ICPSR Collection Development Policy

The Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research is an organization of member institutions working together to: acquire and preserve social science data; provide open and equitable access to these data; promote effective data use. ICPSR encourages and facilitates research and instruction in the social sciences and related areas by acquiring, developing, archiving, and disseminating data and documentation relevant to a wide spectrum of disciplines, and by conducting related instructional programs.

Who are ICPSR Users?

ICPSR's primary users are faculty, staff and students at ICPSR member institutions who require the use of data related to the social sciences for research and or instructional activities. Other frequent users of ICPSR data include: (1) faculty, students and staff at universities and colleges that are not members of ICPSR and (2) other researchers, policymakers, service providers, and journalists at non-member institutions.

Who at ICPSR is Responsible for Selection?

Selection of materials for archiving takes place within the Collection Development unit at ICPSR. For ICPSR's General Archive, the Acquisitions Director is responsible for overseeing and coordinating the selection of new materials for ICPSR. Topical archive managers are responsible for overseeing and coordinating the selection of new materials for the various topical archives at ICPSR.

What are ICPSR's Selection Criteria?

ICPSR has developed the following criteria to determine if a potential data resource fits within the scope of our collection and as such would be of interest to Members of ICPSR. Data that do not meet at least one of the following selection criteria are referred to another more suitable archive whenever possible.

  1. ICPSR seeks data that have demonstrated importance to the social science community as determined by: substantive value for research and/or instruction, enduring archival value for research and/or instruction, uniqueness.

  2. ICPSR seeks data that support its mission.

  3. ICPSR seeks to acquire data in core social science substantive areas.

  4. ICPSR seeks data that are useful in utilization of current and emerging research and statistical techniques.

  5. ICPSR seeks data that permit the use of quantitative and/or qualitative social science research techniques.

What are the Current Areas of Emphasis for ICPSR?

Within the selection criteria defined above, ICPSR is particularly interested in:

  1. Diversity Data - ICPSR seeks data to support diversity research and to further the cultural understanding of diverse groups in the United States. This includes data that describe and/or increase understanding of the experiences of racial and ethnic minorities and other marginalized peoples living in the United States.

  2. Complex Data - ICPSR seeks complex data arising from and including (1) longitudinal research or (2) survey research (and other quantitative data collection methods) in combination with other types of data including biological data, administrative records, video data, spatial data, and/or remotely sensed data. Non-standard data types such as relational databases are included in this definition.

  3. Mixed Method Data - ICPSR seeks data that can support both qualitative and quantitative analyses. These data result from a concurrent (both at the same time), sequential (one following the other), or conversion (one method to the other) mixed method design.

  4. Interdisciplinary Data - ICPSR seeks data that arise from data collection activities that cross disciplinary boundaries. Included in this definition are data collected to support the analysis of theories and concepts that span two or more disciplines as well as data collected in the traditions and using the methods of multiple disciplines.

  5. International Data - ICPSR seeks data originating from one or more non-U.S. countries. We are especially interested in data from countries and regions of the world that do not have a national structure for archiving, disseminating, and preserving research data. Also, we seek comparative data that could be used to support cross-national, comparative research.

What are ICPSR's Appraisal Criteria?

ICPSR uses the following criteria to determine the archival value of potential data resources offered to or sought by ICPSR. If a potential data resource meets at least one of the selection criteria outlined above, the data are then appraised using the following criteria. The following appraisal criteria are applied in a simultaneous fashion. Data are immediately approved for possible acquisition when there are no concerns that lower the priority of the acquisition. If there are one or more concerns reducing the priority-level of a potential data resource, ICPSR considers the potential benefits and costs associated with acquiring the data and acquires, in the short-term, only what it has the capacity to accept. Lower priority collections not acquired in the short-term are either deferred for possible acquisition by ICPSR at a later date or referred to another archive whenever possible.

Data Availability

  1. If a dataset is available at an alternative site at a reasonable cost and if there is confidence that availability will continue over time, ICPSR may lower the priority for acquiring a dataset.
  2. ICPSR may provide links to data available on the Internet as an alternative to physical possession of files, when long-term archival conservation will not be compromised.

Security, Privacy, and Confidentiality Considerations

  1. ICPSR requires that studies deposited in the archive meet recognized standards for privacy and confidentiality of subjects studied. (For information on these standards, see the University of Michigan's Human Subjects Protection Web page, specifically the section titled "Use of Human Subjects in Research.").
  2. ICPSR prefers to acquire data that can reside in the public domain.
  3. ICPSR requires that data intended for public use be formatted so that identifiers inadvertently included in the data can be removed using standard practices without reducing the research value of the original data.
  4. Any access limitations that ICPSR might apply to specific data collections (e.g., a requirement that restricted-use agreements must be signed) should be legally justified and manageable given ICPSR's resources, goals, and mission.

Copyright and other Legal Issues

  1. ICPSR prefers to acquire data where it can be discerned who has explicit or implicit copyright to make a copy of the data available for public use through ICPSR.
  2. ICPSR requires that the person, or institution, that has explicit or implicit copyright to data being submitted to ICPSR agree to ICPSR's deposit terms.
  3. ICPSR requires the "owner" to grant permission for the Data Collection to be used by ICPSR for the following purposes:
    • To redisseminate copies of the Data Collection in a variety of media formats
    • To promote and advertise the Data Collection in any publicity (in any form) for ICPSR
    • To describe, catalog, validate and document the Data Collection
    • To store, translate, copy or re-format the Data Collection in any way to ensure its future preservation and accessibility
    • To incorporate metadata or documentation in the Data Collection into public access catalogues
    • To enhance, transform and/or rearrange to the Data Collection, including the data and metadata, for any of the following purposes: protect respondent confidentiality and/or improve use

Data Quality

  1. ICPSR strongly prefers data collections that have comprehensive technical documentation providing ample information on sampling procedures, weighting, recoding rules, skip patterns, constructed variables, and data collection procedures to allow users to assess the quality and analytical reliability of the data.
  2. ICPSR considers the acquisition of lower quality data if the data have unique historical value.
  3. ICPSR prefers data in the most complete and original form, with the exception of data extracts specifically intended for instructional purposes.

