Inside this Issue...
Social Science Computing Laboratory
Faculty of Social Science
Managing Editor: Mary Van de Ven
SSC Network Update
Statistics Canada Research Data Centre Opens
Vince Gray/Cindy Cook
Western has invested in high quality research by opening a Research Data Centre (RDC) on campus.
The RDC is a SSHRC facility for the analysis of specialized Statistics Canada data files and provides accredited users with up-to-date hardware and software, in a first-rate work environment.
The RDC was declared open at the "Perspectives on Teaching Conference" on September 2, 2004.
Over the past decade, a number of new longitudinal surveys were introduced by Statistics Canada: the Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics, the National Population Health Survey, the Youth in Transition Survey, the Canadian Community Health Survey, the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth and the Longitudinal Survey of Immigrants to Canada. Other surveys were conducted which share a heightened concern for confidentiality (the Ethnic Diversity Survey and the Workplace and Employee Survey).
Access to survey microdata is typically provided through Public Use Microdata Files (PUMFs). A PUMF is a subset of the master file which has been massaged and manipulated in order to preserve the confidentiality of the respondents. Where researchers need access to the master version of the data set (because of the suppression or perturbation of variables), Statistics Canada may grant the researcher access to the file on-site in a Statistics Canada facility.
As successive waves of the longitudinal surveys were released, Statistics Canada determined that PUMFs could, in some cases, no longer be released even on a cross-sectional (single wave) basis. Thus, any researcher wishing to use these data sets was faced with having to travel to a Statistics Canada regional office or to Ottawa to make use of the master versions of the files. At the same time, Statistics Canada was eager to facilitate data analysis in order to exploit the research potential of the data.
In 1998, the Canadian Initiative on Social Statistics recommended that Statistics Canada establish sites within universities where researchers could use the master data files under controlled security conditions. As a collaborative effort by Statistics Canada, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), and universities across the country, the RDC program was established. RDCs were and are intended to create a campus environment where disciplines can meet to share their knowledge of complex data modelling, Statistics Canada surveys, and topical Canadian public policy issues.
How Did Western Get a RDC?
Funding from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI) was sought and attained for the creation of the first wave of RDCs. Western’s bid in September 1999 to participate in the initial wave of RDCs was unsuccessful, with the consequence that UWO researchers had to travel to RDCs established in Waterloo, Toronto, or Hamilton. In April of 2002, Western’s Research Office brought together a committee with the goal of establishing a UWO RDC. The committee had representatives from the faculties of Medicine and Dentistry, Science, and Social Science.
After considerable discussion, a site for the RDC was chosen in the Social Science Computing Laboratory, on the ground floor of the Social Science Centre. Renovation plans were drawn up, ensuring that the RDC would meet Statistics Canada’s security and accessibility requirements. Equipment and furnishings were specified, and a project proposal was submitted to CFI to create the UWO Research Data Technology Centre. In February 2004, that project was approved by CFI.
In the CFI grant application, Western committed to begin RDC construction in the 2003-2004 budget year. Consequently, renovations had been underway for three months when funding was approved. Work was completed in June 2004, and the site passed a Statistics Canada inspection in July 2004. Through the remainder of the summer, furnishings and equipment were installed, the computer network established, and software loaded.
Brad Corbett will become UWO's first RDC Analyst starting Tuesday, October 12. Brad is completing his PhD in Education Studies at the University of New Brunswick, and has worked part-time at the UNB RDC.
Cindy Cook, Senior Analyst for the RDC program (responsible for coordinating RDC activities in the Maritimes and Ontario) opened the UWO RDC. Cindy will continue to work out of the UWO RDC following Brad's arrival. Cindy was the first RDC analyst in Canada after receiving her Master's Degree from the UWO Department of Sociology.
Location and Relationship with DRL
The location of the RDC was chosen in part to take advantage of the proximity to the DRL (Data Resources Library), UWO’s existing data service. The DRL provides data to faculty, staff and students campus-wide. The RDC will offer researchers whose projects are approved by SSHRC an opportunity to work with Statistics Canada master data files. DRL will continue to assist virtually all undergraduates and those faculty and graduates whose research does not require Statistics Canada master files. We look forward to a close partnership between the RDC and the DRL in the delivery of data, and will refer users to the appropriate source of the data they need.
The CFI proposal included the prospect for a version of the Internet Data Library System (IDLS) for use within RDCs. IDLS was developed within the Social Science Computing Laboratory. Currently, IDLS is used by twenty-one Canadian universities to deliver data and metadata (information about data). It is anticipated that the RDC version of IDLS will focus primarily on the delivery of metadata.