In November, a CESSDA Widening meeting was held in Skopje, North Macedonia. The CESSDA Widening meetings are a recurring event that is part of the strategy to widen the European network of social science data archives and strengthen their presence in countries that have yet to join the CESSDA infrastructure. As usual, SND was present as the Swedish CESSDA representative, but also as a mentor for North Macedonia, one of the most recent countries to become a member of CESSDA.
CESSDA Widening stems from the previous CESSDA SaW (Strengthening and Widening) project, an EU-funded project aimed at widening the infrastructure for social science data archives in Europe. The two-year project ended in 2017, and since then, CESSDA’s widening activities have become part of the organisation’s regular operations. The working group for the widening efforts consists of CESSDA’s members in Sweden, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Switzerland, and Hungary. Leader of the group is the Czech data archive CSDSA (Czech Social Science Data Archive).
Aimed at CESSDA’s partner countries
CESSDA has some 20 established members and several partner countries. The partner countries have data archives that are in a start-up phase or groups who are interested in starting a data archive. The widening activities are aimed at those countries.
—What the working group did last year was, for example, to collect the resources you might need if you want to start a data archive. We also made an overview of the current state of affairs in these countries, and arranged two major meetings. This year, the working group has created a ”helpdesk” where partners can ask questions, and initiated a mentorship programme, says Iris Alfredsson, Senior Advisor at SND and a member of the CESSDA Widening working group.
The CESSDA Widening meetings are a recurring event and are held in countries that are in the process of becoming, or have just become, members of the infrastructure. The meeting in North Macedonia was hosted together with the Institute of Sociological, Political and Juridical Research in Skopje, where the newly established data archive of North Macedonia, MK DASS (The Macedonian Social Science Data Archive), is located. During the two days of the meeting, representatives from CESSDA’s main office, member countries, partner organisations, and concerned politicians had an opportunity to meet, discuss and exchange valuable knowledge. The programme contained presentations about the research infrastructures of North Macedonia, the establishment of the Macedonian data archive, and the latest developments of CESSDA tools and services. Representatives from SND, Slovenian ADP, and Swiss FORS shared their experiences from building national data archives, and a panel of new and aspiring CESSDA members discussed possibilities and challenges for the establishment of their operations. Dimitar Popovski, data manager at SND, is a native of the Balkans, and recognises the challenges mentioned by several of the partner countries.
—Most of the partner countries have two challenges in common: political goodwill and funding. It can be difficult to get through to policymakers and when elected officials are replaced, you may have to start the process all over again. And even if you have good support from policymakers, you may suddenly get problems with funding. Sometimes, there is a lack of long-term planning, Dimitar says.
The Mentorship Programme supports new data archives
In order to help new and aspiring members, the CESSDA Widening working group has started a mentorship programme. Partner organisations can apply to the programme for advice, and will then be assigned a mentor from a more experienced data archive. SND mentors North Macedonia and Italy, which means that they provide advice and support in all types of questions that can arise during the establishment of a data archive.
—It can concern everything from small to big questions. In the contacts with Italy, we have mainly dealt with the workflow and have, for example, commented on their data management handbook. With North Macedonia we have discussed various types of agreements and what competencies are needed in different areas of knowledge. Questions that have arisen for both archives are how to work in order to build networks and gain national coverage. Every time they run into a challenge, have questions or wonder about something, they can get in touch with us, says Iris Alfredsson.
In connection to the CESSDA event in Skopje, SND was invited to a separate meeting with the Macedonian data archive MK DASS. That gave them more time to exchange experiences and delve deeper into establishment matters.
–The work in establishing the Macedonian data archive has been fast, and they already have quite a lot in place. There is plenty of research in the country, and large amounts of research data that have been documented somewhere, but not yet published. They collaborate with all major universities and non-governmental organisations in the country. What they are looking for is support in realising their ideas, says Dimitar Popovski.