Consortium of European Social Science Data Archives



Tour of CESSDA - The Belgian Social Sciences Data Archive

This series of articles highlight each of CESSDA's national service providers one at a time. This time we focus on the Belgian data archive, SODA.

  • Who are you and what role do you play in CESSDA?

The SODA project aims to determine the best conditions for setting up a data archive and CESSDA service provider in Belgium. The project has been ongoing for several years and it recently picked up speed as the State Archives of Belgium became its coordinating institution. Two researchers and the head of the digital archiving department at the State Archives are currently preparing the final report of the project. This report will allow decision makers to officially launch the data archive and allocate recurrent funding to support it. The project team receives advice from representatives of two research groups in the social sciences from the Université catholique de Louvain and the Vrije Universiteit Brussel.

As Belgium does not have a data archive yet, it cannot partake in CESSDA’s functional activities, such as feeding metadata to the CESSDA Data Catalogue. However representatives attend relevant events such as the General Assembly (GA) and the Service Providers’ Forum (SPF) whenever possible.

  • When did your country become a member?

Originally, Belgium was a founding member of the consortium. However, Belgium’s contribution to the network of social science data archives was put on hold as financial support for the Belgian Archives for Social Sciences (BASS) was discontinued in 1998.

In 2010, several Belgian leading financing agencies signed the Memorandum of Understanding and Belgium became a member once again. Yet it was not until 2017 that the State Archives of Belgium took the lead. Since then the project has made strides towards completion and the final report will be delivered in November 2019, allowing for the creation of a data archive in Belgium and a true CESSDA service provider.

  • What does your organisation bring to CESSDA?

Our contribution to CESSDA has been modest so far due to the fact that Belgium does not yet have a data archive yet. Researchers associated with the project have attended and provided an input to various CESSDA events, such as the CESSDA SaW meetings. One researcher from the State Archives was able to join the CESSDA Metadata Management Group (CMM) Phase 2, thanks to generous support from the CESSDA Main Office, and could participate in the group’s meetings.

We intend to contribute more actively to CESSDA projects in the future and share our tools and know-how with the consortium. We will also ensure that quality social science data and metadata will be available and accessible from the CESSDA Data Catalogue.

  • What tangible benefits does your organisation get out of being a CESSDA member?

Representatives of Belgium can voice their concerns, make suggestions and partake in the discussions that take place at the GA and SPF despite the lack of a data archive in Belgium. This is important for Belgium in terms of shaping the European landscape in the field. The SODA project team also enjoys access to the many ongoing online interactions between service providers via various digital platforms. We can thus see in which direction the consortium is headed and determine which areas we need to focus on to stay up to speed.

For example, as a result of the recently published Core Metadata Model, Belgium now simply needs to align itself with this metadata standard for its future data archive instead of enforcing retroactive modifications to make an already existing metadata scheme interoperable with the Core Metadata Model.

  • Which CESSDA tools and/or services are of interest to your organisation? (see the full list)

Belgium is a plurilingual country, with no less than three official languages (Dutch, French, and German). For this reason, the CESSDA Vocabulary Service, the ELSST Multilingual Thesaurus, and the European Question Bank are likely to prove invaluable resources for us when the Belgian data archive is launched and those tools can be integrated into its services.

The Single Sign On / Easy Access protocol will also be useful, not only as it will allow us to fulfil one of CESSDA’s obligations for data service providers, but also because it will make the researchers’ job much easier for accessing the future data archive’s online services.

  • How does the CESSDA Data Management Expert Guide help researchers to make their research data FAIR?

As well as being a set of rules that encourage good data management practices, the FAIR data principles are also part of the latest developments in the field of data management. They constitute an opportunity for researchers to showcase their professionalism and strengthen their applications for grants.

The CESSDA Data Management Expert Guide is most certainly a valuable tool in order to reach this goal besides helping researchers in making their data FAIRer.

  • How is CESSDA helping you to make your data compliant with the FAIR Data principles?

Similarly to what has been described above regarding the Core Metadata Model, the fact that Belgium is a latecomer in the network of data archives means that we can now rely on the various tools which have been developed by the consortium, such as the CESSDA Data Management Expert Guide, the upcoming results of the Trust and Training working groups, the Cost-Benefit Advocacy Toolkit, and so on.

  • How do you see CESSDA supporting you in 2019?

As the project is drawing to an end, it is essential to make sure that information about it is widely shared to show what is to come and why it matters. This will create support and highlight the need for a data archive in Belgium. By giving us this opportunity to communicate about our project, CESSDA is already supporting the SODA project’s communication endeavours.

The State Archives are also configuring a Dataverse of their own at the moment. We hope that we will be able to draw on the results of the DataverseEU project, led by the Dutch service provider DANS.

The SODA project has already received much support in various ways from DANS as well as from other service providers. We therefore look forward to being able to repay the consortium when the Belgian service provider finally emerges.

Read the last article in this series about the Austrian Social Science Data Archive (AUSSDA).