Skip to main content

Synergies for Europe's Research Infrastructures in the Social Sciences

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - SERISS (Synergies for Europe's Research Infrastructures in the Social Sciences)

Reporting period: 2018-07-01 to 2019-08-31

The SERISS collaboration has increased the long-term availability and value of social science data to researchers and policymakers in need of robust evidence to address key challenges. It ensures European and national policymaking can be built on a solid base of the highest quality socio-economic evidence. In order to get to that point it was deemed necessary to make methodological, organisational and technical improvements across the domain. SERISS involved the three leading European Research Infrastructures in the social sciences – the European Social Survey (ESS ERIC), the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE ERIC) and the Consortium of European Social Science Data Archives (CESSDA ERIC) – with organisations representing the Generations and Gender Programme (GGP), European Values Study (EVS) and the WageIndicator Survey.

The cluster project has started to overcome the fragmentation among these infrastructures by fostering interoperability, harmonisation and innovation. Through effective collaboration and knowledge sharing, SERISS has successfully enhanced the quality, efficiency and scope of social science data collection in Europe in ways beyond what would have been possible for a single infrastructure.
Results from the SERISS project have been realised in 3 areas:

Addressing challenges for cross-national data collection - The value of any social survey rests on its ability to accurately represent the population of interest. SERISS has undertaken activities to improve the representativeness of social survey data, for example compiling a database of the sampling frames used by the four large face to face surveys taking part in SERISS and lobbying activities at national and European level to make the case for grating greater access to population registers, the acknowledged gold-standard sampling frame, for survey sampling. SERISS has undertaken activities to advance knowledge and practice of survey translation through work such as new experimental evidence on the merits of close vs. adaptive survey translation and develop providing input to training materials for translators working with the European Language Social Science Thesaurus.

Breaking down barriers - SERISS saw the development, adoption or adaptation in the field of a number of interactive online tools to support the data collection process, to streamline the sharing of information between stakeholders, and facilitate the storage of metadata for example: a Question Variable Database and a mobile Fieldwork Management System. These are being shared to varying degrees across survey programmes. SERISS also engaged in a programme of face-to-face and online training intended to better equip producers, curators and users of social science data across Europe.

Embracing the future of social sciences - The value of traditional social survey data and the insights it can provide into the behaviour, attitudes and outcomes of individuals, can be enhanced significantly by combining it with new forms of data available, for example, through social media, administrative data collections or the collection of biomarkers. Example include new, state-of-the-art guidelines on legal and ethical issues to consider when combining survey data with social media data or administrative data and recommendations and guidance on the legal, ethical administrative and practical issues to consider in order to collect biomarkers cross-nationally. More survey data collection is moving online in response to societal and technological change and budgetary pressures. However, there remain gaps in knowledge on how best to collect data online, especially cross-nationally. SERISS has provided proof of concept for an input-harmonised, cross-national probability-based web panel, CRONOS and methodological insights from the exercise. Socio-economic variables such as occupation and education are a core part of any social survey. SERISS provides resources to support the process such as databases providing records of (eg educational qualification) consistent with international coding standards for up to 99 countries and 47 languages.
Work undertaken under SERISS is contributing to the long-term development and sustainability of the RIs involved. Infrastructures on the ESFRI Roadmap as Landmark projects have been supported towards maturity and other infrastructures while emerging RIs such as GGP have been nurtured.

SERISS provided ESS, SHARE and CESSDA with vital funding to ensure they can upgrade their infrastructures to continue meeting, and to better meet, the needs of their data users: CESSDA now has clear guidelines for the handling of administrative and social media data that will guide its work long into the future; SHARE has conducted crucial planning work for the use of biomarkers in socio-medical surveys; and, ESS has, for the first time in the social sciences, grasped the challenge of documenting questionnaire design in digital form meaning that a key part of the social survey development process will now be captured and recorded in.

SERISS has delivered a number of outputs intended to promote a more harmonised approach to data collection leading to both improved data quality (greater comparability across countries and across time) and economies of scale as survey infrastructures benefit from shared resources. In particular a suite of interactive tools to coordinate the data collection process and manage metadata, e.g. the TMT and QVDB, which not only strengthen the RIs but also help them to prepare for the operation of the EOSC. Increased efficiency and productivity of social science researchers has also been promoted, for example through tools aimed at making data available for reuse (e.g. Question Variable Data Bank).

Improved trust in social science data among the wider user community has been generated by steps to improve data quality, for example as realised by work on GDPR . One of the original goals of SERISS was to ensure that Europe’s social science research infrastructures were optimally positioned to assist policymakers and others in addressing the grand challenges. In the first phase of SERISS, the infrastructures highlighted the relevance of their data in a specially produced leaflet, which was widely shared with policymakers and beyond. Immediately after the end of the project, the coordinator (ESS ERIC) organised an event at hosted by the European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety. Looking ahead the SERISS infrastructures are considering the possibility of drawing a single sample to create a EURO PANEL, which would then be shared amongst the infrastructures on a continuing basis triggered by the conclusions drawn during the SERISS project. This underlines the value of cooperative working across RIs in the social sciences ensuring their data is uniquely placed to address grand challenges across the sector.