Fast, Up to Date and Accessible Worldwide: Data Sharing in Times of a Pandemic


A year of the pandemic - that also means a year of data production. The AUSSDA project "COVID-19 Data Fast Track Publishing" collected research data and quickly made them accessible. Now the follow-up project is starting

For more than a year now, the Corona crisis has been shaping our everyday lives. Social distancing, lockdown, short-time work, home office and distance learning are some of the new buzzwords that have since determined the "new normal" of our society.

The ongoing pandemic clearly left its mark on the social science research landscape. Since the spring of 2020, numerous empirical studies have been initiated which, in addition to valuable insights into the social, economic and psychological consequences of the crisis, have also produced a large amount of re-usable research data.

The AUSSDA project COVID-19 Data Fast Track Publishing was launched with the support of the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research (BMBWF) in order to collect research data in one place and make them accessible to the scientific community as quickly as possible. After all, data sharing should be an essential key to ensuring that scientific findings contribute to successfully overcoming the crisis through joint efforts in the spirit of open science. To this end, we have set up the COVID-19 Pandemic Dataverse in the AUSSDA repository, where highly topical datasets can also be published as pre-releases in an abbreviated review process. 

After one year of the pandemic, the project has now officially come to an end and we can draw some conclusions.

So far, we have published and long-term archived research data from twelve studies. Further acquired data sets are currently being processed. The various research projects were based on a wide variety of initiatives. Some projects were initiated spontaneously by researchers without external funding, while others were financed through specific funding programmes. Still other studies, such as the prevalence studies by SORA and Statistics Austria, were commissioned directly by the Austrian Ministry of Science.

Soon after the project began, it became clear that, as far as archiving and providing data was concerned, a distinction had to be made between different types of studies, each of which required a different focus in terms of data acquisition. Fast track publishing was not always the declared goal of the data producers. Rapid publishing was particularly important for infrastructure projects and prevalence studies.

The former include the Austrian Corona Panel Project (ACPP) of the University of Vienna, as well as the international Values in Crisis (VIC) study, which was conducted in Austria by the team of the Social Survey Austria (SSÖ). Both studies are recurrent representative surveys for long-term social monitoring – with the specific aim of collecting freely accessible data for scientific use. It was the joint commitment of AUSSDA and the SSÖ team that enabled the harmonization of the international VIC data set, the collection of which goes back to the initiative of the World Value Survey Consortium. In Austria, it has now been made accessible to researchers worldwide.

Rapid data access was also required for the prevalence studies commissioned by the government, not least to ensure the transparency and comprehensibility of the results reported in the media, which were widely discussed in public.

In stand-alone projects designed to address specific research questions, the willingness to share data often only emerged after the research project had been completed. The project was also concerned with informing data producers about the possibilities of archiving and the associated opportunities. This advisory work is also important in the longer term, as early planning of data management facilitates archiving and saves a lot of processing work afterwards.

In order to be able to react to the dynamics of the pandemic and the associated development of the research landscape, the COVID-19 Data Fast Track Publishing project, which was originally planned to run until the end of December 2020, has already been extended until the end of March 2021. Currently, however, numerous valuable COVID studies in Austria have still not been completed or their duration has been extended due to the ongoing pandemic. In addition, various research teams are planning further surveys for 2021.

Against this background, the follow-up project COVID-19 Soical Science Data Hub Austria (COSSDA), which starts in April 2021 and is supported by the BMBWF, is intended to ensure that the important COVID data continues to be collected and made accessible in one place, taking into account the experience gained from the previous project. The focus is on the accompanying support of the ongoing infrastructure projects, the publication of stand-alone projects already acquired in the previous project as well as the further research and acquisition of data from social science COVID studies. Many of these can also be found in the COVID-19 Social Data Austria database developed by the Institute for Advanced Studies (IHS in cooperation with the BMBWF). The findings and lessons learned from both projects will be discussed with data producers and users in a webinar in autumn.

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