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Regional Report 1999-2000: Europe

Report of the European Regional Secretary

by
Vigdis Kvalheim
Norwegian Social Science Data Services (NSD)
May 2000

This report includes information on some of the activities in the European region, which involve IASSIST members. In Europe IASSIST has 67 members. Approx. half of them reside in the United Kingdom while the rest distributes across 16 European countries. Only countries that responded to the call for information on IASSIST related activities are included in the report.

In 1999 two new social science data archives started its operation in Europe, the Finnish Social Science Data Archive (FSD) and the Greek National Centre for Social Research (EKKE). Both have been accepted as members of the Council of European Social Science Data Archives (CESSDA).

 

International projects

Several IASSIST members are involved in cross-national projects, many of which are funded by the European Union. (Projects presented on this section are not duplicated in the country specific reports).

Integrated Library and Survey Data Extraction Service (ILSES)

The Zentralarchiv für empirische Sozialforschung (ZA) reports that ILSES in 1998 was successfully completed and the final report approved by EU. The ILSES Consortium now has an instrument for servicing continuous comparative studies and related studies via the Internet. Currently ISLES is operating on a sample of Eurobarometers (studies, codebooks, data) and related publications. Thus ILSES allows access to data via metadata retrieval, linkage to literature on variable level, recoding of data to create comparability and automatic data extraction from different files to construct an integrated analysis file. The ILSES Consortium plans to enlarge this database with priority for the Eurobarometers and to extend web access tools.

The European Social Survey (ESS)

The Zentralarchiv für empirische Sozialforschung (ZA) and Norwegian Social Science Data Services (NSD) report that the European Social Survey prepared under the auspices of the European Science Foundation is making good progress. More than 20 countries declared interest to participate. Several European data archives have been involved in the planning process. The ESS is being developed on the basis of a joint funding approach with national research councils covering the national fieldwork, survey costs and the European Commission the central research and co-ordination costs. An application will be sent to the EU in late June. In June the Steering Committee for the survey will decide about the archiving function of the ESS.

From NESSTAR TO FASTER

The Danish Data Archive (DDA) reports that the ongoing NESSTAR project has been official closed down in January 2000, while a new EC-funded project started up. The FASTER project, which build on NESSTAR technology, brings together content management and personalisation technologies with the requirements for user-friendly statistical dissemination services. It will create a flexible and intelligent presentation system to access statistical and other data in a distributed 'virtual' environment. Based on a Web environment with client side functionality, and built around the careful specification of metadata content, it will allow the user to create their own personal data environment, derive all relevant contextual and supporting information and hence make the most productive use of expensive data resources. The main project partners are the United Kingdom Data Archive (UKDA), the Norwegian Social Science Data Services (NSD), the Danish Data Archive (DDA), Statistics Netherlands (CBS) and the University of Milan.

LIMBER

The Norwegian Social Science (NSD) reports on LIMBER, a new project funded by the European Commision under its Information Society Technologies Programme. The project seeks to address the problems of linguistic and discipline boundaries, which, within a more integrated European environment, is becoming increasingly important. LIMBER will move towards providing metadata in a common format, taking the DDI codebook standard into the RDF framework. This will allow metadata from other domains to be integrated with the social science metadata. LIMBER will use multi-lingual thesaurus and interfaces to allow the user to search in their own natural language, with help in refining searches from the thesaurus. The relevance of any dataset will be determined from translations of the keywords assigned. This means that various areas of the DDI codebook XML will have to be assigned controlled vocabulary, which is a highly resource intense operation. Another deliverable from the LIMBER project, will therefore be an automatic indexing tool.

The main project partners are CLRC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory,UK, Intrasoft, GR, the United Kingdom Data Archive (UKDA), and Norwegian Social Science Data Services (NSD).

PARTCOM-MULTILEVEL - Democratic participation and political communication in systems of multi-level governance

The Norwegian Social Science Data Services (NSD) reports on PARTCOM-MULTILEVEL, a new project funded by the European Commission under its Research Programme. The project deals with problems of electoral participation and political communication in systems of multi-level governance. It employs a threefold strategy (survey research, aggregate-data analysis and communication research). The survey and media component of the project, cover all fifteen member states of the EU. The aggregate data component covers six member states of the EU (Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland and Spain) and three states in the USA (California, Michigan and Texas). The project consists of five phases: theoretical and methodological development, data preparation, country and comparative analysis and preparation of final reports. NSD is responsible for data co-ordination and integration and carthography. It is anticipated that the project will lead to substantial improvement in our understanding of the problem of abstention and to significant policy recommendations.

