Implementation phase

In a 24-month development and introductory phase the prototype of a VRE (virtual research environment) portal was set up for a collaborative analysis of social science microdata. With initial collaborative tools, this portal has undergone testing in the research practice and will be ready to be implemented at the end of the project phase. The project was coordinated by SOFI (Sociological Research Institute in Goettingen), where the social science research requirements for a VRE were defined and, in addition, two usage studies for the developed components of the VRE were conceptualised and performed. The results of the two usage studies were fed back into the technical developments. From the information technology side, a technical working group was set up by the SUB (Lower Saxony State and University Library) with participation of D-Grid Inc. in charge of adjusting the development work between all involved IT institutions to build a common architecture. Furthermore, the SUB presented a concept for long-term archiving.

The GWDG (Society for Scientific Data Processing, Goettingen) had been in charge of the development of the VRE portal, the hosting as well as the integration of the middleware. A central portal for the VRE was set up with authentication and role-based authorisation. Under a common user interface, the VRE portal integrates the development of GESIS (Leibniz Institute for Social Sciences, Mannheim) (see below) as well as further tools for collaboration. Among others, this includes a forum, a separate Wiki, data administration, a joint project calendar, an announcement and agreement portlet, an information portlet for planning participation at external conventions, a publication portlet for documenting planned and completed publications as well as an archive function for storage and retrieval of datasets and metadata. Data administration primarily supports archiving, documentation and the subsequent or collaborative use of analysis syntax. In addition to syntax files and (released) research data, all other types of files, such as output files, tables or text documents, are stored regardless of format by data administration in a fashion that allows retrieval via text search and metadata. Within the existing user authorisations, it is possible to build logical combinations between different types of data (i.e. between syntax and research).

A crucial requirement for the use of a mutual work environment is that data should be well described by metadata. The metadata elements required for the VRE were defined by GESIS. The correlations between metadata elements introduced and used by the represented FDZ (research data centre) and the existing metadata standards were tested and specified. For the VRE soeb 3 a separate metadata scheme was specified, orientated towards the standard of the Data Documentation Initiative (DDI), which has established itself internationally in the field of research data. In addition to the development of a metadata scheme, collaborative IT tools, particularly syntax and metadata editors are developed by GESIS.  

All participating research data centres (RDC of the Federal Employment Agency at the Institute for Employment Research IAB, RDC-SOEP, RDC-RV) have introduced their data and metadata competences to the development of the VRE. These include their knowledge from the areas of long-term archiving, the organisational and technical conditions for accessing their microdata (remote access and/or job submission), their data protection legislation requirements for dealing with microdata as well as the workflow of scientific work with sensitive microdata. By doing so, they have mediated between special scientific requirements and knowledge technologies.

The joint project VRE soeb 3 was intended to improve the prospects of success for new access paths to microdata in data institutions, delineating solutions for their support in a VRE. Development tasks for a version of VRE, extended especially by remote access tools, were specified and demonstrated in a proof of concept.

The fact that VRE soeb 3 has been developed as an operational applicable prototype and is extremely well accepted among pilot users of the research network soeb 3 is a strong confirmation of the project's scientific success. At least across Germany, this gives the project a pioneering role in establishing virtual research environments for quantitative-empirical social sciences and economics (see below). Furthermore, through its accomplished developments and experiences, the project will be able to offer support in the advanced development and use of VREs in these fields.

The overall developed architecture of the VRE allows a simple conceptual adaptation to other subject communities or research emphases and their workflows. This is why in the future the existing VRE will be made available to other users in an extended test phase. Through the project partners' own funds both an appropriate operational model as well as a demo version will be developed.


Der gemeinsame Sach- und Schlussbericht für das Verbundprojekt Virtuelle Forschungsumgebung für die Sozioökonomische Berichterstattung (VFU soeb 3) kann hier abgerufen werden.

SOFI/GWDG/GESIS/IAB/SUB (2014): Gemeinsamer Sach- und Schlussbericht für das Verbundprojekt Virtuelle Forschungsumgebung für die Sozioökonomische Berichterstattung (VFU soeb 3). PDF