Journal Article Ontological Context for Data Use and Integration

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Increasingly powerful computers and increased emphasis on evidence based decision making are creating a demand for merging and integrating data from different sources into a single data set. The demand for data is outstripping our ability to ensure data integrity, and sometimes analysis is performed on data that are not appropriate for the purposes they are used for. Here we describe problems that arise when data from different sources are merged, and we suggest that one way to add context to data so that users can make informed decisions about their ontological context is through ontology-based metadata. Examples of the problem are taken from health data with emphasis on difficulties in standardizing Emergency Room wait times. We describe eight fields that can be used to capture contextual metadata. These fields are captured using ethnographic methods from users and database stewards who frequently understand precisely how context and institutional usage have shaped interpretation of semantic fields. We argue that attaching a portable archive of ontological context to travel with data—based on information from users and developers—is a means of ensuring that data are integrated and compared in multiple contexts with greater integrity and more robust results.


Schuurman, Nadine; Balka, Ellen (39845): Ontological Context for Data Use and Integration. Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW): Vol. 18, No. 1. DOI: 10.1007/s10606-008-9084-5. Springer. PISSN: 1573-7551. pp. 83-108