Common Data Elements

Learn more about Common Data Elements (CDEs) and the work that SBE CCC is doing to identify CDEs for social, behavioral, and economic research on the COVID-19 pandemic.

What Are CDEs? Why Are They Important?

CDEs are standardized questions, variables, or measures with specific sets of responses that are common across multiple studies. CDEs are discipline-specific, originating as survey questions or variables within research studies, and are typically selected as CDEs by a consensus-building body such as a working group. Groups of CDEs meant to be used in combination are called forms. The National Institutes of Health maintain a repository of CDEs and forms on the National Library of Medicine website.

Long used in some areas of clinical research, CDEs are less common in the social sciences. Yet they have many potential benefits to social science research:

  • They foster interoperability across research studies. Using CDEs for key concepts and variables ensures standardization of measures and comparability of findings across studies.
  • They promote reusability of research data. Standardized measures make it possible for research data to be combined and compared in meta-analyses of multiple studies.
  • Because they are established via a consensus-building process, they offer a mechanism for capturing and disseminating current understanding and best practices for measuring complex concepts.

Recommended CDEs

Researchers looking to incorporate CDEs into their research on the COVID-19 pandemic can start with these common data elements created by the Social, Behavioral, and Economic COVID Coordinating Center. 

Common Data Elements for Measuring COVID-19 Mitigation Policies
SBE CCC has created a set of common data elements for use by researchers gathering data on mitigation policy measures, such as mask mandates and business closures. These CDEs have been endorsed by the National Library of Medicine.

Resources for Working with CDEs

These resources provide background information about CDEs and their use in and importance to NIH-funded research.

NIH CDE Repository (NLM)
A searchable and browsable repository of all data elements that have been identified as CDEs by the National Institutes of Health.

Standardize Your Research Data with the NIH Common Data Elements Repository (NLM)
A 90-minute recorded training session, including live demonstrations and hands-on exercises, introduces users to common data elements and the NIH CDE repository.

Common Data Elements: Standardizing Data Collection (NLM)
This 60-minute online tutorial describes CDEs and provides examples of their importance in research.

NIH CDE Repository: Resources (NLM)
Additional CDE training resources from the National Library of Medicine, including videos, blog posts, and policies.

Using Common Data Elements to Foster Interoperability of Research on Health Disparities (ICPSR)
SBE CCC project staff present on the importance of CDEs and their applicability to social science research at the 2023 conference of the International Association for Social Science Information Service and Technology (IASSIST).

Introduction to Common Data Elements (ICPSR)
SBE CCC co-investigator James McNally, director of the National Archive of Computerized Data on Aging, gives an introduction to CDEs and their research applications.