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‘We’re looking for solutions for confidential data of top athletes’

6 July 2016

‘AUAS-wide we can learn a lot from each other when it comes to handling personal data and privacy in research projects’, says Niek van Ulzen, data steward at the Faculty of Sports and Nutrition’s (BSV) Centre for Applied Research at AUAS.

‘At BSV we collect measurements from top athletes, children and the elderly, which includes lots of personal and medical data. I’m often asked about how to handle data properly. Researchers want to know what criteria apply, for example when submitting research proposals to the Ethics Committee, and whether online survey tools like SurveyMonkey and Qualtrics safeguard the privacy of personal data sufficiently. I’m looking into those questions now.’

Privacy of online survey tools

‘SurveyMonkey is marketed by an American company. Because of the US Patriot Act, which allows the US government to request access to the data at any time, we do not recommend using this tool. Various faculties do online surveys using Qualtrics, another American company, because agreements can be made with them to store research data in Europe. However, no data processing agreement has been concluded with Qualtrics as yet. Therefore, a European tool such as Enalyzer may be a safer option. Though the research of AUAS faculties varies widely, personal data is involved in many cases. An AUAS-wide Ethics Committee might be a good idea.’

Need for safe storage facilities

In December 2015, Van Ulzen was appointed data manager. In addition to answering RDM questions, he has also been tasked with drawing up a faculty data protocol. ’I started out by talked to the faculty’s nine professors to identify how they currently work and what obstacles they’ve encountered. There are considerable differences. However, they all have a need for secure storage facilities and to share data. A central system would be great; at the moment, everyone has to look for their own solutions. Moreover, there’s not always sufficient storage capacity. The Library’s central RDM system could be useful for BSV researchers. And at BSV we’re also involved in various national sports science initiatives for data science and storage, such as a Sport Data Centre being developed in collaboration with sports federations and a few other universities – VU Amsterdam, Leiden and TU Delft.’

Confidential data on top athletes

The draft data protocol has now been discussed at the meeting of the Board of Directors and Professors, and version 2.0 is on the agenda for this summer. ’The protocol won’t be set in stone; the main objective is to provide clarity while also allowing researchers some freedom. The central UvA/AUAS RDM guidelines set a retention period of at least ten years – preferably “open”, which currently is still problematic as we collect a lot of confidential information from top athletes. Together with other universities and sports federations, we are now looking at how this can best be arranged.’ 

Good data management saves time

As part of the protocol’s implementation, Van Ulzen will be organising an informational meeting for all researchers and creating a special RDM web page for BSV. ’Alongside the protocol, it will also provide templates for data management plans and information about setting up an effective folder structure for your research. Setting up a good data management system from the start ultimately saves lots of time.’

Advice from the RDM helpdesk 

‘I get a lot of useful information and advice from the Library’s RDM helpdesk. However, sometimes it’s difficult deciding where to take my questions because RDM knowledge is spread out across the University Library, ICT Services and Innovation Exchange Amsterdam (IXA). It could be clustered more effectively, and a list of frequently asked questions and answers on the RDM website would also be useful.’

Niek van Ulzen obtained his doctorate in Human Movements Sciences and Social Psychology from VU Amsterdam. He works as data manager two days a week and as programme manager of the Sport research programme at the Centre for Applied Research, Sport and Nutrition three days a week.

 

Interview: Anneke de Maat

Published by  RDM support