Odissei stands for collaboration and enrichment

Case

Odissei stands for collaboration and enrichment

National data platform for the humanities and social sciences launched

Pearl Dykstra can scarcely wait for the next steps of the national data platform for the human and social sciences Odissei. With the official launch at the end of October, an end has come to the brainchild's infant years, and now it needs to learn to stand on its own two feet and preferably grow fast as well.

Pearl Dykstra is Professor of Empirical Sociology at the Erasmus University Rotterdam and scientific director of the collaboration. ‘We are now really getting down to business. We need to achieve several things in the short term: elaboration of the governance, start of the projects (initiate new waves), realise a platform for existing data collections and complete the application for the National Roadmap Large-Scale Scientific Infrastructure.’

Pieter Hooimeijer, Huib van de Stadt and Pearl Dykstra symbolically opened Odissei on 27 October 2016 in the Centraal Museum in Utrecht.Pieter Hooimeijer, Huib van de Stadt and Pearl Dykstra symbolically opened Odissei on 27 October 2016 in the Centraal Museum in Utrecht. Photo: Arend Jan Hermsen, Par-pa

Pearl Dykstra is Professor of Empirical Sociology at the Erasmus University Rotterdam and scientific director of the collaboration. ‘We are now really getting down to business. We need to achieve several things in the short term: elaboration of the governance, start of the projects (initiate new waves), realise a platform for existing data collections and complete the application for the National Roadmap Large-Scale Scientific Infrastructure.’

An integrated, flexible, data structure as a growth model
- Pearl Dykstra

Dykstra: ‘What we want to achieve is an integrated, flexible data structure that functions as a growth model. The synergy of the enthusiastic participants should guarantee that the whole is more than the sum of its parts.’

Odissei is the ‘definitive’ shape of the national data infrastructure for the social sciences, the working title under which the initiative was previously known. Odissei is to put to an end to the working approach for data collections that are produced and used for one specific objective and for one single project.

All-inclusive approach

What do the users think of it? Where do they see possibilities, and where pitfalls and bottlenecks?

Dorret Boomsma, Professor of Biological Psychology at the VU University Amsterdam and founder of the Netherlands Twin Register: ‘Collaboration in surveys and data collections is the norm. Individual research groups lack the power to do it alone. Funds evaporate in small projects. And that is a great pity. The all-inclusive approach that Odissei makes possible opens up a world of opportunities for innovative research.’

Ruben van Gaalen is professor by special appointment of Register Analyses of Life Course Dynamics at the University of Amsterdam and is also a researcher at Statistics Netherlands. Statistics Netherlands, with its immense, dynamic data supply, is a key partner in the realisation of Odissei. Van Gaalen: ‘Through the broad use of data collections, more easily available possibilities are within arm’s reach. Imagine, for example, that you want to investigate the influence of the quality of school boards on the performance of pupils: the linking of data about board members with that of pupils and schools would be a boost for a better understanding.’

Dorret Boomsma is a warm advocate for the ultimate formation of a future portal through which ‘everybody’ can take part in research by regularly completing questionnaires on any given subject. ‘Through the use of smart algorithms, participants can determine which questions they want to answer and which bodies may look into their contributions.’

Marcel Das is the director of CentERdata and Professor of Statistics at Tilburg University. He agrees with the need for and issues of accurate privacy control. ‘We need the consent of each respondent to be able to use data before we can actually collect it. In such a platform, we need to manage the privacy really well.’

Rolf van der Velden, professor at Maastricht University and coordinator of the Dutch Cohort Research in Education: ‘We do indeed need an infrastructure that inspires trust. Right from the start, we need to take away any anxieties that respondents might have that an unauthorised person could make use of the data they have submitted. This means that data cannot be linked automatically! For example, no medical data; that would possible under special circumstances, but the researcher should then first of all ask for explicit consent. Furthermore, PhDs invest a lot of time and effort in collecting data during their research, often alone, and are not always keen to share that work with others. A lot still needs to be done in that area.’

Ineke Stoop is scientific officer Education, Minorities and Methodology at the Netherlands Institute for Social Research. Stoop also emphasises the ‘educating influence’ that the future platform can have towards PhDs and other young researchers. ‘They need to learn to understand different sources of data and the relations between them. Odissei can support them in recognising and explaining the weighting of data and measurement errors.’

Delve deeper

Stoop would also like to see ethnic groups involved that fall outside of standard research, which is sometimes simply because they have little or no access to a computer on the Internet. ‘That includes people who are not fluent enough in the language, people who are illiterate and elderly people in nursing homes and care homes. As soon as we carry out studies, we focus on the well-behaved most regulated part of the Netherlands. But we should be delving deeper!’

Did you know? In parent-child relationships you could include the use of GPS trackers to determine whether the child and parent really meet each other, in order to confirm whether the qualitative data is actually true.

Ruben van Gaalen: ‘Current technology allows us to considerably expand the quality and scope of the data. For example, in a study of parent-child relationships, you could include the use of GPS trackers to determine whether the child and parent really meet each other, as well as where and for how long, in order to confirm whether the qualitative data is actually true. That would be an enrichment of the data!’

Sandra van Thiel is Professor of Public Administration at Radboud University. ‘The linking of a wide range of databases would make multidisciplinary research considerably easier. We must not lose sight of that.’

Joint initiator taker Pieter Hooimeijer, chair of the NWO Social Sciences divisional board is extremely pleased with the step forwards that the official start of Odissei signifies: ‘Both the urgency and the desirability of Odissei are palpable.’

Huib van de Stadt, Senior Director of Socio-economic and Spatial Statistics at Statistics Netherlands completely agrees. ´Science is increasingly about collaboration between universities and between disciplines.’