Why Open Data?

In this second instalment of our blog series marking International Open Access Week, Håvard Strand talks about the importance of open data for the social sciences and for PRIO.

Photo: Christian Fregnan CC via Unsplash

Social science research is a collective effort, but with individual rewards through publications, fame and glory. An essential part of this research is the collection of empirical databases. While it might be tempting to keep these private, it is in everyone’s interest that research data remain open.

Costs. Sharing data has an obvious economic advantage. When data are shared, we can spend our limited resources on collecting new data rather than reproducing existing work. Furthermore, new data collection can be extensions of other data sets. This is not only efficient, but it enhances the usefulness of the existing data as well.

A huge part of any data collection effort is creating the framework, or the catalogue of potential units. An extension can simply inherit this framework and hence skip step one entirely. As more and more datasets build on each other, we slowly move towards systems of data, where the combination of various data sources becomes routine rather than an obstacle.

Quality. As a data source is used and reused, any mistakes and errors are more likely to be found and corrected. Over time, the collective use of a data source will create a much higher level of confidence in the data itself, and hence the conclusions drawn from the analyses of these data.

Verification. A particular combination of data from different sources used in a publication should also be shared, so that the analysis can be replicated and verified by the research community. This verification applies not only to the analysis of the data used but also to the combination of different datasets. PRIO spearheaded this effort, with Journal of Peace Research demanding the publication of replication datasets with all quantitative articles.

In the same way as international organizations and international order benefit a small country like Norway, open data policies benefit Norwegian social science – and PRIO in particular. This is why PRIO has had a huge emphasis on open data.

All data collection efforts at PRIO are openly available, build on and adhere to international standards and existing projects. PRIO has also developed frameworks for data collections, such as PRIO-GRID, which is a basis for collection, systematization and analysis of spatial data.

Håvard Strand is Senior Researcher at PRIO and Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Oslo. His research focuses on the relationship between political institutions and armed conflict, as well as the relationship between data structures and statistical estimators.

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