Norwegian roadmap for Research Infrastructure

Social sciences and welfare

The social sciences provide knowledge and understanding of areas important to society’s development. The knowledge base must be updated to reflect changes in the economy, changes in population structure and demographics, increased digitalisation and the restructuring of working life and business. To ensure good living conditions for everyone in all stages of life, it is important to invest in the infrastructures that sustain research, public administration and policy.

Research objectives

The Government’s Long-term plan for research and higher education 2019–2028 (Report No 4 to the Storting (2018–2019)) highlights public sector renewal and better and more effective welfare, health and care services as key focus areas. Research on welfare, economics, wealth distribution, working life, education, culture and migration, both nationally and globally, are a necessary part of the knowledge used in determining policy and strengthening the welfare society. More information about political participation, how participation channels work and how they in turn affect people's trust in democratic institutions and actors, will be important aspects of this knowledge basis. Such research may help us to better understand societal trends and address national and global challenges with targeted, effective measures. Adequate, secure access to high-quality data that is systematised and curated for research purposes is essential to ensuring that a given research task is followed up and can produce relevant knowledge that breaks new ground. Such data may consist of qualitative and quantitative data generated in research projects or of data gleaned from various registries not necessarily dedicated to research.

In the social sciences, several infrastructures facilitate the collection, quality assurance and sharing of different types of data. Major tasks remain, however, in developing those infrastructures and promoting standardisation and reuse of the data stored there. It is also important to establish new infrastructures and exploit opportunities to generate data in new ways, such as by creating a framework for using new technology, social media and vast amounts of data.

To strengthen the ability of Norwegian social researchers to take part in international research projects and research collaborations, Norway must join in comparative questionnaire surveys and research infrastructure initiatives that are part of the ESFRI Roadmap.

Existing research infrastructure

The Norwegian Centre for Research Data (NSD) and Statistics Norway (SSB) are the most important infrastructure institutions for Norwegian social sciences research. The NSD is a coordinating body for data management in Norway that plays an important strategic role in facilitating secure storage and open access to research data. The NSD is one of the world’s largest research data archives, and stores, manages and curates survey data for research on social science and welfare policy topics. These include large-scale national surveys on living conditions and time use etc., as well as a number of other Norwegian and international surveys, such as the European Social Survey (ESS), the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP) and the World Values ​​Survey (WVS).

Statistics Norway is responsible for collecting and coordinating public statistics in Norway, and it cooperates with the NSD. Statistics Norway manages large amounts of personal, institutional and regional data on its own behalf, for the Government and ministries and for other data owners. Data managed by Statistics Norway are of great interest to social scientists. Processed statistics based on the data are an important research infrastructure. The Storting adopted a new Statistics Act in 2019. The preparatory works to the act emphasise making it easier for researchers and public administration to access data from SSB.

Statistics Norway provides such statistics via StatBank Norway. Eurostat, the OECD and UN organisations also have large statistics banks from which researchers can freely extract statistics. The health registries, patent register, Innovation Norway, MoBa and other databases managed by bodies such as the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (FHI) are also useful for wide-scale research on societal issues. SSB and the Norwegian Directorate of eHealth signed a letter of intent concerning cooperation, so that both platforms facilitate the realisation of synergies at the interface between data access, analysis possibilities and secure platforms for safeguarding personal data considerations in the solutions.

Through the National Financing Initiative for Research Infrastructure, the Research Council has made several infrastructure investments at the NSD and Statistics Norway. The NSD has received funds to upgrade its services related to depositing, curation and accessibility of research data through the Norwegian Open Research Data Infrastructure (NORDi) project. Researchers enjoy data access across national boundaries through the European Social Survey (ESS) and the Council of European Social Science Data Archives (CESSDA), which are both ESFRI projects. The NSD cooperates closely with CESSDA and is a national ESS partner with funding from the Research Council.

