The Prevention and Early Intervention Research Initiative (PEI-RI) is a data archiving project at the Children’s Research Network. The central aim of the PEI-RI is to archive research data from a series of evaluations of Prevention and Early Intervention services from around the island of Ireland, often referred to as the Prevention and Early Intervention Initiative (PEII), so that this data is available through the national data archives for further analysis and service development.
Since the Prevention and Early Intervention Initiative began in 2004 (see Birkbeck this volume), practices and experiences of data sharing and re-use have continued to evolve within the ecosystem of social science research, both in Ireland and internationally. In the context of a growing trend towards promoting transparency, rigour and public accountability, the community of researchers, research funders and, increasingly, scholarly journals and other platforms for the dissemination of research findings, are all moving towards requiring or encouraging researchers to make their data, and data analyses, available for others to examine and re-use. Thus, concerns about ensuring the quality and reliability of research findings have been added to earlier ideals of facilitating historical and comparative analysis, maximising the potential and value of data and reducing the burden on research participants.
Since 2017, the EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, Horizon 2020, has treated research data as “open by default” with the possibility for researchers to opt out, under the principle that data should be “as open as possible, as closed as necessary.” In Ireland, the Health Research Board (HRB) recently launched an Open Research Platform, including an Open Data Policy , which specifies that:
“Original results should include the source data underlying the results, together with details of any software used to process the results. It is essential that others can see the source data in order to be able to replicate the study and analyse the data, as well as in some circumstances, reuse it.”
In this context, support for archiving under the Prevention and Early Intervention Research Initiative led by the Children’s Research Network, is leading the way for the development of data sharing practice in Ireland. The articles in this Digest are timely insofar as they reflect many of the challenges and opportunities associated with the new world of open research data.
As Corti and Fielding (2016) argued in a recent article, dedicated academic research data archives and portals play an essential role in meeting the ‘FAIR’ guidelines that have been adopted both by Horizon 2020 and the HRB. These specify that published data must “embrace the principles of Findability, Accessibility, Interoperability, and Reusability”. Meeting these guidelines requires first that digital data are sustainably preserved in a persistent online location. The articles in this digest describe how quantitative and qualitative evaluation data from the PEI initiative have been deposited in the Irish Social Science Data Archive (ISSDA) and the Irish Qualitative Data Archive (IQDA) , both of which have policies oriented towards the preservation of data for the long term. In the case of IQDA, data preservation is secured through its membership of the Digital Repository of Ireland (DRI5), a national trusted digital repository for humanities, social sciences and cultural heritage data. DRI adopts the Data Seal of Approval as its policy guideline. In addition, DRI provides persistent citation through Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs) and automatically generated citations.
Ensuring accessibility and re-usability also requires that data are appropriately documented using standardised metadata and contextual descriptions. Data documentation facilitates re-use by providing information about context and by enabling search and discovery. As a number of the articles in this Digest reveal (Leavy; Fleming and O’Hare), meeting the requirements for systematic documentation promotes data quality and trust in its provenance. The authors describe their efforts to identify appropriate file versions, standardise naming conventions for variables and anonymise the data in order to protect participant confidentiality. Trust in data also requires that we can be confident that the data were ethically collected, and that participants have given informed consent for its use and re-use through archiving. Repositories such as IQDA require that data are deposited in compliance with professional norms, including those relating to participant confidentiality and informed consent. A number of the articles in this Digest note the importance of building a plan to share data into the management of the research from the outset, to ensure consent and facilitate data management (Leavy; Fleming and O’Hare; Quinn; Hayes).
There is a longstanding debate surrounding whether or not the challenges associated with archiving qualitative data are greater than those surrounding quantitative data, aspects of which are mentioned in a number of the contributions to this Digest. As Bishop (2009; 2013) has described, these concerns are both methodological and ethical. Methodological concerns include whether or not it is possible to provide sufficient context for secondary users to be able to analyse the data (Rodriguez), or to avoid the risk of ‘misinterpretation.’ Some researchers consider that anonymisation of qualitative data may require the removal of so much information that the data becomes unusable (Hayes). Ethical concerns include the idea that qualitative research involves a higher level of moral obligation to participants on the part of the researcher (Hayes). This is not the place to revisit these issues, many of which are addressed in detail in the contribution by Rodriguez. Suffice to say that research carried out by IQDA in collaboration with Tallaght West CDI (see Quinn) showed that, while Irish researchers share similar and understandable concerns with their counterparts in other jurisdictions, there is nevertheless considerable support for the principle of qualitative data archiving (Geraghty 2014).
In summary, the contributions to this Digest testify to the ground-breaking role of the PEI Research Initiative in furthering the practice of social science data sharing and re-use in Ireland. However, despite the national and international movement towards open data mentioned above, a number of challenges remain. First, as Corti and Fielding (2016) discuss, there is still some misunderstanding about the central importance of dedicated archives situated within international collaborations and infrastructures, for ensuring meaningful preservation and access to data. Ireland has invested in the creation of social science repositories (ISSDA and IQDA/ DRI), principally through the Programme for Research in Third Level Institutions, but sustaining and developing these initiatives into the future will require continuing funding and support. In order to secure this, it is vital that their importance for the promotion of high quality, transparent and rigorous primary and secondary research is recognised and acknowledged within the wider Higher Education and Research landscape.
Second, as many of the contributions document, designing and implementing research data management plans to facilitate data archiving is resource intensive. Research funders, (notably including Horizon 2020), increasingly allow costs associated with archiving in research budgets, but this is not consistently true of all funders, especially in relation to the personnel and hours required for managing data for sharing and re-use. Developing a culture of data sharing requires education not only of social science researchers, but also of research funders and commissioners. Finally, while there has been considerable progress towards encouraging and supporting researchers to share their data, work remains to be done to encourage re-use and secondary analysis, especially of archived qualitative data. While there is some international evidence of a pattern of growth in re-use over time (Bishop and Kuula 2017), promoting re-use remains an ongoing challenge in the Irish case. In this context, the inclusion of grants for re-use under CRNINI-PEI research initiative is an exemplar of good practice.