Sharing Research Data

Reposted from Inna Kouper’s blog


Toni Rosati is a data curator and a usability researcher at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). Toni is involved in several projects at NSIDC, including the Advanced Cooperative Arctic Data and Information Service (ACADIS ) and the Science-Driven Cyberinfrastructure: Integrating Permafrost Data, Services, and Research Applications (PermaData).

Toni and I met at the 5th Research Data Alliance plenary and sat down during one of the coffee breaks to talk about qualitative data and the challenges of sharing them. As a usability researcher and a member of the ACADIS team, Toni conducts tests of the Arctic Data Explorer (ADE), a federated search tool for interdisciplinary Arctic science data. Her research results in recommendations to ADE managers and software developers to improve appearance, functionality, and quality of search results of the tool. Diving deep into the metadata and the code that make the ADE possible, Toni is also, ultimately, looking to improve data management and data sharing practices.

The usability tests generate a wealth of qualitative data including interview recordings and written transcripts. But, can the raw be shared? Not at this point, says Toni, for the following reasons:

  • Toni has been working closely with their institutional review board (IRB), an ethical committee that reviews and approves research involving humans in the U.S. to come to this conclusion. To ensure privacy, raw identifiable data must be anonymized.
  • The raw data are collected in the context of an organization and are most valuable for the organization itself rather than for an outside scholarly community; however, the methods and results are extremely valuable to the outside community and will be shared.

Does anything need to or can be shared in this situation?

In short, yes. As Toni pointed out, the most valuable sharing of qualitative data in an organizational context is the sharing of data that has undergone expert interpretation. “I’m collecting a lot of qualitative data, but to be most useful to my teammates, they have to be distilled into quick actionable items,” says Toni. Qualitative data are sometimes hard to communicate, and building trust in its validity requires time.

Toni and ADE Principal Investigator Lynn Yarmey are writing a paper outlining the user experience / usability research methods and processes they undertook, and the results and lessons learned. Ultimately, usability research is intended to create software with an end user focus that is intuitive, complete, and pleasurable to use. Ms. Rosati is passionate about such research and welcomes your questions.

Search Pathways

Wayfinding can be defined as the characteristics by which someone finds their way around. The word is usually used in a physical context like in a city or building. It can also be used to describe how people give directions in physical space (i.e. research says that women tend to use more land markers whereas men give more cardinal directions).

My research team and I decided to use this concept when testing our online data search tools (Arctic Data Explorer and NSIDC Search). Our audiences have similar characteristics, but Arctic Data Explorer users tended to be more general searchers whereas NSIDC Search users sought out very specific data sets.

Rather than base our hypothesis on gender, we suspected that a user’s level of experience in the science world influenced how they searched for data sets. It turns out we were partially right. It isn’t necessarily how long the user has been in science, but how familiar they are with that particular branch of science.

userssearchpathwaysBoth of these search tools share underlying technology and have the same goal – get users to the data they want! But, given the slight difference in audiences, some interface adjustments were required. The easiest thing to notice is that NSIDC Search has lots of very specific facets to help users drill down whereas the Arctic Data Explorer allows users to do a freeform text search. But what other differences do you see?