Editorial 1/2016

New Steps towards Open Access

Helena Laaksonen

The Finnish Social Science Data Archive has been working to promote open access to science for over fifteen years. It seems that the 2010s will be the turnaround decade in this respect. There is now pressure for long-term preservation and open access to research data both from within and from outside of the scientific community. Open science is a cause common to all. One indication is the Open Science and Research Initiative (ATT) which is funded by the Ministry of Education and Culture and aims to make Finland one of the top countries for openness by the end of 2017.

Pressure for open access to data has increased from outside of the scientific community as well. There have been demands to make the data archived at the FSD even more open, and people have wondered why archived data cannot be used for journalistic purposes.

We have accepted the challenge. Before we launched the online Aila Data Service, access conditions to data were amended. The aim was have more datasets that are open to all users or can be downloaded for specific purposes without permission from creators, and thus increase open access. As the data archive does not own the data, it was ultimately the creators of data who made the decision whether to open or not. Another aspect to be taken into consideration was the need to preserve the privacy of research participants. The archive has always aimed at responsible openness.

When developing access conditions, we created a new access category. It allows all users of Aila to download the data, without even registering themselves with the service. There are now some dozens of such datasets in Aila. Yet they constitute a small minority compared to over 1,000 archived datasets. Moreover, using open data still requires basic statistical knowledge.

The data archive is principally an infrastructure for research. Our mission is to support scientific research, teaching and learning. To make archived data available for larger circles requires extra funding which the Ministry of Education and Culture has now awarded. With the money awarded for the project, we will create an easy-to-use interface which provides open access to research data even for people who are not familiar with statistical methods.

The new service will contain fully open data and its use will not require any expertise. If everything goes according to plans, the interface will be launched early next year. We will report on the progress made in FSD Bulletin.

Helena Laaksonen