To celebrate 10 years of RDNL, we interviewed three winners of the Dutch Data Prize, which has been part of RDNL since 2013. What did the prize entail for them, why do they find FAIR data important and why should researchers nominate themselves for this prize? In the first edition of this three part series, we speak with Maarten Marx, one of the first winners of the Dutch Data Prize, who was way ahead of his time with making data FAIR. “Is making data FAIR a lot of work? No!”
More than ten years ago, Maarten Marx – computer scientist at the University of Amsterdam (UvA) – and his colleagues were already working on making data FAIR. In their case a collection of datasets related to meetings of the Dutch Parliament and Senate in the period 1814-2012 and the biographical data of all Members of Parliament of the Netherlands and all Political Parties of the Netherlands with at least one seat in Parliament or the Senate during this period. This resulted in Marx and his colleagues winning the ‘Nederlandse Dataprijs’ in 2012, nowadays known as the Dutch Data Prize.
“The fact that you receive an award for your work is of course a huge honor and it opens doors to for example more funding opportunities. Millions of pages were scanned at the time, because this was solely available on paper. We developed an XML structured format of all data and made the data interoperable.” With this huge dataset – called Political Mashup – it is not only possible to check what has been discussed, but also who used certain expressions the most e.g. ‘it cannot be that’ (PvdA, a Dutch political party) and you can immediately find out more about this person through the linked information to the biographies. The government has pulled the plug on this project, but the dataset is still available at DANS in the Data Station Social Sciences and Humanities.
Participating in the Dutch Data Prize was a check for Marx whether the FAIR principles had been applied correctly. “By registering yourself you have to analyze a number of things and that is also a good check on your work. I found that on its own already very valuable.” Right from the start he, as a computer scientist, already recognized the usefulness of the FAIR principles. “I think the argument that it is a lot of work is negligible. Of course it is more work, but it really benefits science. You never know what your data can be used for later. For example, the records of the European Parliament have ensured that we now have translation machines.” Marx therefore motivates everyone to invest the time to make data FAIR: “If it is handled right at the source, it takes little time and adds incredible value.”
Today, Marx still works on making government information more available. In the context of the Open Government Act (WOO), he and his research group developed WooGle, a search engine for published WOO files of municipalities, provinces and ministries. Marx recently deposited the data from WooGle at DANS, to also make it accessible to the research community. “Especially from a legal perspective there is a lot of interest in this. But I also see it as a kind of heritage for the future, so that a historian in fifty years’ time can see how things went with those disclosures.”
The Dutch Data Prize is part of Research Data Netherlands (RDNL), a consortium of 4TU.ResearchData, DANS, Health-RI and SURF. The next round of the Dutch Data Prize will be held in 2024.
The full interview is available on the RDNL website.