Your servants here at the Archive and Data Management Training Center have just completed the task of hosting the grand data people event of the year: the 39th Annual IASSIST Conference. This year’s conference was IASSIST #39 and built around the theme of “Data Innovation: Increasing Accessibility, Visibility, and Sustainability”.
Here’s some numbers to put the event in context. Attending were 285 people – a record number for an IASSIST conference. Those 285 people came from 29 countries, with just under two-thirds coming from Europe (64%) and a third from North America. Germany, U.S.A. UK, and Canada made up the bulk of national representations and of the remainder two came from Africa (Uganda and Tanzania) and nine travelled from Asia/Pacific nations (Australia, Qatar, Taiwan, Japan). Whilst here the 285 attended eight workshops (well some of them did), split between 32 concurrent sessions featuring 126 presentations, saw 35 posters, watched 11 Pecha Kucha presentations, heard three plenary sessions, listened to two songs, and attended one banquet. What we didn’t keep numbers on were the number of Kölsch beers consumed (lots), amount of white asparagus served (plenty), and complaints about the venue’s Wi-Fi issues (235 x ∞).
In time you’ll be able to find all those presentations, posters, and yes, the songs, online. But for now I just want to highlight what we were doing at IASSIST 2013, apart from running around in green t-shirts printing off signs and trying to get the Wi-Fi sorted.
DASISH Access Policies and Licencing for Archives and Repositories
First up was a presentation and workshop we organized under the umbrella of DASISH. DASISH for those that don’t know (but care), is an infrastructure project funded by the European Commission that intends to produce common solutions to data related problems and encourage cooperation between five European research communities (CESSDA, CLARIN, DARIAH, ESS, SHARE). We are leading the component on education and training events (WP7), and held our first event on access policies and licenses for archives and repositories at IASSIST as a workshop.
The event brought together representatives from the five communities to talk about current practice within their community on licensing data for reuse. This included talking about existing polices, standards, and issues and concluded with the public unveiling of an educational resource produced by DASISH partners in WP7. The audience was a big one of 23 people of which almost half came from outside Europe.
Our contribution represented a view from a CESSDA member archive. We looked at issues surrounding the licensing of research data for reuse. Outlining concepts behind data licensing, looking at data reuse licenses used by CESSDA data archives, considering the role of Creative Commons and Open Data Licenses in sharing social science research data, and highlighting some of the problems, issues, and challenges facing archives and repositories.
Later in the week we presented WP7 overall as part of a session devoted to DASISH. This presentation illustrates the activities of partners in WP7 as they bring together existing training resources and integrate them with their own outputs the material created by the other DASISH work packages. The presentation covered the structure of the work package, introduced its outputs so far, and outlined future activities.
Doctor, My Data! Data Archive Support for Large Research Projects
DASISH ended up being a significant part of our presentations. But by no means an exclusive part. We found time and favor to participate in other sessions related to research data management.
The first of these was in a panel session organized by the UK Data Archive on data centers and institutional projects. Here we gave a view from our experiences within the team and as part of GESIS overall. Our presentation outlined three cases studies of large collaborative research projects and the challenges they face, arguing archives play a caring role when it comes to research data management.
We posited that the growing culture of data sharing fosters expectations to do so even if projects do not face such a mandate, or have not prepared a data management plan. To illustrate, we examined one retrospective case study (Tuning Educational Structures), one prospective case (German Longitudinal Election Study, 2013), and one ‘on-going management case’, (PIREDEU). This presentation illustrates the RDM care role that GESIS plays to ‘fill the gaps’ in support and get data to the reuse community, specifically by providing help in areas ‘around’ standard research practice, like Intellectual Property Rights and preparing datasets for re-use and long-term preservation.
We concluded that data archives can play a role in securing data reuse and long-term preservation. However, archive services must be versatile, responsive units – reactive to many data situations. They should be able to provide primary care as a principal point of consultation for researchers, and secondary specialized care as either a specialist consultant or as a point of referral.