Investments have also been made under the National Financing Initiative for Research Infrastructure in the following infrastructures:

  • Microdata.no is intended to give Norwegian and international researchers more effective, simpler and better access to sensitive personal data from multiple registries simultaneously;
  • the ACCESS Life Course database, which facilitates data from a Norwegian study of life course, ageing and generation (NorLAG);
  • the Historical Population Register (HPR), which links historical data about individuals, families and generations;
  • E-infrastructure for Video Research (eVIR), which has developed a national video database for secure video data storage;
  • the Advanced Conflict Data Catalogue (ACDC), which has developed standards and an integrated data model for studies of regional and international conflicts.

Need for new infrastructure, upgrades and coordination

Norwegian data acquired from surveys and registries are in a class of their own. The stored knowledge pertaining to Norwegian welfare, wealth distribution and economic policies is in demand by researchers in other countries. However, society’s digital transformation is altering the basis for this research, and new infrastructure is needed to generate data that reflects the digitalised society and exploits the opportunities it provides. In Norway, digitalisation has come far, especially as regards the spread of internet access. As a result, there are new digital research opportunities in the social sciences and across disciplines that should be exploited by establishing new infrastructures, such as internet panels and use of social media.

Some of the most outstanding social sciences research groups in Norway use microdata and register data through reliable and secure infrastructures for much of their work. It is essential that register data is updated to allow the research to develop over time. Advanced social sciences research often requires detailed data, and it is important to ensure both access to and the ability to link together sensitive personal data from national registries through robust and secure infrastructures. Research that entails data analysis before and after interventions and trials to evaluate impacts will also depend on robust infrastructure that adequately safeguards data security.

Access to high-quality interdisciplinary data is essential for social sciences research. There is a need to establish access to industrial data and commercial data, but this may require the use and development of ICT technology for data encryption and anonymisation, among other things.

Maintaining and developing existing infrastructures, including through access to more and larger continually updated data sets, is crucial to the ability of Norwegian social sciences researchers to perform at the forefront of international research and contribute to the global knowledge pool related to important societal challenges. Sharing and reuse of research data, both nationally and internationally, are key factors in the Research Council’s investments in, and recommendations for, social science infrastructures.

Advanced scientific equipment is needed for some social sciences and welfare research. Research on education and professions requires laboratories with a focus on professional life, while behavioural research calls for equipment and technology for storage and analysis of multimedia materials. We also see an increasing need for cognitive laboratory facilities and biophysical equipment in several fields of psychology and social sciences disciplines.

Interface with other areas

Development of research infrastructure in the areas of social sciences and welfare must be viewed in context with infrastructure in other areas. This includes e-infrastructure, which will become more and more significant in social sciences research. The humanities are also relevant to social sciences research, and ICT research will be able to benefit from social sciences infrastructures. Climate and the environment, and some aspects of medicine and health, are also related to this field of research. With more and better flows of data across traditional subject boundaries, we can expect much exciting and innovative research going forward.

RESEARCH INFRASTRUCTURES RELATED TO SOCIAL SCIENCES AND WELFARE

Project

Status

ACCESS – Life Course Database: Upgrade and Expansion

Under establishment/in operation

CESSDA – Council of European Social Science Data Archives

ESFRI Landmark

Microdata.no – Microdata Platform for Norwegian and International Research and Analysis

Under establishment/in operation

NORDi – Norwegian Open Research Data Infrastructure

Under establishment/in operation

ACDC – Advanced Conflict Data Catalogue*

Funding period completed/in operation

eVIR – einfrastructure for VIdeo Research*

Funding period completed/in operation

HISTREG – National Historical Population Register for Norway 1800-2020 (HPR)*

Funding period completed/in operation

OTHER RESEARCH INFRASTRUCTURES ON THE ROADMAP RELEVANT TO SOCIAL SCIENCES AND WELFARE

Project

Status

E-INFRA ved UNINETT Sigma 2 – a national e-Infrastrucure for science

Under establishment/in operation

HAP – Helseanalyseplattformen

Under establishment/in operation

* Infrastructures where the project period with Research Council funding has been concluded, or was scheduled to be concluded in 2019, do not have a separate project description on the roadmap. You will instead find a reference to the infrastructure's website or the Research Council's project bank.