School of Graduate Studies

School of Graduate Studies
School of Graduate Studies

Jeff Moon

Jeff Moon - Data Librarian & Academic Director of Queen's Research Data Centre (QRDC)

"Surveys and Surveillance - Jeff Moon Demystifies the Queen's Data Research Centre for Grad Researchers."

By Sharday Mosurinjohn

18 November 2014

In university, many of us feel that we are awash in data.  This perception is fueled by ever greater access to public and restricted data produced by government agencies like Statistics Canada, and increased attention being paid to researcher-generated data.  

This week Jeff Moon (Data Librarian and Academic Director of Queen’s Research Data Centre (QRDC), will be giving a talk at the Surveillance Studies Centre weekly seminar series on something called The Surveillance Project.

According to the Queen’s team behind the initiative, The Surveillance Project "is the first cross-national study of its kind that surveys attitudes and experiences with the global flow of personal data, with special focus on privacy and surveillance." Now, Surveillance Project data have been deposited in the Data Archive at Queen's University Library (QUL), which, as the poster for Moon’s talk puts it, “has a mandate to archive and make these data accessible to researchers.” 

In fact, the Surveillance Project was one of the first to take advantage of QUL’s Research Data Management (RDM) Service.  The RDM service helped the project document and deposit their data, and opened it to the world.  Whether or not you’re interested in surveys and surveillance, “grad students need to know about research data management,” says Moon. “They’re often the drivers of data, often the ones in the trenches. It is a shame when research data languish on hard drives that ultimately get decommissioned.”

What’s more, upcoming policy changes at funding agencies like the Tri-Council (SSHRC, CIHR, NSERC) will make data deposit a requirement – “researchers need to be prepared for this,” Moon says.  “As far as possible, publicly funded data should be made public”.  The RDM service has worked successfully with researchers on a number of projects – these data are now available to other researchers.

But research data management is just one of three aspects of the QUL Data Service that researchers need to be aware of.  The other two relate to public and restricted data.  Regarding the first, Data Services provides access to public data from Statistics Canada, polling companies, and other sources, through an Ontario-wide University data portal known as ODESI (http://odesi.ca).  Using this portal, researchers can search for surveys by keyword, explore these data online, and ultimately download entire data files.  “For research and teaching, the ODESI data portal is an amazing resource,” Moon says.  “Discovery and access have never been easier.”

Using systems like ODESI, public data (also known as Public Use Microdata Files, or PUMFs) have the advantage of being readily accessible and easy to use.  Researchers can tabulate, subset, graph, and download PUMFs online.  But creating a PUMF comes at a cost – to protect the privacy of respondents, these files are ‘dumbed down’ in a way that prevents individuals from being identified.  So, for instance, single years of age might be collapsed into age groups on the public file.  Geographic location may be grouped to the Province level.  “Questions that are too sensitive may be suppressed entirely,” Moon explains. “In this way, no individual respondent on the PUMF will have a unique combination of identifiable characteristics.”

While excellent for many teaching and research purposes, PUMFs may not have the detail needed by some researchers.  These researchers are encouraged to make use of restricted data files.  These unabridged survey Master Files are only available in the Queen’s Research Data Centre (QRDC).  The QRDC is part of a network of 26 such secure data enclaves across Canada.  Sponsored by SSHRC, CFI, and Universities, the Canadian Research Data Centre Network (CRDCN) provides researchers with access to otherwise restricted data files – files with no suppressed or collapsed variables.  “The detail in these files permits researchers to explore more complex questions,” elaborates Moon. 

“It’s very secure, though,” Moon assures. The application process can take up to 6-8 weeks, but as these prize-winning users of the QRDC will attest, it is worth the effort.  Queen’s researchers have been very active in the QRDC, producing a long list of publications based on work with restricted Master Files.

So, if you have research data you’d like to deposit, or need to access existing data (public or restricted), you are encouraged to contact Jeff Moon or his colleague Alexandra Cooper (Data and Web Support Assistant).  They are located in Stauffer Library, down the spiral staircase and to your immediate left, in the Data Services office.

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