Increasing Public Access to Scientific Research

Increasing Public Access to Scientific Research

Mathematica Provides Recommendations to SSA on Improving Public Accessibility to Scientific Research Publications and Data
Jun 17, 2024
A graphic of a person reading key insights of research

Mathematica provided recommendations to the Social Security Administration (SSA) on making the results of federally funded scientific research more available to and useful for the public, while balancing transparency, stewardship of public resources, and privacy protection.

Mathematica’s recommendations came in response to SSA’s request for information regarding its plan for supporting public access to the agency’s scientific research publications and scientific research data.

“Our responses are informed by our work as researchers on projects funded by SSA and by our considerations about how the work we do is made accessible to others in the research community,” wrote Mathematica. “We believe that making data files available will be most salient to other researchers. Yet an important consideration for the access plan is making data available to the public, including program participants, practitioners, and media. SSA should consider ways not only to make data available but also accessible to members of the public.”

Specifically, Mathematica’s response includes the following recommendations to SSA:

  • Exclude individual-level qualitative research from the public access plan because the data may be difficult to store in a way that sufficiently protects respondent privacy.
  • Consider storing data in the University of Michigan’s Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR), an established repository familiar to many researchers in the social sciences and related disciplines.
  • Consider defining the requirements for data documentation and disclosure review and, to the extent possible, identify definitive criteria for acceptable products in advance of providing public access, with the aim of minimizing costs.
  • Leverage SSA’s existing partner organizations to disseminate information about public access, while also considering the institutions that might not be included in its typical outreach efforts – including a broader range of minority-serving institutions and researchers with disabilities – and make deliberate efforts to reach these institutions.
  • Ensure that publicly available research products and files comply with best practices in digital accessibility and in using plain language to make it easier for the public to read and understand the agency’s programs.
  • Consider devoting resources to effectively subsidize or more fully support researchers new to the agency’s processes to comply with the public access requirements, as onerous requirements may reduce the likelihood that marginalized groups, institutions, and new researchers will seek to conduct research with SSA.
  • Ensure that the materials needed to prepare data files are accessible by people with a range of disabilities, and that the processes and technology used to document and store data are also accessible.