European Research Gateway Organization (ERGO)

The Norwegian Social Science Data Services (NSD) reports on ERGO, a pilot project organised and funded under the innovation programme of the Directorate-General XIII of the European Union. The NSD was active in ERGO as a data supplier and is represented in its Working Group and Implementation Group.

ERGO seeks to integrate information on research and development in the European Economic Area (i.e., the European Union, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) in a joint European database. The pilot project has delivered its report to the EC in the autumn of 1999, and the Working Group is hoping for funding under the Fifth Framework for the full ERGO project. The database is available on Internet: http://www.cordis.lu/ergo/.

Health Behaviour Among School-Aged Children (HBSC)

NSD reports on HBSC, a project funded by the World Health organisation (WHO). Working on an assignment from HEMIL, the Research Centre for Health Promotion at the University of Bergen, the NSD has organised data from a European research project on the lifestyle and health behaviour of 11, 13 and 15-year-old schoolchildren. This survey, first conducted in 1983 in Norway, Finland and Austria, was repeated in 1985, 1989, 1993 and 1997/98. In 1997/98, 29 countries participated. The integrated dataset contains information on 130.000 youths in Europe, North America and Israel.

The idea behind this WHO funded survey is to provide information on the lifestyle and health behaviour of young people. An important feature of the survey is the use of an identical set of 60 core questions in all countries, enabling social scientists to draw comparisons between countries and over time.

MISSION and IQML

The Centre for Educational Studies in Edinburgh (CES) reports that the Centre is responsible for two EU funded projects, MISSION (Multi-Agent Integration Of Shared Statistical Information Over The [Inter]Net) aims to provide a modular system of software which will enable providers of official statistics to publish their data in a unified, and unifying, framework, and to allow consumers of statistics to access these data in an informed manner with minimum effort.

The partners will utilise the advances in statistical techniques for data harmonisation, agent technology, and the availability of standards for exchanging metadata and the power of Internet information retrieval, tools, to build a modular software suite.

Further details can be found on { HYPERLINK http://www.epros.ed.ac.uk/mission }www.epros.ed.ac.uk/mission Project number: IST-1999-10655

IQML (A Software Suite and Extended Mark-Up Language [XML] Standard for Intelligent Questionnaires) is a project, which aims to use current and emerging information technologies to implement a solution for intelligent questionnaires, and to influence international standards for metadata interchange and database access standards.

 

News from individual countries

Denmark

Danish Data Archive, DDA - 1999-2000

Where 1998 was a year of reorganisation in which 26 people where involved in producing 12,4 full time equivalents, the year 1999 was a year of growth and learning in the DDA. In 1999 20 people produced 18,4 full time equivalents. This is the largest production DDA has had in the 19 years for which we have figures. The average for the period is 12.4 full time equivalents. All indications are that the growth will continue in the year 2000.

The DDA has paid special attention to the following projects in the last year:

ERAS (The Unit for Registration and Archiving of Health Data)

ERAS was established in 1996 by a funding from the Danish Research Council. The project period is running to the end of 2004. ERAS offers Danish medical researcher in the health area a safe and optimal preservation and processing of their studies. The documentation is standardised in the OSIRIS format. A major part of the health data consist of highly personal sensitive data, and the physically storing, exchange and distribution of data are therefore subjected to the regulation of the Data Surveillance Authority in Denmark.

Administrative data from the public sector

The Danish Data Archive is a part of the State Archives in Denmark, which also include the National Archives. This offers the opportunity to acquire the huge and growing amount of administrative data from the public sector in Denmark. A close co-operation between the DDA and the National Archives has been established regarding this particular area to ensure that valuable data and studies are collected and stored for the Social Science Research Community.

DIP - Demographic Internet Publication

A major and growing type of data in DDA are the historical census data. In continuation of this DDA - together with UKDA, NSD, NIWI (Steinmetz), Norwegian Historical Data Centre and Demographic Research Centre (Denmark) - submitted an EC-project application for the fifth Framework Programme. The project - DIP will create a system that makes the great amount of historical census records in Europe easily available for the researchers and the general public. It will do so by building a web based environment that allows the general public to search for individuals and to find related cases. For the researcher the environment will provide statistical tools that make it possible to make several kinds of demographic analysis. In order to achieve these goals the project will develop metadata standards for describing census records and will use and extend the on-going work of international co-operations as HISCO when deciding on standardisation and coding. This is necessary in order to make international use of the data and in order to build the client. DIP will thus take the lead in providing standards and methods for using this important historical material.

