Welcoming progress on the new Indian Council for Social Science Research (ICCSR) Data Service


Matthew Woollard, Director and Louise Corti, Functional Director for Collections Development and Producer Relations at the UK Data Service provide an update on how the UK Data Service has supported the development of the new Indian Council for Social Science Research (ICSSR) Data Service.


We would like to congratulate the ICSSR on the launch of their new national data service and wish them great success for the future. In 2013, Matthew met with Professor Thorat of the ICSSR to discuss the development of a Data Service in India. The ICSSR was established in 1969 with the specific objective of promoting socio-economic research, much like the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) in the UK, and is responsible for much of the funding to support research activities with over 25 social science institutes being directly funded by the ICSSR.Research commissioned by the ICSSR found that 417 institutions across India were doing social science research. Social science researchers were found to be based in over 230 universities, 51 Institutes of National Importance (a status that may be conferred to a premier public higher education institution in India by an act of parliament, an institution which “serves as a pivotal player in developing highly skilled personnel within the specified region of the country”) and numerous autonomous research institutes.  

There is an abundance of data of interest to the social scientist generated across India including the Census or National Sample Survey (data and statistical indicators on diverse socio-economic aspects conducted by interviewing sample households) as well as sector specific data such as the Annual Survey of Industries (ASI), the principal source of industrial statistics in India. As in most countries, academics also generate their own data through funded research projects.

Making data available for research is an ongoing challenge in India, with open access an exception; government departments cautious to grant access to data; and private sector data, wherever accessible, expensive to make available for research. A major driver has been the development of the Indian Department of Science and Technology publication of its National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy (NDSAP) for non-sensitive data (2012). The ICSSR’s remit in the NASDAP included the development of and support for documentation services and the supply of data, through the development of a repository of Social, Economic and Political data on India, with data processing and analytics tools to support researchers, teachers and policymakers who rely on high-quality social and economic data for their research.  

A road map and implementation plan for ICSSR’s data service were produced in 2014, outlining the proposed information architecture for the data repository, setting out key components into data acquisition, data pre-processing and analytics, metadata, software requirements and technology; providing an excellent starting point from which to develop a data service for India. Senior representatives of the ICSSR and other organisations with an interest in the implementation of the ICSSR Data Service visited the UK Data Archive at the University of Essex, a partner in the UK Data Service, in January 2015, supplemented by a two-day training workshop.

Over the two days our colleagues from India learned about the data service infrastructure and funding environment in the UK, and how our own data service is managed and run including the data ingest pipeline, from negotiating with data owners and licensing, to processing and documenting data, though to providing access to and user support for data users.

Following the visit Matthew prepared a report setting out some practical observations that would help put the plans for the ICSSR Data Service into action. Key areas included the need to factor in continuous appraisal and monitoring of the collection, the (possible) deaccessioning of collections, dealing with personal data, disaster recovery, the relationship to other workflows, for example, the research funding application process (as in the ESRC’s Research Data Policy) and ensuring adequate data citation mechanisms, each of which has implications for establishing information architecture and the costs involved. Our advice to anyone wishing to establish a new data repository is to frame key activities using the Open Archival Information System (OAIS) (ISO 16363) as a guide, a standard which provides an intuitive reference model for digital repositories, especially to help structure workflows, staffing and IT operations. 

In July 2015, a licence to use our HASSET Thesaurus was granted to the ICSSR, and in September 2015, the Service provided a point-by-point response to the requests from ICSSR for continued support from the UK Data Archive in establishing ICSSR’s Data Repository, including our complete policy framework.

In May 2016, Louise attended a symposium on behalf of the ESRC to address data archiving infrastructure for the EU-India Platform (EQUIP), the first research collaboration platform between India and the EU specifically dedicated to Social Science and Humanities. The platform will support a significant corpus of national research funding agencies from Europe and India in building stronger relationships and stepping up international collaborations

At the symposium Louise was reunited with some of the Indian colleages who visited the UK Data Archive in 2015 and learned that their team had quickly put their plans into action and set up the pilot ICSSR Data Service, implemented by India’s Information and Library Network (INFLIBNET) Centre, an Autonomous Inter-University Centre (IUC) of University Grants Commission, with funding from ICSSR, and based on the UK Data Archive model and protocols. 

Dr Jagdis Arora, Director of INFLIBNET spoke of the great support that the UK Data Archive had provided in offering a blueprint for India’s new national data service. Many of the Archive’s policies and procedures had been adapted and implemented in the form of web site structure, use of metadata schema and data cataloguing methods.  The ICSSR Data Service is a culmination of the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between ICSSR and India’s Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MoSPI), and is guided by a Joint Advisory Committee, with representatives from ICSSR, MOSPI and other key agencies such as Economic and Political Weekly, Mumbai and a range of academic social science research centres.    

Progress is impressive, with a formal launch having taken place on 20 June 2016. In a short space of time some 33 surveys had been published into the survey data catalogue using the open source NADA software. A beta survey data browsing tool based on R software has also been developed. The intention is to extend the scope of collections to data from all social science institutes under ICSSR’s purview, as well as data from government agencies. Training materials and guidance are being developed to meet the needs of data users, owners and creators, and users can explore collection of datasets accompanied by freely available user guides and supporting materials, using the NADA search interface. 

We very much look forward to working more closely with the ICCSR Data Service, explore it here.


  1. ISO 14721:2012 is the Open archival information system (OAIS) — Reference model. ISO 16363:2012 is the standard for Audit and certification of trustworthy digital repositories. It is used in combination with ISO 16919:2014 – Requirements for bodies providing audit and certification of candidate trustworthy digital repositories, to assess a repository’s compliance with OAIS.

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