The YOUth cohort demonstrates Open Science in practice

Two important Open Science themes are Recognition & Rewards and FAIR data. The YOUth research shows how open science could be put into practice.

Utrecht University (UU) wants to lead the way in Open Science. One of the four themes of the Open Science Programme is making data more FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable). UU is striving to achieve this ambition via the YOUth research project (part of the Dynamics of Youth strategic theme and the CID, i.e. theConsortium on Individual Development), which is an NWO Gravity Project. See ‘FAIR, safe and high-quality data: The data infrastructure and accessibility of the YOUth cohort study’, a publication containing more information about what this involves.

However, that’s not all: the publication above also shows just how important support staff are to the achievement of the open science ambitions. This brings us to the other open science theme: Recognition & Rewards.

Recognition & Rewards

The Recognition & Rewards theme is an important part of the UU Open Science Programme. Chantal Kemner, principal researcher for the YOUth research project, comments as follows: ‘Discussion today focuses primarily on the recognition and appreciation of academic staff. The YOUth research project and this publication reveal that the current scope of discussion ought to be widened, to acknowledge and appreciate the talents of both academic and non-academic staff as part of a shared context. Both also give rise to the question of whether the strict organisational distinction between academic staff and management and support staff is conducive to the achievement of the open science ambitions.’

From questionnaires to eye trackers

Academics involved in the YOUth Cohort Study are monitoring the development and brain development of thousands of babies and children from the Utrecht area; a wide range of different data is being collected for this purpose. The type of data is very diverse: from questionnaires, video footage of child behaviour observations and the results of computing tasks, to 3D ultrasounds of babies in their mothers’ wombs, MRI scans and data from eye trackers. The object of all of the above? To identify which factors play a role in the development of children. YOUth optimises the usability of the data collected by making it available to as many academics as possible, without losing sight of the need to protect the privacy and rights of participants.

A wide range of different data from many different areas of expertise is being collected within the YOUth Cohort Study

Different areas of expertise

The huge quantity of data generated by the YOUth research project is of interest for reuse by other researchers, at the UU and elsewhere. Developer Jelmer Zondergeld: ‘In accordance with the Open Science FAIR data principles, we ensure that the data generated by the YOUth research project is verifiable and suitable for reuse.’ The expertise of support staff from different disciplines has proved crucial to the success of this process.

Data in the vault: safe and structured

‘To be able to issue data for reuse, it must have been stored in a manner that makes them easy to verify,’ Jelmer Zondergeld explains. ‘For example, questionnaires are administered and stored very differently to 3D ultrasounds. Having said this, the ultimate aim is to have just one system on which all of this diverse data can be found.’ The ITS team at Utrecht University (Information and Technology Services) developed YODA for this purpose: an advanced digital infrastructure that can be used to protect, structure, integrate and store the different types of YOUth data. You could compare YODA to a vault to which just several people have access.

Data management

Once data has been stored verifiably, it must also be clear to users how this data was collected and made its way into the Yoda system. Data managers from the Research Data Management Support Team at the University Library manage the daily data requests received and have described the process involved in a data management plan. This plan provides an insight into the types of data collected, where and how often back-ups are made, among other things.

Adding meta data

A good description of the data collected helps new researchers decide whether or not they want to request it. A meta data expert from the University Library advises on how to make it easier to find YOUth data. Anja Smit, former Director of the University Library: ‘We like to use our expertise to make it easier to find research data too.’ A national project in which the YOUth research project is taking part will ensure that different cohorts use the same terms to describe their data. This will make data more searchable for academics.

Request and issue

The ultimate object is to prepare FAIR and open data for reuse. Armed with clear data storage, work flow and descriptions on the one hand and funding from the Dynamics of Youth research theme, a programmer was able to take the last step and develop an online data-request and issue procedure, which will go live in the very near future. Researchers will then be able to request data much faster and easier.

Establishing a new, shorter route

Catrin Finkenauer, the Scientific Director of the UU Dynamics of Youth strategic theme: ‘The open science approach is already the subject of a great deal of attention here at Utrecht University; one fantastic example of this is the YOUth research project. Where the Dynamics of Youth strategic theme is concerned, the work being done as part of the YOUth research project could be compared to a “desire path” that shows researchers a new, shorter route they could take.’