Legally Bound? Data Protection Legislation and Research Practice
Another presentation given with our colleague Katharina Kinder-Kurlanda from the GESIS Safe Data Center explored how data archives provide a service facilitating the gap between legal data protection requirements and research practices.
We started by outlining the legal frameworks researchers encounter in the UK, Germany, and at a EU level concerning data protection in all phases of the data-lifecycle, asserting that research practice – without due care – can clash with these frameworks. We asserted the argument that social science archives can intervene, helping researchers navigate an environment which simultaneously pushes data sharing, and consideration of the individual’s right to privacy. These aims are not mutually exclusive, but pressure on researchers to ‘get it right’ when collecting, storing, analyzing, and anonymizing data has never been greater. We examine how archives can intervene in stages of the data-lifecycle, against the context of German and British regulatory requirements and proposed that whilst differences exist in the substance of laws (e.g. Bundesdatenschutzgesetz and Data Protection Act), research cultures, and funding environments, archives face similar challenges in the data reuse/privacy dynamic. With research innovations such as geo-referenced data, and increasingly, cross-national collaborative projects existing either across national laws or outside established legal frameworks – the regulatory grounding is not firm. Here facilitation becomes an act of setting best-practice standards as guidance and, we suggest, data archives are best suited to be guides.
De-mystifying OAIS compliance: Benefits and challenges of mapping the OAIS reference model to the GESIS Data Archive
This presentation was part of a panel – organized by us and our colleague Natascha Schumann – considering the problem that digital preservation is often reduced to its technical aspects, overlooking the organizational component. Digital preservation seeks solutions to storage and bitstream preservation, format migration or building emulation environments but organizational aspects of preservation are often dealt with almost as an afterthought. However, for digital preservation to be sustainable, technical solutions have to be embedded in an organizational framework complementing and supporting the technical side. To emphasize the importance of such organizational aspects, the panel comprised presentations on the topics of organizational change (Michelle Lindlar), preservation policies (Yvonne Friese), certification (Natascha Schumann) and the nestor training activities in digital curation (Stefan Strathmann).
In our presentation (delivered together with Natascha Schumann) on the OAIS reference model we tried to shed some light on the topos – or myth – of “OAIS-compliance,” which is frequently evoked when archives and repositories seek to demonstrate their fitness for the challenge of digital preservation. We first considered briefly what OAIS is (and can be used for) and what it is not – namely, an abstract reference model, but not an architecture that can be implemented directly. Using the GESIS Data Archive for the Social Sciences as an example of mapping OAIS onto an existing archival system, we explored positive effects and benefits, as well as difficulties of completing this process. In conclusion, we argued among others that OAIS compliance isn’t “on” or “off”, “1” or “0,” but that it comes in degrees and that there may be good reasons for archives to deviate from OAIS depending on their individual context and background.
Alive and kicking! Keeping data re-usable in the European Values Study
Finally, in a presentation with our colleague Evelyn Brislinger, we used the European Values Study (EVS) 1981-2008 to illustrate challenges to be met in the active curation of extensive amounts of data and documentation created, altered, and re-used across the survey life-cycle. Repeated cross-national surveys generate huge amounts of cross-linked data and metadata. To enable replication and to make this data re-usable in new research contexts, thorough and standardized documentation of both the data and the project workflow is indispensable. However, in the social sciences, data and documentation often undergo a continuous process of correction, refinement, and further development. These processes need to be documented too, especially to allow data providers to build on these results and experiences in preparation of the next wave.
Outlining how these challenges are met by the EVS, we discussed the following issues: Looking beyond the “standard” documentation of data and survey methods, what supporting contextual information should accompany data to ensure their effective “migration” and use across waves? Second, taking a bird’s-eye view on the paths that information takes throughout the entire project life cycle, we then modeled these information flows (within the project, and between the project, the archive, and the archive’s designated communities) with the help of different models (including, of course, the ubiquitous OAIS reference model).
Well, that was fun, no? We’ll try and do it all again next year in Toronto at IASSIST 2014.