Regardless of the outcome of the outcome of the EU-application the Source Entry Project continues it collection of demographic data. The holdings are rapidly approaching three million person records. The dissemination from these holdings exceeds 100.000 data sets per month.

Finland

The Finnish Social Science Data Archive (FSD) started to operate in the beginning of 1999 as a separate unit within the University of Tampere. It is a national resource centre for social science research and teaching and its main task is to increase the use of existing data in the social sciences by disseminating it throughout Finland and also internationally.

Overall FSD provides a wide range of services from data archiving to information services. FSD is currently involved in many national and international projects. In 1999, the unit participated in organising the funding for the European Social Survey and in the year 2000 FSD takes part in the launching of Finnish participation in the ISSP (International Social Survey Programme).

FSD has started a nation-wide project to develop Internet resources for each discipline in social sciences, and is offering datasets for classroom use. In addition to FSD, Finland has many other IASSIST related information society projects ongoing. Among these are the Finnish Virtual Library Project that is developing internet services for the use of the Finnish academic and higher education community and the Finnish Virtual University project by the Ministry of Education. FSD promotes all IASSIST related actions in Finland very actively.

Germany

Zentralarchiv fur empirische Socialforschung (ZA)

ZA- EUROLAB

ZA received funding from EU to continue its Large Scale Facility activities. For this purpose visits of European scholars can be funded. ZA has created ZA- EUROLAB as access point to the ZA services. In this European data laboratory for comparative research as well assisted access to comparative European survey data is supported with funding under the Impact on Human Potential - Access to Research Infrastructures Programme within the 5 Framework programme of EU.

ECCR

The European Consortium for Communication Research (ECCR) was founded on March 30, 2000 in Brussels. It aims at improving data and information flow within media and communication research as well as with the media organisations, as well as improving training and research opportunities for young researchers. Jan Servaes (Brussels) is president, Ekkehard Mochmann is board member.

GREECE

Project MITOS

The first phase of project MITOS was completed in 1999. It was implemented on behalf of EKKE (National Center for Social Research) and treats a special Data Bank with aim the creation of a reliable data archive for social facts and numbers.

This archive is based upon the needs of public Organisations and companies and will provide datasets and information in order to trace policy in the social domain. Τhe datasets that are included in the archive come from research work that EKKE has available as well as other sources. The process of collecting data (that is interviews, questionnaires etc) is a procedure that has to be done from a lot of organisations collecting data according to their mission. In the future, the datasets will be collected on a regular basis, and "MITOS" will operate as an Inventory Center.

ITCC S.A. undertook the project of this special Data Bank in co-operation of ITCC S.A. expert consultants who ensured the quality and the fulfilment regarding the entire project. The collection and the organisation records (Resource and Consumer facts) are accomplished with the support of EKKE and centre’s working team. The systematic use of International Models and the insuring of the materialising of a modern repository / inventory is been accomplished by the executives of ITCC S.A.

The success of the special Data Bank depends on the skills and long experience of ITCC S.A.: providing total and integrated solutions on the inventory that is referring to the recording of resources of social datasets, and the institutional frame and the economic and technical function specified for the Center. The software and hardware system will connect the SPECIAL DATA BANK with other Systems of EKKE, as well as the outside society. The existence of MITOS will allow relative studies and analysis of facts that until today were impossible in Greece.

Further information is available from ITCC SA, email ktenidis@itccnet.gr

The Netherlands

Since two years the Steinmetz Archive together with the Netherlands Historical Data Archive are part of NIWI; the Netherlands Institute for Scientific Information Services. Although it took some effort, the data archives are discovering the benefits of being part of a larger organisation. The other parts of NIWI give a range of opportunities to work together, get feedback and to look over the horizon of data archiving.

The NIWI data archives try to keep up with the international developments and are involved in European projects like ILSES, DIP and LIMBER. Also is NIWI involved in the European Value Study (EVS) project and on the national level the Dutch National Accounts project and the Census project.

Since last year the NIWI data archives started working together more closely with the Dutch Statistical Agency. It resulted in the appointment of Ron Dekker who is head of the Agency, as parttime head of the archives after Harry Heemskerk left. This relationship with the Statistical Agency has led to a more active role for the data archives mainly in large data projects where the expertise of a data archive can be used very well.

Another development is the plan to use data clusters, mainly to provide an easy search tool, another reason is that we might be able to find funding for particular clusters.

