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New report calls data centres a success story

Article dated: 1 September 2011

The Economic and Social Data Service (ESDS) and the activities of the UK Data Archive feature prominently in a new report published by the Research Information Network (RIN).

'Data Centres: their use, value and impact', conducted by the Technopolis Group with support from JISC, compares researchers' use of data hosted at UK data centres, and examines the impact of that use on their work. These issues are of considerable interest in the research and data communities, as funders are constantly looking for the most effective and efficient means to optimise the value and re-use of data for research.

The study's authors interviewed research funders to understand the role and importance of data and data centres within various academic fields, then surveyed users of eight UK data centres that cover a wide range of research disciplines from the social sciences to molecular biology, archaeology and chemistry. Finally, the authors identified a number of case studies where data centres benefited researchers' work and, in some cases, how that work has impacted the wider society.

Highlights from the findings include:

data centres
  • overall, data centre usage is high
  • academics are the most significant users - and the most important audience
  • data is used in several ways: for original research; in combination with other data; for reference; as a basis for further data collection
  • users of every data centre "overwhelmingly rated the data as important to their research"
  • researchers indicate that data centres improve the culture of data sharing
  • the most widely agreed benefit of data centres is research efficiency

In summary, the report identifies a number of conclusions including:

  • data centres are a success story for their users - and funders and policy makers should continue to support and promote existing national data centres
  • data centres are important both for reference purposes, and for novel research - both these uses should be maintained and encouraged
  • data centre staff manipulate, interpret and support use of datasets, and this is highly valued by researchers
  • the role of data centre staff should be supported and perhaps investigated further to support advocacy for data centre services

"This is a hugely positive report which validates much of what we've been seeing as the ESDS has developed over the past eight years," says Matthew Woollard, Director of ESDS and the UK Data Archive. "The report provides more concrete examples of how data serviced by the ESDS has impacted on social and economic policy. The challenge now is to keep delivering what all the users of the service need and continue to give access to high quality, well curated and well documented data which is relevant for all kinds of research. We have a solid base of expertise and experience, but in going forward we'll all need to collaborate to develop new solutions and resources."

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is also hailing both the report and the particular success of the ESDS in an online statement.

The complete report can be downloaded from the RIN website. An event is also planned by RIN in November 2011 to launch the report findings.

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