The Social Research Informatics Center (TÁRKI)
by István György Tóth
The Hungarian Social Science Data Archive and Contact in Empirical Social Research
This article could also have been put into the "Data infrastructure" section of this newsletter, since the Social Research Informatics Center (TÁRKI) is a combination of a data archive, thus contributing to the development of the data infrastructure and a research center. TARKI was founded in 1985 as a service organization by the major social science research units, in order to set up an information network for social research in Hungary. Further development of their cooperation in methodological research was also among the aims of the foundation.
In 1996, TÁRKI has over ten years of experience in collecting, processing, archiving and publishing social science data. TÁRKI has played a leading role in recent research into Hungarian social stratification and TÁRKI is the home institution of the Hungarian Household Panel, which has been the leading source of reliable survey data about the dynamics of social change in Hungary over the past five years.
TÁRKI is a non-profit organization, serving the aims of its founders and, in general it acts for the development of social science in Hungary. The aim of this article is to introduce TÁRKI to the reader and to summarize its activities.
TÁRKI has, by now, accumulated more than ten years of experience in collecting, processing, archiving and publishing relevant social science data. Besides its academic activities, TÁRKI also carries out several policy oriented research projects which are often used and cited by policy makers and in other academic institutions. As examples, the most recent projects produced analyses on the size and development of the private sector, changes in social structure and mobility, the incidence of taxes and transfers on household incomes, and several studies on poverty, inequalities and the effectiveness of welfare programs in alleviating poverty. The range of activities cover survey fieldwork, data analysis, archiving and methodological research.
Collecting survey data
TÁRKI has its own survey system with a trained network of interviewers. In addition to research projects administered in TÁRKI, the survey department carries out sociological surveys to member institutions and outside agents also. The survey department (Head : József Tarjányi, email@example.com) has set up and operates a joint survey system in order to meet the needs of individual researchers and research units. TÁRKI administers independent studies on both stratified samples targeting on smaller sections of the society and nationwide random probability samples. Shorter questionnaire blocks or eventually single items are also included in omnibus surveys, depending on research needs. Fieldwork in various surveys is often supplemented by research in survey methodology, and the staff of the department publishes the results in various journals.
Basic social research
Since TÁRKI is a consortium of ten different institutions, its broad contacts to the academic community ensure the wide scope of projects it may be involved in. However, TÁRKi has its own research department (head: Péter Róbert, firstname.lastname@example.org) ) also. The Research Department started its activities in 1989. In recent years the department's main fields of research have included social inequalities, social mobility, electoral behaviour, ethnic identity and religiosity in Hungary. The department participates in various international comparative projects (description of some of these follows below). Working papers and preliminary reports of the group used to be published in TÁRKI research reports before publication.
Archiving and disseminating data
The TÁRKI Social Science Data Archive (head: József Mészáros, email@example.com) was established already in 1985 to store standardized and highly processed data from various sociological and socio-statistical surveys and make them easily accessible for secondary analyses. Since then it developed to a data archive that stores many of the Hungarian and some international social science datasets from the eighties and from the beginning of the nineties. Currently more than 300 different datasets are stored here and used by various other research organizations. Currently this is the only data archive in East-Central Europe that is member of international data organizations.
Mathematical statistics and software development
The main activity of the department of mathematical statistics (head: Tamás Rudas, firstname.lastname@example.org) is developing new statistical methods that can be applied in the social sciences (e.g. in multivariate analysis of categorical data). In addition to developing new methods and following recent developments in the international literature, the department is involved in software development and updating. The new methods and software are demonstrated in TÁRKI's preprint series and by courses organized by TÁRKI. The department's main project in recent years has been the development of the highly competitive and original DISTAN (Discrete Statistical Analysis) software package. Most recently, the staff of the department is working on producing microsimulation software. Publications of the staff appear in various professional journals in Hungary, Europe and overseas.
Projects and products
In addition to the general description of the activities, four main areas are worth further exploring.
The TÁRKI Social Science Data Archive
In general, the justification for data archiving is the same in Hungary than in anywhere in the world: making social science data available for the wider professional and non professional public is an activity that gives a real value added to social science research. However, there are some further specific arguments to archive data in Hungary. The Hungarian economy and society is undergoing major changes in the recent years. Research interest in that is booming, the need for relevant data is very strong. Also, the society is changing so fast that sometimes deep and in sight statistical analysis cannot even cope with the pace of changes. As the data that is produced by various agencies provides tremendous information on the nature and magnitude of changes, data archiving has an immanent function of keeping currently available information in a format that helps future scholars to do retrospective research after the events, when the time horizon allows deeper and more comprehensive analyses.
The scope of interest of the TÁRKI Data Archive is wide, ranging from general information on social trends through labor markets and values and attitudes. Themes of surveys stored in the TÁRKI Data Archive include: family, demographic indicators, social statistics, social stratification, social mobility, poverty, deviant behaviour, health, life style, social networks, values and attitudes, rural society, agriculture, work, occupations, consumption patterns, housing, education, social policy, various ethnic and immigrant groups and social strata, local communities, religion and elections.
The TÁRKI Data Catalogue and Information bulletin contains a more detailed description of the topics of the acquisitions of the Data Archive of TÁRKI. On line access to the catalogue, guide to use the Archive and ways to access data from that can be found on http://www.tarki.hu
The Hungarian Household Panel Study
Hungarian Household Panel started in 1991 as a joint project of TÁRKI and the Sociology Department of Budapest University of Economics, based on a research grant obtained from the National Scientific Research Fund (OTKA). The total starting sample comprised 2,600 flats across the country. In 1994 and 1995, gaining the professional and financial support of the Central Statistical Office (KSH), Hungarian Household Panel was also a joint project of the three aforementioned institutions.
