ANN ARBOR—With their data, researchers are enriching Americans’ lives — improving community resilience to natural disasters, avoiding supply chain disruptions, predicting infectious disease outbreaks, and more. However, researchers in many disciplines have faced obstacles like incompatible data standards, missing or error-filled information, and technical difficulties in managing large data sets.
To help address a wide range of challenges and create opportunities, the National Science Foundation is investing in the creation of a new data platform that will help researchers across the gamut of scientific disciplines access, collect, store, and secure vital information. The $38 million commitment will establish the Research Data Ecosystem (RDE), which will be managed at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research.
RDE will accelerate the advancement and impacts of social and behavioral research. Here are five things to know about this groundbreaking infrastructure initiative.
1. What is the Research Data Ecosystem?
RDE is a national resource for reproducible, robust, and transparent social science research in the 21st Century. This NSF initiative will enable transformative research in fields that leverage complex scientific data about human behavior, society, and the economy. "The Research Data Ecosystem project will modernize the management and use of many types of people-centered data, thus accelerating multidisciplinary research focused on serving society and improving the lives of people all over the country," said acting NSF Assistant Director for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences Kellina Craig-Henderson.
2. What is the end goal for this project?
The University of Michigan Institute for Social Research will oversee the modernization of the ICPSR software platform and the creation of new data archives researchers can use to access, organize, analyze and contribute different types of research data. This work will emphasize the researcher user experience to expand and democratize access to different types of research data, such as video and geospatial data as well as administrative and other “digital trace” data. It will provide a state-of-the-art platform for researchers and their funders who want to share and link their data in safe and secure ways.
3. How is this different from the other resources at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research?
While historically the projects at ICPSR, the data archival arm of ISR, have been about curating, preserving, and sharing data, the Research Data Ecosystem project is about building infrastructure to support all of these processes for multiple types of data. It does not focus on any particular dataset.
4. How will this affect researchers and their work?
The RDE project tackles the urgent need for new modes of access, confidentiality protection, methodology, and tools that enable research using a wide variety of data types. Scientists across the U.S. conducting people-centered data-intensive research will have the ability to securely access and contribute to the data archives. Economist and project leader Margaret Levenstein puts it this way: “Imagine a researcher attempting to understand economic growth in small towns and why some towns prosper while others don’t. This project makes such transformative work possible by standardizing and organizing complex data from hundreds of different sources, so it can be analyzed and understood in new ways,” said Levenstein, director of ICPSR.
5. Why ISR, and why now?
The Research Data Ecosystem project will modernize data collection and management to maximize the scientific value of people-centered data, enabling efficient and innovative multidisciplinary research focused on serving society and improving the lives of people in the U.S. “We’re excited about the numerous ways that the Research Data Ecosystem will engage current and future scholars,” said Kate Cagney, director of ISR. “ISR’s long history of innovation in data collection and analysis makes us uniquely positioned to build this platform to support and enhance social scientific inquiry.”
Contact: Dory Knight-Ingram