Data services: a success story

1 September 2011

Data centres such as the Economic and Social Data Service (ESDS) are a "success story" for their users, concludes a new study assessing the value of UK data centres.

Eight UK data centres were included in the study Data centres: their use, value and impact, commissioned by the Research Information Network and the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC).

The findings suggest that data centres are important both for new research and for reference purposes. The support the centres offer in the use of data sets is "highly valued by researchers" - but they will need to improve services when it comes to interdisciplinary work, concludes the report.

"This is a positive statement on the value and benefits of the service," comments ESDS Director Matthew Woollard. "The strategic implications point to the benefits of retaining long-term investment in this type of service."

The centre, funded by ESRC and JISC, is the primary data provision service within the UK Data Archive, and aims to acquire, curate and provide access to the UK’s largest collection of social and economic data. Statistics show that the centre has 40,000 registered users, and 5,200 data downloads per month.

Online surveys asked respondents to indicate how they used centre data in their own research. ESDS users were more likely than users from most other centres to use data for original research, with 88 per cent accessing the data for this purpose.

In total 93 per cent of ESDS users found the data they accessed to be important for their research or teaching, with 68 per cent ranking it as "very important". Eighty per cent said that ESDS support had reduced the time they needed to acquire or process data.

"It is clear that usage is relatively high across the board, and that many researchers use data in more than one way," states the report.

It also highlights that responses about training were "particularly strong among ESDS users". The ESRC has emphasised the need to develop data handling skills, and the UK Data Archive has been at the vanguard of developing materials for quantitative research skills as well as data management planning.

Looking at additional value from data centres, users mentioned quick access to data; facilitating access to other data collections; the centre's role as a national resource; the work on curating, preserving and presenting data; acting as a repository for researchers' own work; and acting as a platform for data dissemination. ESDS users also highlighted concrete impacts on social policy as a result of research using data from the centre.

"Data centres are meeting a range of needs, but they may have certain areas where additional services could be closely targeted, in order to satisfy the biggest group of their users," concludes the report.