This blog series is based on research conducted by Drs. Bridget Conley-Zilkic and Dyan Mazurana.

While there is much to be learned from existing models for archives, we note that the peace and security research community does not yet have a flagship repository for sharing the research datasets it produces from field research on issues related to conflict and mass atrocities. The construction of a flagship peace and security research data archives would help advance the research and practice communities’ understanding of post-conflict societies, mass atrocities, and genocide by enabling researchers to share and reuse datasets.

Such an archive would help enable multiple researchers, practitioners, and students to:

  • Analyze datasets;
  • Conduct research across multiple datasets;
  • Interrogate research data in new and creative ways with the development of tools that can interact with the research data;
  • Compare and discuss research methods and ethical practices;
  • Identify research gaps and opportunities and develop new research questions by exploring a richer, more complete, and more readily available corpus of existing datasets;
  • Engage in questions about the range of factors that shape the creation of these datasets and the documentation of post-conflict societies and mass atrocities.

We recognize that one important reason why such an archive does not exist are the challenges entailed in creating one. Among them are anonymity, ethics, contextualization and operationalization. Some specific outstanding concerns are:

  • Data on populations in situations of armed conflict is highly sensitive, thus serious consideration will have to be given to how the sharing of even coded, de-identified data may create risks for research participants;
  • Researchers may be reluctant or unable to share their primary data, because an original funder of a project owns the data; concern about the potential security risks posed to research participants; or concerns about intellectual property rights;
  • Institutional Review Boards (IRB) and other regulatory bodies may have concerns about the types and forms of data shared;
  • The collection of data may not have been done in a way that anticipated access beyond the research team that collected it and therefore may not be available in a format that is suited to this purpose;
  • A system of access and permissions would need to be devised that addresses the needs of various audiences (students, fellow researchers, etc.) while also protecting the data contained within the repository;
  • How data points are presented in relation to the larger context and narrative of the original collection; individual interviews would need some context to make sense to researchers and possibly should remain embedded within the framework of the larger project;
  • The creation of the archive in itself would not deter researchers from designing new, prospective research on already addressed questions involving conflict-affected populations; as a result, strategies will be required to promote use of the archive and motivate fellow researchers to use existing data, where possible, rather than continuing to interview vulnerable populations on sensitive topics.

Even in discussing these challenges with fellow researchers, we found an overall positive response to the idea of creating an archive. We also note that several researchers highlighted the potential to incorporate the archive into their approach to data collection going forward. Should such an archive be created, there may be unique opportunities for researchers to integrate the prospective archive into their research design from the outset, and to be supported by archive staff in doing so.

Why a university-based archive?

The development of a university-based peace and security archives could serve as a vital teaching and research resource for students and faculty. It would provide researchers directly involved in peace and security research with a trusted repository to deposit their valuable and hard-earned research data and could serve as a resource for research and teaching.  Further, it could serve as a foundational component of a center, program, area of study, or initiative focused on peace and security, serving as the basis for a variety of symposiums, workshops, and collaborative research projects. In particular, the development of tools that allows researchers and students to interact with research data from the archives in creative ways to formulate new findings, insights, and questions can serve as an exciting nexus between archives, research data, and scholarship.

Such an initiative or center would foster the notion of a data to scholarship continuum that can inform and innovate teaching and research across a higher education institution. This concept can make the process of data creation and scholarship an explicit object of learning and inquiry, making data creation and curation visible as a vital part of scholarship. It would:

  • Provide students with the opportunity to learn about methods for creating research data that can richly and creatively contribute to scholarship;
  • Provide students with the opportunity to learn about creating and managing research data ethically;
  • Enable faculty and students the opportunity to develop tools and techniques for interrogating data, a process that can be seen as scholarship in its own right;
  • Maximize the value of research data by supporting reuse;
  • Facilitate connections across disciplines and over time, helping to foster the intellectual community.

We recognize that the challenges of creating and funding such an archive are not negligible. Nonetheless, the value of such an archive to research and education suggests that it would be would well worth the effort.

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