Monday, 2 February 2009

The significance of data management for social survey research

On Tuesday, I attended this ESDS event held at the University of Essex. Between them, the speakers introduced two projects, DAMES and ADMIN, and we heard about ESDS, CESSDA and UKDA developments, including the UKDA’s pilot Secure Data Service.


DAMES (Data Management through e-Social Science) representatives, Paul Lambert and Vernon Gayle, travelled from the University of Stirling to discuss their project, which runs from 2008-11. Paul explained that DAMES uses a fairly narrow definition of data management, focusing on what others might know as ‘data manipulation’. Amongst other activities, they aim to develop web-based tools and services to enable researchers to make use of existing work, preventing duplication of effort. One example is the preceding project, GEODE (Grid Enabled Occupational Data Environment).


John ‘Mac’ McDonald, unfortunately without his colleague Lorraine Dearden who had been called to a high level meeting at the Bank of England at short notice (!), introduced the theme of ‘linking data’. Based at the Institute of Education, John works on ADMIN (Administrative Data – Methods, Inference & Network) which is looking at potential uses of administrative data, particularly for the enhancement of longitudinal survey data. ADMIN is also charged with training and capacity building, and currently offers a number of courses on data linkage.


Continuing the theme, Jack Kneeshaw of ESDS identified data linkage as one of the new trends in survey data use, and highlighted a number of related resources that are available to researchers. These include ‘Working with Survey Files: Using hierarchical data, matching files and pooling data’ and others available at ESDS Government Resources, as well as 'Countries and Citizens: Linking international macro and micro data' and the ‘Database of geography variables’.


In a later presentation, under the second theme of data harmonisation, Jack shifted his focus to cross-national survey research. CESSDA’s PPP (Preparatory Phase Project) will include a work package called ‘Deepening the CESSDA RI by building an infrastructure for content harmonisation and conversion. ESDS International is complimenting CESSDA’s work on harmonisation by gathering information about the context in which a particular survey question is asked across nations. This ‘paradata’ includes sampling, mode of interview, translation details and fieldwork dates. Likes DAMES, this work is concerned with de-duplication of effort.


The final speaker was Matthew Woollard of UKDA who introduced a 2 year pilot that began in October 08 to establish a Secure Data Service for the HE community. It is envisaged that the service will allow researchers to access and use ‘restricted’ data on a server housed at Essex from their personal desktops. Outputs will be vetted for disclosure by UKDA. This early test phase will provide access to ESRC funded data but it is expected that ONS data will follow. Penalties for breach of agreement were touched upon, including the suggestion that ESRC might withdraw all funding from the institution concerned for a given period, although Matthew seemed certain that a less severe sanction could be agreed upon.


Harry Gibbs

University of Southampton

DISC-UK





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