6th Data Conversations: Keep it, throw it… or lock it in the vault?

As the doors opened on our sixth Lancaster based Data Conversations and the smell of pizza drifted out, new and old faces joined our conversation about real life research data stories. We were lucky enough to have four engaging speakers, all of whom explained their experience of using data in different fields, and explored the long term value of their data which led to the question: ‘Keep it, throw it… or lock it in the vault?’

Patricia Murrieta-Flores

First up, Patricia Murrieta-Flores discussed Lancaster’s very own research development: the geographical text analysis Patricia uses combines approaches from Geographic Information Sciences, Corpus Linguistics, Natural Language Processing, Machine Learning, History, and Archaeology. Using the ‘digging to early colonial Mexico’ project to ground her research, Patricia explained how we can create historical datasets through computers, which can then analyse this information on a large scale. Leaving no stone unturned, Patricia explored the problems that arise when using technology to develop large scale datasets.

Rebecca Parris

Secondly, Rebecca Parris explored the world of qualitative research. Using personal experience in the form of medical records, she discussed the issues that can arise from missing data in hospital notes, and how to mitigate the problem of filling in the blanks. Rebecca also talked us through how medical records can be accessed, as well as how personal illness data can be used to create autoethnographical narratives.

Melanie Fletcher

Next up: because of her role as an advisor for the natural environment in England, Melanie Fletcher was able to give us the practitioner’s perspective on how valuable data is. Melanie really hammered home the importance of long-term preservation of large data sets, with special consideration for the unwanted possibility of repurposing data. In her work for Natural England, Melanie found that data plays an integral role in rationalising decisions about the environment and recommended The Cumbria Lakes Research Alliance for any researcher who wants an efficient data collection programme.

Mathew Gillings

Last but not least, Mathew Gillings talked us through the data protection issues that he’s experienced during his PhD, with a central focus on anonymisation. Our Data Conversations attendees learned that after considering how to mitigate those issues, Mathew hopes to curate and deposit his deception dataset with library’s online repository, which academics will be able to access on a request only basis. Mathew’s talk explored the complex ethical challenges around data sharing, and probed at the question: exactly how far should a dataset be anonymised or made public?

Another successful Data Conversations, with four interesting perspectives on the positives and pitfalls of data usage in the research world. If you want to know more about the upcoming Data Conversations, you can contact our RDM team at rdm@lancaster.ac.uk. Our discussions are held in the library, and everyone from the data novice to the enthusiast is welcome.

Our 7th Data Con: ‘the best laid plans…’ is on the 18th February and focuses on how we develop data driven research projects. Register for free here.

Lexi Burgess

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I am a second year Literature and Creative writing student at Lancaster University, and a Content Editor for DMAonline.