The research was launched by the Research Board in the strong belief that in a period of transformation of Hungarian economy and society there is a great need for methodologically well founded researches that are capable of thoroughly documenting the major characteristics of the changes. The labour market is dynamically transforming, there are dramatic changes in the field of income inequalities, poverty, and the structure of life prospects for the different strata of society are greatly altered. Our aim is to follow and investigate these changes. The major research questions concern the income situation and the magnitude of wealth of households as well as the major determining factors of impoverishment and economic decline on the one hand and advancement and leaving poverty behind on the other. Exploring the economic and financial strategies of households and the demographic and employment histories of household members is also of considerable significance.
The starting sample (a four-stage stratified household sample) represents the Hungarian non-institutional households. The questionnaires contain basic household level data about the relevant demographic and housing characteristics, household incomes, expenditures and wealth, and important individual data such as income, school attainment and labor market position of the household members. The fieldwork has been carried out from April to May of the year in 1992, 1993, 1994 and in 1995 by the trained interviewers network of TARKI. The 1996 wave is under preparation.
The SPSS/PC or mainframe files are available in both a Hungarian and English version from TARKI. There are no restrictions on scientific use of the data. Publications from the panel include a great number of items ranging from periodic research reports produced yearly after each waves through articles in daily newspapers to articles in respected professional journals. The number of all appearances already exceeded a hundred.
Monitoring social and economic changes: social reports
In 1990, right at the beginning of the systemic change, TÁRKI started publishing a series of reports on changes in Hungarian social and economic conditions. The editors of the reports are Rudolf Andorka (rector of Budapest University of Economics), Tamás Kolosi (president of TÁRKI, email@example.com) and György Vukovich (former president of the Hungarian Central Statistical Office). The reports appeared in every second years, in 1990, 1992 and 1994. The 1996 edition is under preparation and will be published in Hungarian by the end of the Fall in 1996. English edition of the 1990 volume has been published and a merged 1992-1994 edition is currently edited for press.
The concept of the reports is to provide data and interdisciplinary interpretations on economic and societal changes. The articles in the reports fall into two parts. One group of articles provide a follow up analysis of changes in the observed years, based on selected social and economic indicators. Another group of articles provides in-depth analyses of certain issues that are in the focus of public interest.
In addition, the 1996 edition will contain a strong comparative section, where social developments and attitudes are compared to other countries from East and West.
Policy studies and the microsimulation database
Under a contract from the Hungarian Ministry of Finance TÁRKI has developed a unique data base for microsimulation studies regarding the socio-economic status of the Hungarian population, including information about family structure, labour force participation, household income and expenditure, and strategies and aspirations to cope with recent economic hardships. This data base is a combination of information from four different sources: the Hungarian Household Panel for the demographic and income data of households, the Household Budget Survey of the CSO for household expenditures, individual personal income tax records of the tax authorities for tax data and a special TARKI survey of households for family strategies, aspirations, compliance with tax laws, etc.
Technically, the microsimulation data base adds additional information from the three other sources to the actual records (2,000 families) of the Hungarian Household Panel. Matching is based on a dynamic matching algorithm (using different matching depths depending on the available data and various reliability criteria) using a ten-times multiple imputation technique, in order to minimize the variance reducing effect of imputed data. The method developed is a product in itself, since it is independent of the actual datasets used.
This data base is unique in the country and can be considered exceptionally rich by international standards also. This project is planned to be an on-going one in the near future. Since each of the base datasets are complied each year, maintaining the relevance of the data in the database can be ensured.
Plans for the future use of the database include ex ante modeling of the possible effects of various policy options that are put forward on the political and scientific agenda.
Structure and Organization of TÁRKI
TÁRKI is a consortium of ten different member institutions. They are contributing to the operation of the center by paying membership fees. However, a great bulk of the operating costs of TÁRKI are drawn from research contracts from various research funds, government and private agencies. Among TÁRKI member institutions one can find major Hungarian universities, sociological research centers and statistical offices. The center inside is divided into four department, along the lines of the classification of activities given in the first section of this description.
TÁRKI is member of various international data organizations like the International Federation of Data Organizations (IFDO) and the Council of European Social Science Data Archives (CESSDA). Since 1991 TÁRKI has been member of ICPSR (Inter-university Consortium of Political and Social Research). ICPSR's services are provided free to all Hungarian social researchers. Free exchange of data among CESSDA members enables quick and cheap access to research documented in foreign data banks. Through these memberships, catalogues of important social science data banks are made available to the Hungarian research community through TÁRKI.
TÁRKI joined the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP) as early as 1986, right after it was founded by American, Australian, Austrian, British, German and Italian academic research institutes. The aim of ISSP is to supply English language files of data derived from the jointly defined 15 minute long annual questionnaire blocks asked on nationwide representative samples. By 1993, the number of participant countries reached twenty. Every participant receives the complete files from each member country.
In addition, a number of research projects carried out in TÁRKI are incorporated into various international projects. The Hungarian Household Panel, for example, has become a part of the Panel Comparability project coordinated by CEPS/INSTEAD in Luxembourg and it has been also put into the Luxembourg Income Study database. In addition, for a number of international comparative projects, TÁRKI represents he Hungarian contact and is responsible for the Hungarian parts of the research.
István György Tóth
TÁRKI (Social Research Informatics Center)