There is no doubt that the trend toward greater use of massive amounts of data will continue, and challenges for archivists and users alike will only become more complex. Following RT Campbell, I think three main issues are important in making effective use of data:
- The research community should pay more attention to comparability and replicability. There is still much to be done to develop efficient and effective electronic documentation and metadata.
- Access for qualified researchers to data needs to be streamlined. One of the stumbling blocks here is the concern with privacy and the need to prevent disclosure.
In discussing empirical bases for the social sciences in the recently released World Social Science Report, Richard Rockwell argued very convincingly that at the present time :
“inductive, observation-based social science research… dominates in the universities and research centres of the west and is rising in importance elsewhere” (Rockwell 1999: 157).
This type of research orientation cannot exist without empirical data either derived from existing data sources or obtained in the process of scientific inquiry. Not surprisingly, the recent growth of various data bases, the application of newly developed technologies and, last, but not least, increasing interest in the use (and misuse) of data as reflected in scholarly literature, all point to the importance of data for social science research, both theoretical and applied.
In this paper an attempt will be made to examine the existence and availability of social science data in Europe, and the problems of accessibility to existing data sources and data banks.