich metadata (elements which describe the data) enhance the findability, interoperability and reusability of your data. To comply with the FAIR Principles metadata should be accessible, wherever possible, even if the data aren’t.

The quality of the descriptive information (metadata and documentation) regarding the data has a profound impact on their reusability so the more documentation and metadata you can provide, the better.

Your chosen Data Repository or Archive may have a metadata template you can complete or a required standard you must use. If not you should follow relevant disciplinary standards.