Data Format

  1. ICPSR prefers data in a readily useable format (see ICPSR Requirements for Rapid Data Release: http://www.icpsr.umich.edu/access/deposit/dissemination-ready.html), accessible to members at a variety of computing and technological settings.
  2. ICPSR prefers data formats that promote easy access and use without compromising research value.
  3. ICPSR requires that data files deposited in a raw format be transformable or convertible into formats useable by a variety of statistical or analytical software.
  4. ICPSR prefers data files unaccompanied by value-added software.

Financial Considerations

  1. ICPSR prefers to obtain data at low or no cost; however, the value of the data to membership can outweigh acquisition and other expected costs that might be incurred in processing and preservation.
  2. ICPSR may acquire commercially produced data when they are available at reasonable cost to the membership.

How does ICPSR Identify Data to Add to its Collection?

  1. Periodic Review of Federal Grant Databases at NIH and NSF
  2. Periodic Review of Current/Recent Grant Awards Made by Private Foundations
  3. Periodic Review of Scholarly Publications
  4. Attending Scientific Sessions at Professional Meetings
  5. Publicity through the ICPSR Booth
  6. Adhoc Advisory Committees
  7. Monitoring LISTSERVS and Newsletters
  8. ICPSR Staff Suggestions
  9. Membership recommendations
  10. Requests of Council Members & Official Representatives
  11. Other Collection Development Practices at ICPSR
  • Series collections. ICPSR has a standing commitment to acquire the most recent updates or waves of a large number of serial data collections.

  • Depositor-initiated transactions. A significant amount of data is not sought out in one of the ways described above but rather is deposited by researchers who want ICPSR to distribute their data and to preserve it in perpetuity. Some of these data are submitted to ICPSR to meet granting agency requirements that data be deposited in a public archive.

  • Funding agency mandates. Most of the data in the Special Topic Archives are deposited with ICPSR under terms of the contracts and grants that fund these archives.

  • Publication-Related (Replication) Archive. Originally established for data archived under grants from the National Science Foundation, Economics Division, the Publication-Related Archive has expanded to include data generated from the American Political Science Association's Political Methodology section and other sources. Datasets in this collection are intended to include all data and information necessary to permit another researcher to replicate a corresponding published article, book, or dissertation - see http://www.icpsr.umich.edu/ICPSR/pra/.

What are the Benefits of Depositing Data with ICPSR?

ICPSR-Specific Benefits:

  • A detailed description of the investigator's study is included on the ICPSR Web site.
  • ICPSR prepares data and documentation files in user-friendly formats and will update these formats as appropriate
  • ICPSR distributes data and documentation to interested users at over 500 academic member institutions, freeing investigators from using their own time and resources to do so and permitting other researchers to conduct secondary analysis using the data.
  • ICPSR maintains permanent backups of the data both onsite and offsite.
  • ICPSR staff further reviews the data to determine whether any problems of respondent confidentiality exist.
  • ICPSR prepares finding aids, including searchable study descriptions and bibliographic citations, to assist in locating the collection within ICPSR's archive.
  • ICPSR has the capacity to distribute public-use data through online analysis.
  • Availability of data is publicly announced on the Web site.


  • Reinforce open scientific inquiry and encourage diversity of analysis and opinions
  • Promotes new research and allows for the testing of new or alternative methods
  • Improves methods of data collection and measurements through the scrutiny of others
  • Reduces costs by avoiding duplicate data collection efforts
  • Provides an important resource for training in research
  • Ensures the safekeeping of data
  • Allows owners to avoid the administrative tasks associated with external users and their queries
  • Fulfills grant obligations regarding making funded research available to the research community
  • Enables researchers to demonstrate continued use of the data after the original research is completed, which can influence funding agencies to provide further research money


Data Preservation Alliance for the Social Sciences (DataPASS)

ICPSR is a partner of the DataPASS, a partnership of major social science data archives in the United States. ICPSR sometimes refers data collections not meeting our selection or appraisal criteria to other partners of DataPASS. For more information about DataPASS, see http://www.icpsr.umich.edu/DATAPASS/.

Council of European Social Science Data Archives (CESSDA)

ICPSR cooperates and associates with CESSDA. CESSDA promotes the acquisition, archiving and distribution of electronic data for social science teaching and research throughout Europe. It encourages the exchange of data and technology and fosters the development of new organizations. ICPSR sometimes refers data collections to the various partners of CESSDA. For more information about CESSDA, see http://www.nsd.uib.no/Cessda/.

Policy Review

Time frame

  1. This policy is subject to internal review by the ICPSR Collection Development Committee on an annual basis.
  2. This policy is subject to a five-year review and re-issuance of policy by Archival Development Committee (approved last on June 18, 2006).
  3. This policy is open for review and comment by membership at any time.


  1. This policy is stored and downloadable from the ICPSR website.
  2. This policy will be the subject of presentations to be given at conferences and national or international meetings.
  3. This policy will be discussed in articles on content and other ICPSR publications.

Also of Interest...

"The Selection, Appraisal, and Retention of Digital Social Science Data" (PDF 220K)

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