Versioning Data Is About More than Revisions: A Conceptual Framework and Proposed Principles

Authors : Jens Klump, Lesley Wyborn, Mingfang Wu, Julia Martin, Robert R. Downs, Ari Asmi

A dataset, small or big, is often changed to correct errors, apply new algorithms, or add new data (e.g., as part of a time series), etc.

In addition, datasets might be bundled into collections, distributed in different encodings or mirrored onto different platforms. All these differences between versions of datasets need to be understood by researchers who want to cite the exact version of the dataset that was used to underpin their research.

Failing to do so reduces the reproducibility of research results. Ambiguous identification of datasets also impacts researchers and data centres who are unable to gain recognition and credit for their contributions to the collection, creation, curation and publication of individual datasets.

Although the means to identify datasets using persistent identifiers have been in place for more than a decade, systematic data versioning practices are currently not available. In this work, we analysed 39 use cases and current practices of data versioning across 33 organisations.

We noticed that the term ‘version’ was used in a very general sense, extending beyond the more common understanding of ‘version’ to refer primarily to revisions and replacements. Using concepts developed in software versioning and the Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR) as a conceptual framework, we developed six foundational principles for versioning of datasets: Revision, Release, Granularity, Manifestation, Provenance and Citation.

These six principles provide a high-level framework for guiding the consistent practice of data versioning and can also serve as guidance for data centres or data providers when setting up their own data revision and version protocols and procedures.

URL : Versioning Data Is About More than Revisions: A Conceptual Framework and Proposed Principles