15. syyskuuta 2016

Data Service Portal Aila: accessibility and practicality for non-Finnish speakers

The Finnish Social Science Data Archive (FSD) is one of the most important national resources for the collection and storing of social research data. Among the many services they offer, they aim to make research data available to everyone, free of charge. In order to be able to make data accessible not only to Finnish people, but also to international researchers or students involved in research projects, they provide datasets translated into English.

Their Data Service Portal is called Aila and is easily accessible for international users from the FSD English Website. It contains a list of more than 1,200 datasets, many of which are available in English that can be conveniently searched through by using the feature "Search". This allows users to find data suitable for their project easily, a process that would otherwise be extremely time-consuming and which could also be inconclusive. Access conditions apply to most datasets, some of which are only available for research purposes and others only for research, teaching and study purposes. A small percentage can only be used upon permission from the depositor or creator of the data.

As a placement student at the FSD, who is not familiar with the content of their digital archive, I was asked to assess how easy it is to find and access data in English through Aila. For this purpose, I first started by researching a specific dataset. By using "Data Search" finding the dataset was quick and simple. The results included not only the specific year of the survey I was looking for, but also all of the previous waves. This is useful when one is interested in carrying out a study that compares data over time.

Although the process seems to be very straight forward, one needs to be careful before downloading a dataset, as not all of them contain data that has been translated into English. In fact, the portal Aila includes study descriptions in English for all of the studies in the archive, but this does not imply that all of the data has been translated. To make sure that the data is in English one should double-click on the dataset to open the description page and check on the yellow box on the right-side that it contains related files in English (e.g. the codebook).

Still, even if related files are not currently available in English, users can request for the dataset to be translated, a service offered by the FSD free of charge. This is almost exclusively done for quantitative studies, as the amount of text contained in qualitative studies would require a much more demanding process. Only less than 15% of the datasets are qualitative, however. This means that a translation can be requested for the vast majority of the data.

Many users may also have a specific topic to research, but may still not know the specific name of a dataset available for them to use. With this idea in mind, and focusing on specific terminology from the final project for university that I am currently working on, I used the "Variable Search" tool. As the topic I was searching for was quite niche, I was very surprised to find out that Aila contains some feasible data. This clearly indicates that the archive is truly rich in content. "Variable Search" highlights the exact variables that contain the terms searched for, within all of the datasets available in the archive. This is a quick way to find datasets that have already been translated into English.

In conclusion, the Data Service Portal Aila is an extremely useful tool not only for Finnish people, but also for those looking for data in English. It is accessible to everyone, easy to use and does not require extremely complicated procedures to obtain data. Perhaps requesting the translation of a specific dataset would involve a longer process, however it is certainly undeniable that the FSD succeeds in its aim to make research data available and accessible to everyone.

Laura Chieri
Q-Step Student

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