ODISSEI is included in the National Roadmap Large-Scale Research Infrastructure, which was presented on 13 December 2016. In May 2020, the Dutch Research Council (NWO) awarded ODISSEI with a large Roadmap grant for further development.

Below you’ll find the scientific summary of the awarded application.

Scientific summary

Society is facing complex challenges, such as ageing, climate change, migration, populism, labour insecurity, and increasing social inequalities. Understanding these challenges and finding suitable solutions is at the core of social science. In today’s rapidly changing world, the role of social scientists is more important than ever before. With their interest in explaining how society works, social scientists play a vital role in informing local, national and international authorities, non-governmental organisations, practitioners, and the public. The complex societal changes, trickling down to people’s daily lives, cannot be described and explained from single types of data or one single discipline.

Currently, social scientists are too often constrained in the questions they can answer, not by the limitations of their thinking but by the fragmented data landscape that clusters disciplinary data in distinct silos, the lack of sustained and coordinated investment in longitudinal studies, and the under use of research opportunities offered by the digital age. For societies to gain resilience in the face of the enormous challenges they face, social scientists need linked data that bridge disciplinary fields, levels of analysis and historical time, and the tools, resources and expertise necessary to analyse them. To create a better society, there is a need for better social science, and this requires a better data infrastructure:

Better Infrastructure – Better Science – Better Society

In the last two years, the entire social science community in the Netherlands has united in an unprecedented level of financial, technical, and political support for a shared research infrastructure: ODISSEI, Open Data Infrastructure for Social Science and Economic Innovations. This momentum and initiative must now be supported, exploited, and extended, so that ODISSEI can facilitate a new generation of social science and avoid missing the research potential unleashed by the digital age. The Dutch social science community is committed to carrying ODISSEI into the future. This proposal seeks to transition ODISSEI from a fledgling collaboration into a truly national infrastructure that facilitates ground-breaking social science research at scale. To better address today’s complex societal challenges and to find suitable solutions, social scientists in the Netherlands must pursue four key goals:

  1. Accessing, linking, and analysing sensitive data—that bridge different disciplines, analytical levels and time periods—in a safe, secure, and ethical manner (Work stream: Data Facility)
  2. Sustaining and optimising valuable, long-standing data collections (Work stream: Observatory)
  3. Opening up new avenues of inquiry by exploiting innovative digital technologies (Work stream: Laboratory)
  4. Acquiring skills and approaches for more complex and comprehensive modelling of social phenomena (Work stream: Hub)

The Data Facility will be a cluster of systems to strengthen the findability, accessibility, interoperability, and reusability (FAIR) of data from longitudinal panel studies in the social sciences, administrative data from Statistics Netherlands, and new forms of data such as large-scale digitally available, textual data, and social media data. It also includes a secure high-performance computing environment, incorporating linkable datasets and advanced analytics tools at the national supercomputer of SURFsara. Acknowledging that all data are potentially identifiable and potentially sensitive, ODISSEI will have policies and technical procedures in place to protect data privacy. High-speed analyses of timely, complex and diverse data will help better address social science’s key intellectual and policy puzzles.

The Observatory will optimise and provide continuity in data collection, enabling the study of long-term trends and supporting the integration of these long-standing data collections with the wider ODISSEI infrastructure. Continuity is a prerequisite for the study of crucial social questions such as how people’s lives are affected by the times in which they live and how their lives develop over time.

The Laboratory will work on innovating data collection and survey infrastructures, novel data sources and analysis techniques, and developing new methodological standards. It provides researchers with controlled environments in which to run social experiments and develop and test new measurement methods. It also includes tools for engaging in citizen science, a platform for running web experiments, and a suite for the analysis of large-scale digitally available, textual data. The expansion of social scientists’ research repertoire will provide enormous opportunities for the exploration of contradictions and complementarities of ‘traditional’ and ‘novel’ data sets in the pursuit of understanding the pressing social questions of our time.

The Hub will coordinate ODISSEI’s educational and training programme so that students and researchers can familiarise themselves with advanced analytical techniques and tools for computational social science. The acquisition of computational skills will enable them to make full use of the new resources for social science research, available through the infrastructure.

By capitalising on the research opportunities that the digital age offers, ODISSEI indicates a major shift in the way social science research is conducted, enabling Dutch researchers to continue to be world leading in social science. ODISSEI opens up new avenues of enquiry in the social sciences and beyond that will attract the best talents from abroad.

The four ODISSEI work streams