OHIO seeks to increase use of political and social research database

October 19, 2016

A large amount of data and educational resources are available through OHIO’s membership in the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR). Established in 1962, ICPSR serves as a repository for data, an educational resource for instructors and a sponsor of research, which includes a yearly summer program on quantitative methods.

The University Libraries and the Research Division are seeking to increase campus use of the database and gauge interest in it, in order to help them evaluate whether to continue support for the service next fiscal year.

The ICPSR interface allows users to search for data by topic, geography, series or theme, as well as data from international sources or by a specific variable. Data set coverage includes, but is not limited to, topics ranging from community and urban studies, education, health care, economics and the environment.

In addition to housing over 250,000 data files, ICPSR also has a commitment to creating strong social science researchers. Membership includes access to classroom exercises, which include datasets and learning guides, exercise modules and instructional videos for teachers. The exercises also can be used for building assignments and in-class activities, by students looking to conduct research on their own, and faculty looking for new ideas on how to teach with data.

Anirudh Ruhil, an associate professor in the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, uses the database regularly to gain access to a broad range of information.

“Studies documenting slave ownership in the antebellum South? Socioeconomic and demographic data going back to the 1790 census? Criminal justice data? ICPSR has it all.  Data gathered under federal grants, for specific purposes such as residential segregation in Detroit, measuring social capital, women’s decisions about child-bearing in rural versus urban china? ICPSR has that too,” he said.

Ruhil’s new book project—which will analyze demographic, political and socioeconomic trends across hundreds of cities—draws extensively from the data available through ICPSR, he said.

Graduate students in Ruhil’s public administration courses recently relied on ICPSR to gather data for an assessment of demographic changes over time in Ohio’s counties—a project they were able to accomplish in only one semester, Ruhil noted. The students received an award for their work at the 2016 Student Expo and have landed data management and analysis jobs.

Hugh Martin, a professor of journalism, also praises ICPSR as an important tool for students in his research methods class, as it offers access to a large number of data files from domestic and international government, industry and academic sources.

“There are always trade-offs in research, and secondary data means the researcher has to start with someone else’s questions. So I also teach my students how to transform data and create new variables. This challenges the students to think creatively about different ways to measure a variable,” he said.

Sarah Poggione, associate professor of political science, calls ICPSR an “essential element” of her teaching of Ohio University undergraduate and graduate students.

“By using ICPSR resources, students learn about the research process by engaging in their own original research,” she said. “These are the types of skills that will help them in their academic study here at Ohio University and beyond, as well as prepare them for their careers.”


How to access the database: Ohio University faculty, students and staff can use the ICPSR database by going to the login page while on campus, and creating a user name and password. Once the account is created, ICPSR can be accessed from anywhere with an Internet connection.

Assessing use: If you have used our ICPSR membership in the past, or plan on using it in the future, please take a moment to fill out a brief survey . Your responses will help determine whether the university continues its membership in ICPSR.