DEIA data toolkit: helping diversity researchers share their sensitive data

Authored by: Rachel Woodbrook and Karen Downing

Practices and policies around scholarship development are changing to better address society’s critical social issues. Among these changes is the expectation that data collected during a research project will be made accessible to the appropriate audience, and to the public where possible, with sufficient context to enable it to be discovered, understood, and reused by other scholars and communities. Because limited funding and data support resources have been made available to the scholarly community to support data sharing, practical execution can still be a challenging proposition, and solutions may differ across disciplines and regional areas.

While there is some movement in the scholarly community on the topic of open/public data, there is still limited understanding and a scarcity of resources for scholars conducting diversity scholarship – i.e., scholarship that furthers our understandings of historical and contemporary social issues related to identity, difference, culture, representation, power, oppression and inequality–as they occur and affect individuals, groups and communities. Diversity scholars are particularly critical to consider in this conversation because their work interrogates sensitive social issues, often regarding marginalized or vulnerable communities. Furthermore, these communities themselves are not often considered as an audience for research data, even when they are the population from whom data are gathered.

For many researchers, sharing data outside of their research team is still relatively new. Outside of a broad “ethical conduct of research” workshop, many researchers, particularly in the social sciences and humanities, have not received training on how to share their data. Nor, have they  considered the contexts and needs of the communities they are studying, which may extend beyond just making raw or de-identified data openly accessible.

For academic and research librarians, there is great opportunity to help improve policy and practice surrounding the treatment and disposition of research data. There is a need to articulate how Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility (DEIA) values and principles can be applied to the collection, management, use, sharing, and preservation of research data, building on the work of scholars who are already addressing these concerns in their practices.

At the University of Michigan, from 2020-2021, a group of librarians and students interviewed and surveyed diversity scholars from across the United States to learn about their current data practices, and to learn more about their data needs relative to their diversity-related research. One outcome of this research is a new online toolkit to assist diversity scholars with their data planning, collection, management, preservation and sharing. The DEIA Data Toolkit 1.0 draft is available for all who wish to access it, and is arranged by stages in the data lifecycle. The toolkit authors welcome your feedback, and are especially interested in any suggestions for additional resources to include.

Discussion of the toolkit (among other related research ethics topics) will be included in the IFLA-ARL’s May Webinar on Research Ethics in an Open Research Environment on 25 May 2022.


Rachel Woodbrook, Data Curation Librarian, University of Michigan

Karen E. Downing, Education Librarian, University of Michigan