Norway

The last two years have been busy for the Norwegian Social Science Data Services (NSD). The involvement in new projects, in particular European projects funded by the EU, has resulted in a steady growth in the number of tasks and staff members.

At the moment NSD employ 64 persons, of which 20 are students working on a half time basis.

In recent years, the NSD has increasingly been involved in international projects e.g. the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP), Health Behaviour Among School-Aged Children (HBSC), NESSTAR, FASTER, LIMBER, ERGO (see international projects). Also, NSD has taken an initiative to establish a formal Norwegian Eurobarometer affiliation through the European Free Trade Association or the European Economic Area. In 1999, the Norway received the go ahead from the EC, and funding was secured through the Research Council of Norway. From 1999 NSD will conduct the Norwegian edition of the Eurobarometer survey "the Norwegian Europe Survey" on a yearly basis. The international co-operation in which the NSD is involved is vital to the quality of the data services we offer our national users.

More at home, some of the more important achievements are the signing of a new agreement between statistics Norway and NSD on the dissemination of data from Statistics Norway to the research community and the work to improve access to data from the many national health registers.

The agreement with Statistics Norway

Statistics Norway has long been relying on NSD as a data broker to the research community. In 1976 the first collaborative was signed, securing Norwegian research workers and students free access to the greater part of Statistics Norway’s data on the municipal level and to data from most of the agency’s interview surveys.

A new agreement signed in 1999 represents an important step forward in that it explicitly states that individual data (linked and de-identified data) can be transferred to NSD on a regular basis to be processed and disseminated to the academic community as anonymous data. In practice this means that Statistics Norway transfer to NSD some of its responsibility and by extension, costs involved in the often time-consuming task of retrieving, organising, anonymising and disseminating complex microdata.

For the academic community the agreement between NSD and Statistics Norway, is unquestionably the single most important factor facilitating social empirical social research in Norway. By using NSD as a gateway to resources, procedures have been established that allow for external access to microdata (including very sensitive linked micro-data) in such a way that the identification of units is prevented, ensure the continuity of data deliveries and ensure easy and equal (free) access to data.

Access to data in National Health Registers

The most interesting development in Norway these days is the fact that the model which started out as a solution to social science need for data, gradually is adopted by other sectors, e.g. the medical and health sciences.

During the last twenty years there have been several efforts within to medical sector to improve access to national health registers. In 1997 a working group appointed by the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs proposed to improve access to health registers by relying on co-operation between Statistics Norway and NSD. The working group consisting of representatives from the Ministry and relevant external actors. It was mandated to look at co-ordinating functions and to propose institutional and technical measures that would improve access for both administrative bodies and the research community while protecting confidentiality. NSDs director, Bjorn Henrichsen, led the working group, and the secretariat was located at NSD and the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs.

The model proposed is based on collaboration between the health registers, Statistics Norway, NSD. The main structural element of the model is the principle of person-specific encrypting of data. In practice this means that Statistics Norway 1) receives personal data from the health registers, 2) encrypts date of birth and national ID suffix to a pseudonym, 3) creates links as appropriate, and 4) transfers the data to NSD. This principle gives a high degree of flexibility in servicing specific user needs with a minimum loss of information while at the same time ensuring maximum data protection.

In 1998 the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs proposed a new law on electronic processing of information contained in national health registers and medical records. One of the intentions behind the new legislation is to create a common legislative framework for all these registers in order to improve access for external users. The proposed legislation supports the model for access proposed by the working group i.e. based on co-operation between Statistics Norway and NSD. The text states that data legally can be transferred to two different archive institutions, one with the responsibility of merging data from different sources and one primarily servicing user needs.

The proposed law text explicitly protects the right of access to information for planning and research purposes. In other word, it establishes unambiguously that research is a legitimate activity. From the point of view of the research community this is very important bearing in mind that the key barrier to access as of today is the fact that the data holders (registers) seem to believe that they own the data they are managing on behalf of the society. The registers seems to have developed their own interpretations of regulations, and formulated their own access policy and practice referring to the privacy legislation and other existing legal framework. Consequently access is limited and diverse.

The United Kingdom

The United Kingdom Data Archive (UKDA)

Kevin Schurer is the new director of UKDA, University of Essex.

