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The promises of digitisation: unlocking the potential of register modernisation and text-based research

During its 48th meeting on 1st and 2nd March 2018, the German Data Forum (Rat für Sozial- und Wirtschaftsdaten, RatSWD) deepened its exchange on the modernisation of the German register data landscape, in particular the establishment of a nationwide mortality register. The German Data Forum (RatSWD) welcomes the dynamic developments in research based on text corpora and is committed to improving the respective infrastructure to facilitate broad use of text-based research data. It sees further potential in automatic analysis methods as well as in linking such research data with those of established surveys.

During its 48th meeting, the German Data Forum (RatSWD) continued its activities on the issue of register modernisation. As early as October 2017, the RatSWD expressed strong support for the recent assessment report of the National Regulatory Control Council, which it saw as an important contribution towards register modernisation. Quality-tested register data can help to identify socially and economically relevant processes, to support evidence-based policy-making and to assess quality problems in registers. According to the current draft coalition agreement, the modernisation of registers is on the agenda of the designated federal government. Moving forward, access to register should be opened up for independent, scientific researchers. The German Data Forum (RatSWD) recommends to include access to registers for researchers by default in future legislation on the modernisation and digitisation of registers. Such access should be subject to low barriers, clear regulation and data protection legislation.

While addressing overarching structures is important, the debate on modernising the German register data landscape must also factor in the individual registers and their data foundation. The establishment of a nationwide, quality-tested mortality register is of outstanding significance in this context – the German Data Forum (RatSWD) addressed this issue during its meeting. Germany is lagging behind regarding mortality registers on an international level. The RatSWD underscored the relevance of mortality registers for research on rare diseases, the recording of unnatural deaths as well as the maintenance and improvement of health care services and the social welfare of the population as a whole.

The German Data Forum (RatSWD) discussed the advancement of research infrastructures for text analysis with representatives of the projects PolMine and MARPOR (Manifesto Research on Political Representation), two noteworthy examples of innovative, text-based research in political science, which have both presented remarkable results. Two areas were identified as particularly interesting: on the one hand, the potential of research data created in recent years for machine learning, which include manually coded texts, or texts coded for automatic analyses. Such data are a (training) treasure trove for the automated analysis of large-scale text corpora. Moreover, such far-reaching analysis tools promise to enrich survey data with automated context data in the future. This might include, for example, the analysis of media coverage during the field time of a survey. The German Data Forum (RatSWD) aims at improving the infrastructure to facilitate broad use of text-based research data.

The German Data Forum’s next meeting will take place on 5th/6th July 2018.