Text and photo: Kaisa Järvelä

Director Laaksonen Not Interested in Power, but Enthusiastic about Data Archive Work.

Helena Laaksonen, who was appointed as the Director of the FSD in January, has been a part of the FSD staff for the past fifteen years. During this time she has witnessed how infrastructure funding has enabled improvements in the FSD's operations. She finds great happiness in the fact that despite these changes, the FSD's team spirit has remained exceptionally close-knit.


One of the things Helena Laaksonen is proud of is that the FSD has made it to the national roadmap for research infrastructures twice already.

When the FSD staff heard in the spring of 2016 that Sami Borg was retiring from his position as a director, a unanimous murmur filled the coffee room: "Let's hope that Helena applies and is hired for the position".

Helena Laaksonen, who had worked as an information specialist and the deputy director of the FSD since 2004, had previously taken care of the director's duties for almost two years altogether as the deputy director for Borg.

Laaksonen also occupied the position after Borg announced his retirement.

There was talk in the hallways that Laaksonen, highly appreciative and well versed with the ways of the FSD, would be the perfect successor for Borg. It was not long before Laaksonen announced that she would apply for the position. A spontaneous applause erupted in the break room and a good pot of coffee was made.

When the University Board finally announced the appointment in January, the news was welcomed with a bottle of sparkling wine.

So the FSD gladly welcomed Laaksonen as its new director.

But how does Laaksonen herself feel about data archive work and the FSD, and how did she advance from deputy archivist to the position of director?

Let's find out, and let the new director tell her tale. It begins in Tampere, on a dark autumn day in 2001.

Chapter 1: Praise from colleagues led to the FSD

"I was a researcher at the Faculty of Sociology and Social Psychology at the University of Tampere when a year-long temporary position as an archivist opened at the FSD.

My colleagues had praised the FSD, so I applied for the position and got it. The work began in the January of 2002.

It wasn't long before I felt that I wanted to stay at the FSD. However, a few years went by before a permanent position was opened. It was the position as an information specialist and deputy director, and I managed to get it.

When I started working at the FSD the unit was much smaller than nowadays. There were only about ten people with permanent jobs and fewer than twenty people in total. No one dared even dream of things such as the Aila Data Service Portal. Instead, the data were sent to users by mail, usually on a CD-ROM.

The Academy of Finland had recommended that social science datasets be archived at the FSD since 2000, but I don't think that most people even noticed such recommendation."

Chapter 2: FIRI funding enabled advances in FSD

"The pressure for open science has grown constantly in the past fifteen years. In 2008, the Academy of Finland began to demand short data management plans in their funding applications. After that, more and more researchers began contacting the FSD.

The researches still don't offer their data to us automatically. It's a process of active acquisition. However, there's been a significant change in attitudes. Nowadays, even those who can't archive their own data believe we're doing valuable work.

Last autumn, the Academy of Finland made research data sharing a condition for their funding for the first time. The effects of this will most likely begin to manifest at the FSD in a year or two, when currently ongoing research projects will be nearing completion.

The most concrete change in our operations has been due to the FIRI funding provided by the Academy of Finland since 2010 for developing research infrastructures in Finland. Before that, the FSD had nowhere to turn for funding in order to develop its operations. Without FIRI, we wouldn't have Aila Data Service nor could we participate in national and international cooperation as much as we now can."

Chapter 3: Common goal became important

"The FSD staff has shared an exceptional team spirit from the very beginning. There is no competition between co-workers and instead we have a common goal which we work for.

Data archive work has become extremely important for me during the years. One could list a number of benefits to archiving and sharing data.

A basic concept in science is that there must always be a way to verify the results. This is not possible if the data is not securely stored and accessible. Furthermore, data gathering is expensive, and quite often only a fraction of the data is analysed in original research projects.

Without the FSD, students would, for example, rarely have access to large survey studies. Before the FSD, such data was only available if the student managed to attain a position of a research assistant, or if they were accepted to write their master's thesis for a research project. Now students have the possibility to access these datasets during their methodology studies."

Chapter 4: From deputy director to director

"I've never particularly dreamt of being a leader, but the position as the director of the FSD seemed natural considering the events of the last fifteen years.

In a way, my time as information specialist and deputy director gave me the time to grow to be a director. Substituting for Sami was always pleasant and interesting.

As a substitute I naturally had to keep in mind that the actual director would eventually return, so I couldn't engage myself in any major changes. Now I know that if need be, I can discuss upcoming changes directly with the staff. However, I see no reason for major reforms. The most thought should be given to our funding model.

I consider myself as a cooperative leader both inside the unit as well as with our external partners."

Chapter 5: Dreams and challenges lie ahead

"In a perfect future, researchers would offer their data to us themselves, and we wouldn't have to constantly look for new acquisitions. It would be even better if researchers followed our data management guidelines from the beginning of their projects. If the only thing we'd have to do was to revise deposited data, we could process much more data with our current staff resources.

I believe that pressure from research funders will result in more and more researchers opening their data. Data policies introduced by universities will also have an effect on this in due time. The changes will most likely happen gradually, which is a good thing, as it gives us time to adapt to the increasing amount of data.

Perhaps the most interesting question for the future is the EU's data protection regulation, and how it affects processes at the FSD. I don't see the regulation as a threat, but it will remain an open question until national legislation has been renewed to reflect the regulation.

Another interesting question is the creation of a national infrastructure for open research, and what the FSD's place in this entity will be. Of course I hope the FSD could be the organisation for storing and preserving these kinds of data nationwide.

Right now, I'm proud of the FSD – especially of Aila and our staff. The FSD is a forerunner in the field and we have enormous expertise. The FSD staff and their expertise are prerequisites for the unit's work, now and in the future."

Helena Laaksonen

  • Born: in Sahalahti in 1966
  • Education: Master of Social Sciences, University of Tampere 1996
  • Lives in: Tampere
  • Family: Spouse
  • Was chosen: As the director of the FSD in January 2017
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