Data archives maintain comparative data

Enabling comparative research internationally as well as nationally is at the heart of data archive work. The Finnish Social Science Data Archive’s Aila Data Service contains 71 Finnish data series, and FSD’s wide network of partner organisations provides Finnish researchers with a massive number of international data series for comparative research.

Without harmonised, thoroughly described and properly maintained research data, our view of social and cultural phenomena and their development would be much more incomplete. The Finnish data series archived in FSD’s holdings have mostly been collected from the 2000s onwards, although some individual series reach further back. FSD also participates in collecting and processing Finnish data for internationally comparative data series, even though their archiving and dissemination has been centralised to foreign partners.

Old data in active use

In the United States, survey research data have already been archived in the mid-1900s. A known example of a publication utilising these data is Robert D. Putnam’s Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (2000), which is considered a classic in social capital research. Some of Putnam’s archival sources date back to the 1950s, and the bibliography of tables and figures in his study gives an idea on the wide variety of the different types of survey data used. Putnam’s references include, among others, survey data charting elections, political opinions, lifestyles and living conditions. He has also used a variety of statistical sources.

The first European data archives started operating in the 1960s and 1970s. Finnish data archive work started after the technological and communicative developments brought on by the Internet at the end of the 1990s. Because of this, very few archived Finnish data series reach further back than the 1990s. FSD’s data catalogue contains 71 data series, and the majority of the oldest datasets have not been collected until the 1990s and 2000s.

Picture of three books.

Before FSD, Finnish researchers themselves had to store and maintain the data in older, actively used datasets. Examples of Finnish data series reaching back to the 1970s and 1980s include Finnish Voter Barometers and Finnish Business and Policy Forum (EVA) surveys on Finnish values and attitudes. Series started in the 1990s include Advisory Board for Defence Information (ABDI) surveys charting Finnish opinions on security policy and national defence as well as EVA surveys on Finnish EU attitudes.

International comparative data on the Internet

Finnish users of FSD’s services used to be able to download the international English-language comparative data of, for instance, Eurobarometers, ISSP and World Values Surveys (WVS). The data were described in Finnish although the data files were in English. The objective was to promote the use of comparative international data in Finland. FSD gave up the service after the data became available for download in international online services.

However, FSD continues to collaborate actively in two major international research projects funding data collection, translating questionnaires, and processing data for dissemination. The International Social Survey Programme (ISSP) and the European Values Study (EVS) produce comparative data both internationally and longitudinally. EVS is collected in intervals of approximately ten years with minimal changes to questions as to ensure longitudinal comparability. Each collection round of the ISSP, on the other hand, has a separate theme. EVS has been collected since the 1980s, but, unfortunately, the oldest Finnish datasets no longer exist in usable condition. Finland has been included in the EVS/WVS since the beginning, in the ISSP since 2000.

The Finnish data for both series are available on Aila Data Service. They can be found in the data catalogue like other data series in FSD’s holdings. EVS forms a series with World Values Survey data. The newest EVS questionnaire has for the most part the same questions as the newest World Values Survey. The latest collection round for the Finnish data of the European Values Study (EVS) was 2017–2018, and the Finnish data will become available on Aila Data Service during 2019.

A complete list of data series is available on Aila. FSD forms a data series when the same organisation or researcher collects data repeatedly on the same topic. Some series change their questions for each collection round if longitudinal comparability is not an objective for the data series. Nevertheless, long series include comparative datasets, and variables may have been included in multiple collection rounds even if the complete data are not longitudinally comparable. Searching for other comparative data suitable for your research is also easy with the different types of searches provided by Aila Data Service. Advanced searches on Aila can target individual variables and question texts.

CESSDA joint catalogue, ICPSR and national data archives’ catalogues

Conducting comparative research does not have to be limited to only international comparative data series. Joint catalogues of European data archives as well as the archives’ own catalogues can be used to search for comparative data.

In addition, FSD pays the Finnish membership fee for the ICSPR data archive in the United States, thanks to which students and researchers at Finnish universities are able to download data from ICPSR free of charge. ICPSR’s catalogue contains massive amounts of American data but also data covering other countries.

Text: Helena Laaksonen, photo: Eija Savolainen