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Social science hub:

European database cooperation to be stationed in Bergen

Norwegian Social Science Data Services AS (NSD)in Bergen has been chosen as host to the vast database cooperation project Council of European Social Science Data Archives (CESSDA RI).

Enormous amounts of social science-related data are generated throughout Europe – but it is a major challenge to archive these data optimally while ensuring access for researchers across national borders. CESSDA RI's role will be to meet this challenge.

ESFRI logo ESFRI project


Norway has entered into a binding agreement with Germany, Lithuania, Finland and the Netherlands on financial and political support for establishing the database  Another seven or eight countries have indicated that in the course of this autumn they will also commit to the project, which is one of 44 projects in the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures’ (ESFRI) European Roadmap for Research Infrastructures.

A feather in Norway’s cap

Bjørn Henrichsen. Photo: NSD/Bjarne Øymyr Bjørn Henrichsen (Photo: NSD/Bjarne Øymyr) “The social sciences are very advanced in terms of data sharing,” asserts Bjørn Henrichsen. “There is an immense volume of data, as well as a great many users. It’s definitely a feather in Norway’s cap to be chosen as the site for this important project. Several countries were competing to host CESSDA RI.” As Director of Norwegian Social Science Data Services AS (NSD) for over 30 years, Mr Henrichsen has spearheaded NSD’s efforts to amass and make accessible an enhanced body of data for empirical social science research.

“ESFRI projects are highly prestigious, so it’s important that we demonstrate that even a small country like Norway can have exceptional strengths in certain fields.”

Norwegian joint initiative

Each year, the 21 CESSDA member countries provide services to over 30 000 social science and humanities-related researchers and students within the European Research Area.

NSD in Bergen will host the CESSDA RI project. Photo: NSD/Bjarne Øymyr NSD in Bergen will host the CESSDA RI project. (Photo: NSD/Bjarne Øymyr) “The various ministries and the Research Council have been investing in the participating Norwegian institutions over many years, and we have consciously made ourselves visible in this European cooperation,” explains Mr Henrichsen. “This collective effort is a main reason we were chosen to host the CESSDA RI project.”

CESSDA RI was included in the first ESFRI roadmap, drawn up in 2006. The project is among those that have come the farthest; it is one of the first ESFRI projects for which a Memorandum of Understanding requiring the signatory countries to support the cooperation has been signed at the national level.

Decentralised cooperation

The current CESSDA catalogue helps users to find datasets as well as embedded subjects or variables. The data collections contain sociological surveys, electoral studies, longitudinal studies, opinion polls and census data such as the European Social Survey, the Eurobarometers and the International Social Survey Programme.

“The new ESFRI project involves expanding the European cooperation for social science data that has been built up over a 30-year period,” says Mr Henrichsen. “The expansion focuses on standardisation and documentation to make data accessible in the simplest and most practical way to researchers in Europe and beyond.”

“CESSDA RI will be a decentralised institution. The secretariat in Bergen will not be a large-scale, central unit, but more of a hub for handling contracts, forms of cooperation, and creating a solid underlying framework for the operation as a whole. Each country that commits to becoming one of the owners of the new institution also commits to maintaining a dedicated resource centre that can provide the data to users within its own borders.”

Illustration: CESSDA (Illustration: CESSDA)

Builds on existing technology

CESSDA RI's technical set-up builds primarily upon technology developed and owned by NSD. The project consists of a series of modular, individualised work packages.

“The expansion won’t require much alteration of the existing data portal,” states Mr Henrichsen. “We have come a long way in terms of technology and standards. We have good systems, but the aim is of course to expand upon these. Further developing the service will include authentication and access solutions, standards for metadata, and implementing controlled management tools. In addition we will examine the potential of using grid technology and improved tools for harmonisation of data.

Widespread ripple effects

The national implications of the project will be extensive. Norway will be positioned at the forefront of data expertise and access. “We are building a strong centre of expertise that will prove extremely valuable to our social science community, as well as to other fields. The technology being developed and the broad channels for dissemination of data will make it feasible to use the centre in environmental research, medicine and the humanities. What’s more, its very structure will open more possibilities for collaboration between scientific disciplines.”

Cross-national surveys

Another important element of this European cooperation is its potential for international perspectives. “The way we standardise and document data between the different countries,” Mr Henrichsen adds, “will promote cross-national surveys. Data on Norwegian conditions will be stored in a format that allows comparative analysis, so that Norwegian researchers can retrieve relevant data on other countries, just as data on Norway can be utilised in international comparisons.”

International executive committee appointed

An executive committee has been formed, comprising representatives from the ministries of those countries that have signed the CESSDA agreement or have declared their intent to do so soon.

Bjørn Henrichsen will now oversee the task of establishing statutes, cost apportionment, and any necessary integration of the European Research Infrastructure Consortium (ERIC) legal instrument. The results of these efforts are scheduled to be presented to the European Commission in early 2011.

The European Strategy Forum for Research Infrastructures (ESFRI)
  • Advisory body for European research ministries; established in 2002.
  • Forum for national representatives working with strategic concerns related to the coordination and expansion of complex, cost-intensive research infrastructure in Europe.
  • In 2006 ESFRI submitted a roadmap for large-scale research infrastructure; this was updated in 2008 to encompass 44 projects spanning a wide range of science and technology areas.
  • In autumn 2006 the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research asked the Research Council of Norway to head the development of a strategic approach to the ESFRI proposal.
  • The Research Council will draw up a basis for decision-making and submit recommendations for Norwegian participation.
  • Once the scope, focus and international distribution of tasks of ESFRI projects have been clarified, the Norwegian groups wishing to participate must submit their proposals for consideration under Norway’s National Financing Initiative for Research Infrastructure, where their proposals will be assessed on both scientific and strategic grounds on a par with national projects.
  • Norwegian participants are involved in the preparatory-phase work of 21 ESFRI projects.


Written by:
Tore Espedal/Else Lie. Translation: Darren McKellep/Carol B. Eckmann

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