The Government literally spends billions of taxpayer dollars on funding research, and yet, when that research is complete, taxpayers do not have access to it. Have you ever wondered why?
A simple reason is that the publisher of the research holds the copyright, and the publicly funded research is locked away and only available to those who will pay for it.
The fact is that there are many groups who want and need access to the research that they have already funded. So why do they have to pay for access? When we consider the importance that scientific research makes to our lives, we are left scratching our head wondering why we can’t access it. The knowledge gained through research allows communities to make better decisions and plan better strategies for the future. Research data is important for every individual.
With that in mind, how can research data be more widely disseminated into the public sphere?
The priority for data dissemination should be its utilisation. The data is only valuable if it is being utilised by those who need it. A major factor in how well data is utilised involves its accessibility. And that is what we will look closely at in this discussion on research data dissemination.
The first point about effective dissemination is to understand that it is critically linked to timeliness and comprehensiveness. Data should be fresh and made available as soon as possible for the data to be relevant to today, not last year. And it must be provided in a way that the public can easily comprehend and access. You don’t want dozens of phone calls each day requesting help to understand how the data is presented or what it means. If the data is presented well, it will alleviate the need for users to seek clarification.
Nor do you want your data sitting on a server that no one can access. It needs to be accessible.
Space Time Research has been helping large organisations to disseminate data in a timely and comprehensive way for over 30 years. The software tools have evolved over time to make data more readily available and to make it easy for non-technical users to understand it and access it.
Our most recent achievement has been to create a cloud system whereby data can be accessed by anyone with a web browser.
The online self-service dissemination model is a modern approach compared to the traditional means of dissemination of statistics. The old school method involved hours of work with manual aggregation, perturbation and confidentialisation of the data all required before it could be released as a ‘static’, predefined view. This labour intensive method has now been superseded by an improved and more efficient work flow that minimises the costly processes of the past.
In 2006 the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) led the world in the online dissemination of statistics based on a self-service model. The result of our work with the ABS was an online service called TableBuilder. This program is powered by Space-Time Research’s SuperWEB2 platform and was the very first instance of government disseminating data directly from unit record microdata.
This should be the goal of all data disseminators. Releasing unit record data in a self-service model is the least expensive and most effective way to make research data available.
An example of how it works in practice is found at SuperDataHub. There, the ABS datasets have been preloaded to give researchers an example of exactly how they can release their data to the public in a format that makes it easy for anyone to access.
The SuperDataHub model allows organisations that produce official statistics to maintain data sovereignty without restricting inter-agency data merging or third-party application development.
It has been designed to allow end users to upload and merge proprietary data with official statistics without granting organisational firewall access.
And it uses a modern cloud based platform to enable community based sharing and commentary on official statistics in order to further promote evidence-based decision making.
In order to support these capabilities, Space Time Research developers came up with a component-based architecture that separates the data aggregation server and disclosure control methods from the cloud-based query and dissemination platform.
The immediate benefits of splitting these components include savings on infrastructure costs and the speed at which new data can be made available. The ‘sharing’ capabilities allow for inter-agency sharing of information, which is one of the major undertakings in the ‘open data’ projects being carried out by governments around the world.
If your agency requires a system like SuperDataHub for it dissemination goals, speak to Space Time Research about implementation into your project.