Wageningen Economic Research: secure data storing and sharing

By Hilde van Zeeland

The data champions interviewed so far all show different practices – and different strengths – when it comes to the four aspects of WUR’s new data policy: planning, storing, archiving, and registering. The data champion of this blog post, Jos van den Puttelaar from Wageningen Economic Research, is doing especially well in terms of data storage. He and his colleagues use solutions offered by WUR’s FB-IT that allow secure storage and sharing – while taking into account the sensitivity of their data. 

Psychology and food intake: personal data

Jos van den Puttelaar

Jos is a researcher in the Consumer and Chains group of Wageningen Economic Research, specialised in consumer behaviour. More specifically, he focuses on using innovative methods to measure and link the psychology domain to the health side of food intake. As Jos explains, his research builds on personal data: “We work mostly with questionnaire data, food intake data and data from other tools like GPS-tracking, response times, and so on.” Another example is skin colour data, which he studies in a collaborative project with the Human Nutrition division: “Certain colours in your skin say something about the amount of vegetables you eat.”

WUR’s data policy is written around four data confidentiality levels: open, internal, confidential, and secret. While Jos explains that the confidentiality level of their data differs between projects, he adds: “The default mode of operation is to treat data as confidential.” The group minimises the risk of data loss or leaking through encryption, pseudonymisation, and the use of data sharing protocols.

Data storage during research: sharing securely 

Especially with sensitive data, choosing secure storage solutions is key. Jos’ group uses Sharepoint teamsites, a Microsoft web environment that allows the easy sharing and editing of files. They also use the cloud solution SURFdrive. Jos: “I like to work with SURFdrive because it’s deemed safe, makes it easy to share and automatically syncs folders between me and my team. For larger teams with many different roles and access rights I prefer Sharepoint. Sharepoint gives a lot more options, except that one thing that SURFdrive does so well; making it possible to work offline in a team.” WUR’s data policy lists both Sharepoint and SURFdrive as suitable for confidential data. Not only are both solutions secure; they are also shared – which means the data can always be accessed by those who are authorised (in case of leave or sickness for example).

Archiving the data afterwards: making the data understandable

Once projects are completed, the group usually archives the data internally. Data repositories are hardly used, as most data are confidential. When archiving, Jos adds documentation to the data set so that others can understand it: “I always keep the script of my analysis, and in the script, I usually write all the explanation I think is needed.” He also adds higher-level documentation about the data set as a whole: “If there are multiple files that link to each other or that are dependent on each other, I often try to add a readme file in the folder.” Through such documentation, Jos facilitates and encourages reuse of his data. For details on data documentation, read this page and blog post – or contact our data librarian, who can also help you create documentation if you archive with the DANS-EASY or 4TU repositories. Archiving your data in these or other public repositories ensures that the data are well preserved as well as findable for other researchers.

WUR is Serious about Data

In this series of Data Champions, we focus on the data management practices of WUR researchers, and how these align with WUR’s new research data policy. It shows how, step by step, the new regulations are being implemented. Do you have any questions about the policy or about data management in general? Don’t hesitate to contact Data Management Support!

By Hilde van Zeeland

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