Enter the world of datasets

© Juan Fuertes | Dreamstime.com12 January 2012

Our large Research catalogue is getting even bigger. In addition to the 100,000-plus research outputs currently featured in the catalogue, we are now publishing details of over 900 datasets generated by ESRC-funded grants.

Over 200 datasets covering every major project funded by the ESRC, from the population, health and housing surveys to the British Crime survey, are available to download from the Economic and Social Data Service and UK Data Archive. Details of another 700 datasets have been supplied by individual ESRC grant holders. The data is free to access and use.

The new feature will greatly expand the opportunities to search and filter data, encouraging the use and reuse of data funded by ESRC. A new 'Data' tab will appear alongside 'Outputs' on the grant page once a dataset is available.

"This is a major step in exploiting existing research and conducting secondary data analysis," says web project manager Dale Heenan.

"For the first time, a researcher or member of the public can easily look at the original project funded by the ESRC, review details about all of the research that has been produced and find out how to access the original research data in a simple and efficient way."

The Research Catalogue is already a vast repository, holding information on over 10,000 grants funded by the ESRC since the 1970s - containing details of more than 11,000 books, over 27,000 journal articles, 33,000 conference presentations and 40,000 other types of research.

"With the new dataset option researchers will be able to expand current research projects, save the time and cost of new fieldwork, spark new collaborations, motivate and inspire students studying research methods, add relevance to courses in economics, sociology, political science, history and much more. Technical users may even use the data in their mobile apps," adds Dale Heenan.

The access to datasets reflects ESRC's drive for utilising our existing data resources. The Secondary Data Analysis Initiative is a new scheme aiming to increase the 'secondary use' of these data and extend the community of researchers who use large and complex data. The £10.8 million initiative is intended to encourage new research, develop data analysis skills and deliver policy impact.

Another aspect is the linking of existing datasets to explore particular areas, which creates new challenges when it comes to protecting confidentiality and preventing inappropriate data use. To resolve these issues, the ESRC has initiated the establishment of an Administrative Data Task Force bringing together funders, the academic community, and key data custodians including government departments.

Reusing data entails both new possibilities and new challenges. But while the options are expanding, the criteria for robust research and high-quality data use remain the same.