EU drives social science database hub
Europe's database cooperation project for the social sciences will be hosted by NSD (Norwegian Social Science Data Service) in Bergen. From its northerly home, the secretariat of the consolidated research infrastructure (RI) of the Council of European Social Science Data Archives (CESSDA) will interact with dedicated resource centres in the contributing countries, says NSD Director Bjorn Henrichsen. Integration of the vast amount of social sciences data produced throughout Europe will take current initiatives to make this complex body of information available to the wider research community to the next level. It will improve data availability across borders and streamline the archiving of this data. 'CESSDA RI will be a decentralised institution,' Dr Henrichsen explains. 'The secretariat in Bergen will not be a large-scale, central unit, but more of a hub for handling contracts, forms of cooperation, and creating a solid underlying framework for the operation as a whole.' The CESSDA network involves organisations in 21 member countries. According to Dr Henrichsen, it builds on a rich tradition of cooperation. 'The social sciences are very advanced in terms of data sharing,' he says. 'There is an immense volume of data, as well as a great many users.' And indeed, as part of its remit to facilitate the access to social science data and archives, CESSDA provides services to more than 30,000 researchers and students throughout the European Research Area (ERA) every year. Data collections include sociological surveys, electoral studies, longitudinal studies, opinion polls and census data, organised to enable users to find datasets as well as embedded subjects or variables. The move towards a truly integrated data infrastructure is one of 44 projects launched by the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI). 'The new ESFRI project involves expanding the European cooperation for social science data that has been built up over a 30-year period,' Dr Henrichsen explains. 'The expansion focuses on standardisation and documentation to make data accessible in the simplest and most practical way to researchers in Europe and beyond,' he adds. To date, Finland, Germany, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Norway have pledged financial and political support for this upgrade, and up to eight more countries are expected to follow suit before the end of the year. The EU supports this ambitious undertaking under the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7). The CESSDA PPP ('Preparatory phase project for a major upgrade of the CESSDA RI') project benefited from EUR 2.68 million of funding under the Capacities programme, which notably encourages the development of European research infrastructures and optimisation of their use. In terms of its technical set-up, the integration will, to a large extent, be based on technology developed and owned by the NSD. 'The expansion won't require much alteration of the existing data portal,' Dr Henrichsen explains. 'We have come a long way in terms of technology and standards. We have good systems, but the aim is of course to expand upon these. Further developing the service will include authentication and access solutions, standards for metadata, and implementing controlled management tools. In addition we will examine the potential of using grid technology and improved tools for harmonisation of data.' Dr Henrichsen also underlines the implications of this choice of location for Norway, a decision which he sees as a 'feather in the cap' for the country, and which will showcase its contribution to the field. 'We are building a strong centre of expertise that will prove extremely valuable to our social science community, as well as to other fields. The technology being developed and the broad channels for dissemination of data will make it feasible to use the centre in environmental research, medicine and the humanities. What's more, its very structure will open more possibilities for collaboration between scientific disciplines.' It will also be designed for wider geographical scope. 'The way we standardise and document data between the different countries,' he says, 'will promote cross-national surveys.'
Germany, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway