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University of Michigan Institute for Social Research is developing new data platform


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Imagine a data platform that could help improve community resilience to disasters, avoid potential supply chain disruptions, and accurately predict infectious disease outbreaks.

That is one of the goals of a new data platform being developed by the University of Michigan Social Research Institute (ISR), was awarded $38 million investment are from National Science Foundation (NSF) earlier this year.

The new one data platform will enable researchers in many fields to more efficiently collect, store and secure information critical to their research. In the past, many researchers have faced obstacles such as incompatible data standards, missing or error-laden information, and technical difficulties in managing large data sets.

NSF’s $38 million investment enables the Institute for Social Research to establish Research data ecosystem: A renewable, robust, and transparent national resource for social science research in the 21st centuryst Century. The ISR will oversee the creation of new data repositories and software that researchers can use to access, organize, analyze, and contribute to data.

“The Research Data Ecosystem (RDE) is a 5-year project and is expected to be completed by the end of 2026,” explains Jeannette Jackson, executive director of RDE.

Work on RDE began on January 17, 2022 and is currently in the early stages of construction.

Jackson notes: “The first products will be on the market in 2024. “The end result will be a data management The system with user-friendly interface will allow researchers to store, search, use the cloud to work with their data and disseminate their data in a safe and secure environment. secret. The ultimate aim is to make it easier for researchers to find data and create new knowledge.”

An urgent need for better quality research data

The Research Data Ecosystem infrastructure project was initiated because the ISR recognized the need to provide better data management and analysis support to researchers involved in the field, said Jackson. advanced social sciences. The ISR is the largest academic social science research and survey organization in the world. The RDE work is in the ISR at the Intercollegiate Society for Political and Social Research (ICPSR), the world’s largest social science archive specializing in curated data.

Follow Margaret “Maggie” LevensteinICPSR director and RDE principal investigator.

According to Levenstein, RDE will allow:

  • Interactive abillity: An integrated system for the entire research data lifecycle, so that work done early in the data lifecycle will be useful at later stages, making it possible to integrate data from different sources.
  • Reproducibility: Makes it easier to reproduce and build on previous research findings by being able to find and reuse data and code.
  • transparent: Provides information on provenance, including sources, codes, and methods of research data collection.
  • The effect of data sharing: Reduce the burden on data producers in sharing data and ensure that shared data is FAIR (findable, accessible, interoperable, reusable. ).
  • Secret protection: Protect confidentiality while increasing research accessibility.

To achieve these goals, the project will develop a Research Data Description Framework to describe various research data lifecycle events. This is a metadata specification similar to the Resource Description Framework, Levenstein said.

“RDE will include independent functional components for each stage of the research lifecycle that will be compatible with each other and with the existing critical global research infrastructure,” Levenstein said. “This platform will support behavioral and social science researchers using traditional (e.g. survey and experimental) and new (e.g., digital footprint, image) data types ) throughout the entire research lifecycle, from data collection to analysis to sharing to rediscovery and analytic rediscovery.”

This infrastructure will improve the quality, integrity, and safety of data. It will also increase data accessibility and user collaboration in the social sciences and behavioral sciences. It will do so with a user interface designed to make data more accessible across the entire area, Levenstein said.

Turn mountains of data into piles of insights

The new RDE platform essentially seeks to solve a problem shared in almost every industry – organizations that collect mountains of data do not always communicate with each other and make it difficult to find information. meaningful details in it.

“ICPSR began building digital repositories for social science data in the 1960s to preserve and disseminate the new data that ISR researchers were creating,” says Jackson. “At that point, each dataset was created with frameworks, permissions, metadata, etc.”

Since then, advances in IST’s data collection capabilities have resulted in a large variety of data types and sizes. Once the ICPSR software platform is modernized, these datasets can be linked together to inform research in the social sciences.

“Using preset environments is extremely expensive in terms of time and money for both researchers and data providers,” says Jackson. “The resulting data are not compatible with other parts of the research ecosystem. This increases the burden on the researcher and reduces the quality, transparency, and reproducibility of research. RDE will do these things efficiently, at scale, and in a way that elevates the scientific standards of social science research. “

The RDE platform is being built on top of a new infrastructure (OpenShift/Kubernetes) with updated cloud-native technologies. The platform includes a set of shared services that include functions including import, management, search, dissemination, preservation, authentication, and authorization.

“This platform will improve the quality of data-driven behavioral and social science research across the entire data lifecycle,” Levenstein said. “This, combined with a human-centered design interface, will enable researchers in the fields to do their work more efficiently and create, organize, store, access and analyze data in ways they cannot with existing infrastructure. The new infrastructure will also facilitate interaction between other parts of the research ecosystem through an API system. “

The broader goals of social research

NSF has invested in a new data platform to help advance social science research to benefit all citizens.

“Research in the social, behavioral and economic sciences aims to advance our understanding of human behavior: how we create, respond to, and are shaped by the natural and social worlds.” Jackson said. “Advancements in the social sciences enable effective, high-quality decision-making – by individuals, parents and families, civic and civil society actors, businesses and evidence-based policymakers.”

An experimental renaissance in the social sciences – in which scientists are using new computational methods, new experimental approaches and new sources of data – has transformed, Jackson notes. our understanding of human society, from the determinants of inequality to how children learn to read.

“These innovations in knowledge are supported by researchers who have access to novel, big data – digital traces of human activity – that they have studied. to gain new insights. NSF has recognized that data abundance creates enormous opportunities: harnessing the Data Revolution is one of its priorities,” Jackson said.

NSF has invested significantly in ICPSR throughout its history, including facilitating the transition from tape drives to the internet.

“We believe that in addition to enhancing the investments they have made in the social science archives at ICPSR, the NSF recognizes the need to invest in the ability to work with data,” said Jackson. Bigger, more connected in the cloud.

To understand the importance of an investment, Jackson shared an example.

“Imagine you want to research a specific ZIP code that is known to have specific adverse health conditions. You can go to ICPSR and safely and securely identify all types of research and data from this ZIP code (EEG data, survey data, video data, geospatial data, criminal justice data, education data, etc.),” she said. “You can then conduct research in the cloud in a way that has never been possible before. RDE, once built and combined with the work being done at ICPSR to manage data, will enable the research community at all levels to do just that. “

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