Help with data management – data management manuals for SSH-research published

Multifaceted data streams are continually opening new horizons for SSH fields, highlighting the importance of data management skills and support.

Helsinki Institute for Social Sciences and Humanities (HSSH) and University of Helsinki Data Support developed a model to bring general data management principles and guidelines closer to the practical issues faced by researchers, teachers, and students. The project's first tangible outcome is a set of data management handbooks for five types of data commonly used in SSH fields. These handbooks are dynamic resources that provide guidance on data management workflows.

The handbooks were created to help researchers apply abstract or general guidelines to their work in practice. The project identified a key problem: applying general guidelines requires considering both the type of data and the research context. The handbooks delve into the specific issues of different data types in various research contexts.

For instance, interview data requires different handling depending on the methods used and research goals. Medical interview data needs different procedures compared to historical memory interviews.

Data handling is often closely tied to the methodological and epistemological foundations of the field. Data support experts may not fully understand the conventions and research goals of different disciplines, while researchers may lack knowledge of good data management practices. The HSSH and Data Support project aimed to study the interaction between these groups and explore ways to enhance collaboration. This was done by having data management experts "study" researchers' data handling workflows through interviews and observations. The collected data was used to produce the first versions of the handbooks, which were then reviewed by researchers.

"The solutions for collecting, handling, and storing data depend on the type of data needed. The handbooks aim to address data management issues in a practical way," says project coordinator, Data Support Information Specialist and University Lecturer in Musicology Mikko Ojanen.

The first five handbooks, available in Finnish, have been reviewed and tested. They cover survey data, social media data, research-ready text data, registry data, and video/audio recordings data. The handbooks will also be published in English and Swedish at the start of the autumn term.

"The published versions will evolve based on feedback and field changes. We are also planning more guides, covering interview research, ethnography, and experimental measurement data," says HSSH Director Risto Kunelius.

The rapidly evolving SSH data landscape also challenges education.

"The growing handbook collection supports the teaching of modern research skills. The guides are useful for students, who need to understand responsible data management in their theses and future work," says Ojanen.

Data Support has over 10 years of experience in providing data management training. The challenge has been the lack of interaction between support services and the research and teaching fields. This issue is also being addressed in the ongoing project. Data Support's training is not well-known at the university, and researchers and students often don't recognize when they need help. The solution is to integrate data management training more clearly into updated curricula.

The new curriculum period starting in 2026 provides an opportunity to incorporate data management into the teaching of generic academic skills. This issue was also recognized in the implementation plan of the University's data policy center, completed in spring 2024, which identified data management as a crucial academic and professional skill.

"From this perspective, data management skills are comparable to scientific research skills, source criticism, scientific writing, and research ethics," says Ojanen.

Work to integrate data management training into the 2026-2029 curriculum will begin in autumn 2024, in collaboration with Data Support, HSSH, faculty curriculum planners, and Strategic Services for Teaching.

Research Data Management handbooks

Click here to read the handbooks (in Finnish).

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