IASSIST conference 2009

Article dated: 18 June 2009

The 35th annual conference of the International Association for Social Science Information Service and Technology (IASSIST) took place from 26-29 May 2009 in Tampere, Finland. Held in collaboration with the International Federation of Data Organisations for the Social Sciences (IFDO), it was hosted by the Finnish Social Science Data Archive (FSD) and the University of Tampere.

The conference coincided with the 10th Anniversary of FSD which provided a great start to a series of social events and a week of very inspiring and engaging exchanges of experiences, thoughts and new ideas around the theme of ‘Mobile Data and the Life Cycle’. Over 4 days more than 200 participants from 24 countries participated in 27 sessions with up to 7 speakers each. The conference started with an initial day of well-attended workshops. Throughout the week there were important strategic committee meetings mapping out future challenges and agendas.


Specific conference themes included: Data Documentation Initiative (DDI); data sharing and the permeability of boundaries between institutions involved in the collection, preservation and dissemination of data; the future shape and requirements of data repositories; mobilising data in the learning environment; visualising and modelling spatial data; CESSDA-PPP; and finally, the future of IASSIST.

Each day started with a plenary session. Adam Farquhar, Head of Digital Library Technology at the British Library, compared and contrasted the differences between research publications and datasets where the latter are still not ‘first class citizens’. Deborah Mitchell, Director of the Australian Social Science Data Archive (ASSDA), addressed the rise of new ‘ungoverned’ repositories that are developing without reference to existing data archives with their well established standards and procedures for data preservation and dissemination. She stressed that preservation alone would not open the door to the infrastructure pools available now. Improved tools and research service are the ‘big ticket’. However, Melanie Wright, President of IASSIST and an Associate Director at the UKDA, suggested that the most successful and realistic approach would be to co-ordinate and co-operate with these new repositories rather than compete. The way forward must be to ensure the agreement and adherence to high archival standards. Mike Batty, Director of the Centre for advanced Spatial Analysis at University College London, presented new technological means of modelling and simulating data using Web 2.0 technologies. A better quality service is indeed approaching a reachable distance with these big ticket tools. This was also reflected in various presentations throughout the conference.

The contributions of the 12-person delegation from the UKDA consisted of talks on: data security; the creation of a qualitative teaching resource on diverse interview types; liberating qualitative text- and audio files to building a repository for complex collections with semantic web tools; and the single sign-on requirements of CESSDA-PPP. ESDS colleagues from Manchester expanded the themes to issues of global data sharing and creating a spatial relationship using GeoConvert.

The week was full of lively discussion and the meeting of minds. While there was an overall consensus about increasing the efforts to achieve a balance between high-quality data and high-quality online service, no universal agreement could be achieved with the Canadian contingent on the Finnish assertion that Tampere is the home of the most famous hockey team. Undoubted was the excellence of the Finnish hosts hospitality and efficiency, the pleasing surrounds of the ‘Manchester of Finland’ and the memorable and unique ‘Viking’ cuisine, most notably the heavily smoked tar ice cream.