ODISSEI in e-Data & Research

In the latest edition of e-Data & Research much attention is paid to ODISSEI. Scientific director Pearl Dijkstra wrote a column on the importance of cooperation for reaching your scientific goals (see English translation below). Anne Gielen (Erasmus University Rotterdam) was interviewed on her research on the long term effects of the adjustments made to the Dutch disability benefits in the nineties. She used CBS Microdata for her analysis.

e-Data & Research can be downloaded here (in Dutch only).

Column: You can travel farther by working together

For the past 30 years, university policy has focussed on stimulating excellence in research. This policy is now starting to show its drawbacks, as can also be read in the recently published Rathenau report ‘Excellent is niet gewoon’ (‘Excellent is not normal’, 2018). It has led to an academic culture that is centred on competition. This rivalry mainly plays out between individual researchers, who have been extensively trained in finding a specialist research niche in their field to which they can add significant new knowledge. However, this emphasis on individual accomplishments has proven less than conducive to the promotion of closer collaboration – between research groups, between disciplines and with parties outside academia.

In fact, great science can be a direct outcome of collaboration. We recently saw a wonderful example. The first photograph of a black hole could only be taken when astronomers and telescope owners joined strengths in a worldwide consortium. Fortunately, within the broad domain of the social sciences and the humanities, the idea that it can pay off to work together is also gaining ground. In the report ‘Samen sterker: Beeld van het SSH-domein’ (‘Stronger together – Overview of the SSH domain’, 2018), quartermaster Mark Bovens calls on the sector to develop strategic plans that include a structured reflection on research strategies and mutual coordination. It’s important to pay attention to individual disciplines within the social sciences and the humanities, and to invest in substantive collaboration beyond the boundaries of these disciplines. After all, many issues in our society call for a multidisciplinary approach. A national vision and research agenda can benefit from a shared infrastructure – one that facilitates access to and re-use of data, safeguards coordination between data collections, promotes the interoperability of data sets, helps to maintain crucial, long-term data collections, and allows us to improve data collection methods. With some pride, I’d also like to mention ODISSEI – the Open Data Infrastructure for Social Science and Economic Innovations – which was set up in late 2016 at the initiative of the Dutch Research Council (NWO), Statistics Netherlands (CBS) and Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR). By now, ODISSEI has no fewer than 33 participating organisations: faculties (working in social sciences, economics and business administration, town and country planning, and health policy), CentERdata, planning bureaus, Netherland eScience Center, Nivel, SURFsara, and research institutes within NWO and the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW). Each of these participants contributes funding to ODISSEI, effectively subscribing to the concept of data infrastructure as a public good and shared responsibility.

Since its launch, ODISSEI has created a number of facilities for the social sciences field. The first involves grants for the use of CBS microdata relating to private individuals, households and companies. The scope of the information contained in the CBS records about people’s health, living situation, income, crime, use of facilities, etc, is unprecedented. A second facility relates to grants for the participants’ own data collections via the LISS panel (Longitudinal Internet studies for the Social Sciences). Of course, new data can be linked to information that has already been collected by the panel members as well as to CBS microdata. A third facility relates to the so-called ODISSEI Data Facility (ODF), a closed environment on SURFsara’s supercomputer Cartesius, where social scientists can enrich their data with data provided by CBS, while simultaneously taking advantage of the system’s extraordinary computing power. A facility like ODF can’t be found anywhere else in the world.

By working together, the ODISSEI participants hope to realise a more effective data infrastructure, which can form the foundation for better science, which in turn can use its acquired knowledge for the benefit of society. Things may go faster when you work alone. But by working together you can travel a lot farther.