Preserving and sharing social sciences data involves the risk of violating an individual’s privacy. Each data collection is reviewed to see if it could reveal individual identities. If such information is found, it is removed, masked, or collapsed in the public-use version. ICPSR staff are trained and certified in disclosure risk limitation procedures. Original restricted data can be requested under terms of a contract, and the most sensitive data can be viewed onsite in a nonnetworked “data enclave” with significant security checks.

ICPSR also has a strong educational component. Workshops and courses on research methods in the quantitative social sciences are offered to graduate students and faculty from around the world, mainly in the summer. ICPSR also provides data-driven instructional modules at the undergraduate level to enable teachers to integrate data into the curriculum.

Over time, ICPSR’s archival model has proven to be an effective approach to ensuring data integrity, facilitating data sharing, and providing data stewardship across a range of fields and many institutions. Because many social science data are used for secondary analysis, and because the social sciences reward academic producers of general-purpose data, universities see the value of ICPSR, which makes the membership funding model sustainable.

The emerging world of massively complex and voluminous data raises new challenges. There will be no single repository and no single harmonization scheme. Unrestricted access is needed to realize the full value of data, which may lead to greater risk of disclosure and confidentiality breaches. New tools need to be developed to enable the merging of disparate data and communication across disciplines. Building new, dynamic communities around data and cutting-edge research questions will require the collaborative efforts of technologists and domain scientists. A greater focus by institutions and federal sponsors on data preservation and access also will be needed.

and advances in the cost performance of storage technologies have enabled a proliferation of repository efforts. Private foundations such as the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation have played an important role in supporting repository software development, and continue to invest in new capabilities for the digital stewardship of scholarly work.10


See the description of the Mellon Foundation’s Research in Information Technology program:

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