Text: Kaisa Järvelä

Humanists Worry over Archiving Ethics, Data Ownership and Practical Issues

FSD Bulletin has singled out the three biggest concerns reported by humanists in FSD's researcher survey. Katja Fält, a Humanities Research Specialist with the FSD, responds to researchers' concerns.

1. Data are the personal property of the researcher or research team.

—In humanities, researchers usually collect the data themselves with a lot of hard work and devotion, which makes it very personal. Sometimes collection also costs money, even thousands of euros, although this is still relatively uncommon.

—On the other hand, humanists also tend to use data collected from various archives, which would lead you to think that archiving and data sharing might seem a feasible thing to do.

—Many may fear that by archiving, they somehow lose the data or its ownership. This is, however, not the case. Researchers may set restrictions, even strict ones, on the reuse of their data. The data can be, for instance, made open only after the completion of the researcher's own study, or subjected to case-by-case permission.

—Those reusing data must always refer to the original collector. Archiving also merits the researcher even before anyone else uses the material.

2. Archiving was not consented to by research subjects in the collection phase.

—This problem largely relates to the lack of an archiving tradition in the humanities. Often a researcher routinely promises to use the data only for the study at hand.

—Consent for archiving can, in principle, be acquired later on, but of course this is quite laborious. In some cases, the researcher may even erase the data for security reasons, making it difficult to contact the subjects again.

—If consent cannot be collected afterwards, it is possible to anonymise the data in whole or in part. In some cases, the best option is to deposit only applicable parts of the data.

—In future studies, it would be good to get consent in advance even if the researcher is not sure whether the data will be archived or not.

3. Data content and files are poorly documented and organised

—Most researchers tend to save the data wherever there is space.

—We recommend drawing up a thorough data management plan for each research project to ensure that the data are managed in a proper, orderly fashion from the start. The same plan can be used in applications sent to the Academy of Finland, although the Academy's own requirements are less detailed in this respect.

—Whether it is worthwhile to start organising the data after the completion of the research solely for archiving purposes is a case-by-case decision and also depends on the researcher's resources. If the task seems unduly onerous or time-consuming, and funding has already run out, it is perhaps not worthwhile. On the other hand, if the files are, for example, on one or two memory sticks, they can be quite quick to examine and organise.

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