Qualidata

Louise Corti, Deputy Director, reports that Qualidata is now regarded as one of the international centres of expertise for archiving qualitative data on a national scale, and offers a pioneering model. Since October 1996, the Centre has established international contacts through meetings and correspondence with archivists and researchers in Europe, North America and Asia. Not only has the Centre been actively consulted by a number of archival initiatives across the world, but has organised a stream devoted to the archiving and re-use of qualitative data at the forthcoming International Social Science Methodology Conference in Cologne in October 2000. 15 countries have submitted papers to Qualidata’s sessions, including 4 speakers from national Data Archives who are planning the acquisition of Qualidata data. This looks like an exciting conference and there we hope to establish a new European (international) network of qualitative data archives.

Update on data: the preservation of Professor George Brown’s life’s collection of research data

In March 1999, Qualidata secured a grant from George Brown, via the Medical Research Council (MRC), to undertake the preparation, scanning, documentation and archiving of data and documentation from his life’s research work. The research, comprising a very large resource of both qualitative and quantitative materials, dates back to the 1960s and is considered, internationally, to be among the most pioneering work on socio-economic aspects of mental health and the social aetiology of depression. It has already been in regular use for many years, both for ongoing research and for teaching purposes. This is a mammoth exercise in scanning, document conversion and indexing, which will enable both quantitative and qualitative data from around 7 studies to be available.

User wishes for qualitative data resources

In January 2000 Qualidata conducted a major national survey of potential users of archived qualitative data. Researchers and teachers were asked to say what kinds of qualitative data archives might be most useful to them. Over 550 responses were received from a range of user communities, of which 99% wanted to see datasets, mostly in electronic form, available for both research and teaching, across a wide range of disciplines. Health and criminology came out on top. The incentive of winning Amazon vouchers greatly boosted our response rate!

Funding situation and some longer terms aims

The 5 years Resource Centre award for Qualidata ends in September 2000, and the centre have been offered the opportunity to bid for a much smaller amount. ESRC are currently unsure about their level of commitment to archiving social science data in their various shapes and forms, and are commissioning a consultancy to see what their priorities and long term strategy should look like. Qualidata is therefore in the position of having to seek financial sources from funders other than their current one (ESRC). This is a worrying time for an archival enterprises in the social sciences, like Qualidata. Qualidata has served not only as a test bed for the archiving of qualitative research on a national scale (for which the mission has proved possible!) but also as a centre of advice for other budding projects across the world working in this field. They have great plans, including the creation of significant electronic data resources, and hope to be able to realise these in addition to keeping the basic machine going.

In the mean time the centre is discussing a longer-term strategy for a more integrated working relationship, and potential union with the UK Data Archive. Most immediately this is in terms of joint support for ESRC researchers and a redesigning of our on-line catalogue in an advanced joint form suitable to meet the needs of resource discovery in the 21st Century. While many of the particular problems of confidentiality etc remain particular to qualitative datasets and therefore need typically handling in different ways, the earlier distinction between paper-based qualitative research and machine-readable survey material no longer applies for current most research data. In this sense, a closer integration is practicable, points to efficiency gains, and would be equally welcomed by the Data Archive.

In the next report to IASSIST, Qualidata hopes to be able to report success in attaining funding for the coming year and on how the national Data Archives are coping with qualitative data!

The Edinburgh University Data Library

The Edinburgh University Data Library (http://datalib.ed.ac.uk) has been re-consolidating its local data services to the university in 1999-2000, while settling into its fifth year of providing national services for bibliographic and research datasets to UK Higher Education as EDINA (http://edina.ed.ac.uk).

There were significant staff changes. Donald Morse left the Data Library last Fall, but not Edinburgh University Computing Services, where he now manages the university's Call Management System. Robin Rice took a more permanent position as Data Librarian in October '99 after serving a one-year secondment from the Data and Program Library Service at the University of Wisconsin. Since January '99 Stuart

Macdonald, as Library Assistant, has been helping local users register and access datasets and writing web-based documentation. Peter Burnhill and Alison Bayley still lead the local and national services as Director and Deputy Director, with a staff of 30 people.

The visibility and usage of local data services increased dramatically this year with new datasets and heavy promotion through several methods-paper handouts, a revamped website, a current awareness email list, monthly newsletter articles, and departmental and classroom presentations.

EDINA saw the success of its pilot Digimap project lead to a 5-year national contract to provide downloadable Ordnance Survey map data along with a service allowing users to view and print customised maps of Great Britain via the WWW.

In both its local and national roles, the Data Library is leading a JISC-funded project to examine problems and solutions in supporting the Use of Numeric Data in Learning and Teaching, with broad participation from national datacentres, local support staff, and academic data users.

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