TRUST Principles Mini Symposium: The Future of Digital Repositories

blog arrowPosted on: Jul 29, 2020

By Robyn Nicholson, Research Data Canada


  1. Background
  2. Presentations
  3. Discussion Reflection
  4. Looking Forward


A year-long collaborative community effort from Research Data Alliance (RDA) resulted in the development of the TRUST Principles, a set of guiding principles to demonstrate digital repository trustworthiness, centred around Transparency, Responsibility, User focus, Sustainability, and Technology. Published on May 14th, 2020 in Nature Research’s Scientific Data, the Principles provide a framework to facilitate discussion and implementation of best practices in digital preservation. As the article states, trustworthy data repositories “must demonstrate essential and enduring capabilities necessary to enable access and reuse of data over time for the communities they serve,” and the TRUST Principles provide clear guidance for repository stakeholders on how these qualities may be developed, maintained, and demonstrated.

The TRUST Principles have since been endorsed by over 25 organizations, including Research Data Canada. RDC Executive Director Mark Leggott observed that, “From the beginning of its mandate, RDC has worked with the Canadian data management community to facilitate a more sustainable repository ecosystem, and the TRUST Principles are a critical next step in this evolving effort.” As such, RDC was pleased to work with Principles authors Ingrid Dillo and Dawei Lin, as well as World Data Systems (WDS) International Technology Office (ITO) Associate Director Karen Payne on planning a virtual event to introduce the Principles to a global audience.

The result was the TRUST Principles Mini Symposium which took place July 7th, 2020, and was co-presented by RDC, RDA, WDS, and the Principles authors. The video recording and presentation slides (Part 1 | Part 2) are available on the RDC website. The event was well-received and well-attended, with over 140 attendees from 20 different countries. The following sections provide an overview of the presentations, reflection on the discussion that arose from the Question and Answer (Q&A) board that remained active throughout the event (full Q&A transcript here), and a look ahead at next steps for the TRUST Principles.


What are the TRUST Principles?

Dawei Lin, Division of Allergy, Immunology, and Transplantation at NIAID and NIH

The TRUST Principles are a collaborative effort from 19 co-authors representing four continents and eight countries, diverse stakeholders, multiple research areas, and hundreds of years of experiences with digital repositories. Along with discussing each of the five pillars of the TRUST acronym, Dr. Lin also described the motivation for the Principles as well as their value and impact in the present and in the future. The diagram below highlights how the TRUST Principles can be employed by digital repositories to positively affect the FAIRness of data. In this context, non-FAIR and FAIR data can be better understood as varying levels of FAIRness as opposed to a binary.

Fig. 1: A visual representation of the relationship between TRUST and FAIR Principles (Dawei Lin, 2020)

Cautionary Tales: The Need for Digital Preservation Best Practices

Karen Payne, World Data System

Using vivid and timely examples, Payne explained what can happen when lack of engagement with TRUSTworthy repositories leads to public misinformation and poor decision making. Payne noted that data managers have a duty to safeguard public trust in science, and that the TRUST Principles are a good place to start.

TRUST and FAIR: Complementarity of the Principles

Ingrid Dillo, DANS

Dillo described the connection between the TRUST Principles and the FAIR Guiding Principles and how the two frameworks interact and reinforce each other to ensure FAIR data are encouraged and protected by Trustworthy Data Repositories (TDRs).

TRUST, FAIR, CARE, and CoreTrustSeal

Wim Hugo, World Data System

Discussing implementation pathways for the TRUST Principles, Hugo examined the TRUST Principles in connection with the FAIR and CARE Principles and in the context of the CoreTrustSeal certification. Hugo also explored the nature and necessity of trust in the research community, how it is established from a variety of perspectives, and how principles such as TRUST can be transformed from aspirations to implementations through architecture development.

Fig. 2: Call to Action – Pathway for TRUST Principles from aspiration to implementation (Wim Hugo, 2020)

Implementation Pathway: TRUST and ISO 16363/ISO 16919 Intersections

David Giaretta, Primary Trustworthy Digital Repository Authorisation Body (PTAB)

Giaretta explored the importance of trust and verification with regard to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) auditing system. In addition to an in-depth examination of ISO and OAIS standards and their relationships, Giaretta also described the ISO auditing process, accreditation, certification, and metrics, and how the TRUST Principles are a good start for trusting and verifying digital repositories.

Protein Data Bank: A Community Archival Data Repository Example

John Westbrook, Research Collaboratory for Structural Bioinformatics Protein Data Bank (RCSB PDB)

This session took a thorough look at the PDB as a community archival data repository example of TRUSTworthiness in action. Established in 1971, PDB serves as a global archive for protein and DNA/RNA experimental structures and has expanded to include worldwide collaborations that are managed according to FAIR principles. Westbrook highlighted aspects of PDB in the context of each of the TRUST Principles’ five pillars and concluded that user focus remains a key challenge and opportunity for the future.

CANARIE RDM Funding: A Funder Example

Mark Leggott, Research Data Canada

Following Westbrook’s repository example, Leggott provided a funder’s perspective by detailing the CANARIE Research Data Management (RDM) Funding program. After reviewing the funding process, guidance focused on FAIR principles, standards and best practices, and some of the projects funded through the RDM program, Leggott highlighted the opportunity to continue working with funders to integrate support for the TRUST Principles and national data repositories into ongoing efforts. He also highlighted the importance of funders evolving their programs to provide sustainable funding pipelines for core data repositories, and related research infrastructures.

Stakeholder Panel

The session concluded with a stakeholder panel moderated by Mustapha Mokrane, Policy Advisor and Project Manager at DANS. Panelists were chosen to represent various stakeholder perspectives and included:

  • Robert Downs, Senior Digital Archivist and Acting Head of Cyberinfrastructure and Informatics Research and Development at CIESIN, the Center for International Earth Science Information Network, as a TRUST author;
  • Mark Leggott of RDC as a funder;
  • Shelley Stall, Senior Director for Data Leadership at the American Geophysical Union (AGU), from the research community;
  • John Westbrook of RCSB PDB as a repository manager; and
  • Varsha Khodiyar, Data Curation Manager at Springer Nature, as a publisher.

The panelists were asked to discuss the main challenges for implementation of the TRUST principles within their stakeholder communities, identify signs of success and measures of impact of the Principles in the short and longer term, and finally to explore how we can help the Principles succeed as a community. The resulting discussion was rich and insightful, and concluded with many of the panelists citing opportunities for education as keys for the future success and implementation of the TRUST Principles, such as the Mini Symposium itself.

Discussion Reflection

Attendees were encouraged to make use of the Q&A board throughout the event, and the resulting discussion and interaction with presenters and panelists highlighted some key questions, challenges, and opportunities for the TRUST Principles moving forward. Some of the most frequently discussed topics are outlined below.


Building on Ingrid Dillo’s presentation, attendees further discussed how the TRUST and FAIR Principles interact and complement each other. By viewing FAIRness as a continuum of varying levels, repositories often face the difficult challenge of improving FAIRness of incoming data in a sustainable way, and TRUSTworthy repositories must work harder, and at greater expense, to ensure enduring FAIRness. There was also a question of whether FAIR and TRUST Principles apply to the curation and stewardship of other types of resources outside of data and metadata, to which presenters responded that both sets of Principles can be thought of as high level considerations and guidance that are applicable to a wide variety of resources.

There was a similar concern that achieving TRUSTworthiness and FAIRness looks different for different institutions depending on region, community, size and discipline. Mustapha Mokrane acknowledged that the various implementations of the TRUST Principles (such as the CoreTrustSeal certification for research data repositories) will have to take into account the variety and evolution of practices and capabilities.

“Bad Science”

Karen Payne’s presentation describing the dangers of “unTRUSTworthy” repositories inspired further discussion of the effects and implications of “bad science”, and how it relates to issues of accountability and ethics. While the TRUST Principles mainly focus on the management of digital repositories, it was argued that this scope would also include verification of compliance with ethical requirements of disciplines and institutions. There was also a call for improved accountability, as it was observed that often “bad science” ends up affecting everyone except the “bad scientist.”


David Giaretta’s thorough exploration of ISO auditing processes in relation to the TRUST Principles highlighted the need for complementary approaches to building an ecosystem of trusted data repositories, whether that is via the CoreTrustSeal, ISO certification, or other pathways. Not all organizations will be able to achieve ISO certification status, so frameworks like the CoreTrustSeal provide another level of accessibility and trustworthiness that even more repositories could seek to achieve. The TRUST Principles will further facilitate this diversity of approaches by providing all stakeholders, including funders and policymakers, with options for supporting the evolving landscape of trusted data repositories.

Looking Forward

The discussion generated by the TRUST Principles Mini Symposium is only the beginning. The challenge ahead lies in the implementation of the Principles in real practices, followed by the continuous maintenance of high-level TRUSTworthiness complemented by FAIRness. Another important step will be obtaining endorsement and also buy-in from funders to support implementation and maintenance. Establishment of quality metrics and an agreed-upon framework for all compliance certification will also be of great value, along with investment in highly qualified personnel (HQP) in the form of knowledgeable curators in trusted repositories.

In partnership with the Portage Network, RDC is now planning a follow-up event that will cover the TRUST Principles in the Canadian context. In a 2.5 hour workshop for the Canadian repository community, examples of international and Canadian implementations will allow us to delve even deeper into the Principles and their impact. More details will follow soon, but the event is tentatively scheduled for the week of November 16th, 2020. We would also be happy to engage with colleagues from other countries to discuss an approach to a series of TRUST webinars from national, domain, or other perspectives. Feel free to contact Mark Leggott ( or RDC intern Robyn Nicholson ( with any questions.