Frequently asked questions about Opasnet

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Frequently asked questions (FAQ) about Opasnet is a collection of topics that may be of interest to a user of Opasnet and that are not easily found from other pages. FAQ describes the situation on the date when this page was written. However, Opasnet develops every day and new data and functionalities may appear without a notification on this page. If we describe some future functionalities on this page, it will be clearly stated that they do not yet exist.

User communities

Who uses Opasnet and for what purposes?
Opasnet was designed to provide scientific information for societal decision-making. This is still its main purpose. Most of the current users are developing and utilising assessments about policy-relevant topics related to environment and health. Climate change is a special topic. However, there are no restrictions about the use: information in Opasnet can be used for any purpose. You can check who contributes most and which pages are the most popular.
Who are the target audiences?
Opasnet attempts to reach three target groups. First, politicians and other policy-makers need information and careful analyses when developing policies. Second, researchers possess large amounts of information that is useful for evaluating policies. And third, everyone can make his or her share in getting acquainted with the topics under political debate, participating in discussions and valuations, and making sure that politicians are aware of the best knowledge of the topic when making decisions. In addition, for example students can use Opasnet to learn about environment and health, and other topics covered in the website.

Structure and content

What is the overall content of Opasnet?
Opasnet contains scientific information about any topic that is (or might be) relevant for a policy issue. The diversity of the content is therefore very large. It can even be said that ANYTHING that can be studied with science may be dealt with in Opasnet.
What is the structure of Opasnet?
Opasnet is a website that has basically two parts. One part is a wiki site (called Opasnet wiki or simply Opasnet) that has descriptive pages with text, figures, and tables; it also contains files. The other part is a database called Opasnet Base that contains quantitative estimates about anything that is described in Opasnet. The majority of information is openly available. However, both Opasnet wiki and Opasnet Base have a protected area for working with material that is non-public for some reason.
What is Opasnet wiki?
Opasnet wiki is a wiki-based website. It is developed for collaborative work by anyone (also called mass collaboration). It describes assessments and their parts called variables. It also describes all methods needed to perform assessments. It may also contain encyclopedia articles about relevant topics like Wikipedia; or, unlike Wikipedia, it may contain original research studies.
What is Opasnet Base?
Opasnet base is a database for explicit results of variables and studies. Typically the contents are numbers or probability distributions, but they may also be text. The structure of the database is very flexible: it may contain data with spatial, temporal or almost any other dimension. Practically any piece of data that can be represented as a two-dimensional table of independent and dependent variables (in statistical terms), can be uploaded to Opasnet Base.
What is the spatial and temporal resolution of the data?
There are no strict rules about this. If you own data that you want to provide to others, you can simply upload it in the spatial and temporal grid where it is. Those people who need the data will need to transform it for their purposes. Data providers and users working in Opasnet have the common interest to minimise the work of transforming data and maximising its utility. The openness of data makes it possible to quickly learn efficient ways of transforming and storing data into a useful formats that are actually needed.
How much information fits into the Opasnet system?
There is no limit. The current system is still fairly small and contains only ca. 1500 web pages and maybe some 1000 megabytes of data in the database. The current hardware running the system can easily handle much larger a system. If the data amounts grow very much larger that now, it means that the usefulness of Opasnet has been noticed, and the likelihood of getting new funding for new hardware is good. The software that we are using is Mediawiki and MySQL, which are used in Wikipedia and YouTube. They are proofs that very large systems can be built on top of these software.

Functionalities

What can Opasnet do?
For example,
  • Opasnet contains detailed information about the topics of assessments,
  • Opasnet serves as a platform for doing assessments about environment and health - or any other topic,
  • Opasnet provides guidance for making assessments,
  • Opasnet can easily and effectively disseminate assessment results (and also methods used) to a wide audience,
  • Opasnet contains the data from previous assessments in such a format that the data can be directly used in new assessments,
  • Opasnet contains data from original research studies also in the same format,
  • Opasnet contains descriptions about external data sources and links to them.
  • Opasnet contains ready-made models for general and specific purposes. The models can be downloaded from the website and run on the user's computer,
  • Some models are uploaded in such a way that the user can run them on the Opasnet server simply using a web browser.
Does Opasnet contain general information about its topics, or detailed information about specific cases?
Both. There are no restriction to upload data or methods based on its level of detail. The only criteria is that it should be potentially useful for a real-life assessment. We actually hope to get both general and detailed information, because the former has wider applicability, but the latter can be used to validate (or, more precisely, falsify) the former. The work to create generalised variables and methods is highly respected in the Open Assessors' Network.
Does Opasnet contain ready-made functions for performing assessments?
Yes. Many calculations and methods repeat themselves in a similar form from one assessment to another. In Opasnet, these are called methods, and they give detailed instructions about how to perform particular parts of an assessment model. Often the computer code is also given, so that you can actually run the method if you have the input data available. For many methods, default input data is provided so that you can get started even without own data.

Expertise

Do you need to be an expert to use Opasnet?
No. All text in Opasnet is written for a user who can be anyone. Therefore, texts should be clear and explicit and avoid professional jargon when possible. A user can also write about any topic the user is familiar with - there are no qualification requirements for users. Of course, some models and concepts are very complex and cannot be understood in detail or used without expertise. But every model also has a description page where the main purpose is explained for the non-experts.
Is Opasnet a poor man's version of an assessment tool?
Yes and no. Opasnet is designed for everyone and its use is free. Therefore it is an ideal solution for users who only have a small budget (or none at all) for making assessments. However, the ambition level is very high and we are aiming at a system that fulfils the requirements of the most advanced assessors.

Intellectual property rights (IPR)

Who owns Opasnet and the data in it?
Everyone. All the content in Opasnet is distributed under the GNU Free documentation license. This means that everyone can freely read, copy, and use the information available and modify it for new purposes. However, a proper citation should be made to the source of information. Only the Opasnet trademark and logo are properties of National Institute for Health and Welfare.
How are IPR issues taken into account?
The basic principle is that information is given out for free under the GNU Free Documentation License. This makes the handling of data very simple, because no special agreements are needed for the use. On the other hand, this is currently a problem, because many pieces of data cannot be uploaded to Opasnet because of IPR restrictions. We are promoting the culture that all information that is used as a basis for societal decision-making should be available for evaluation. So, the problem is actually that the data is not openly available in the first place; the existence of Opasnet just makes this problem clearly visible. We have created a protected area to be able to work with data that is not (yet) openly available.
How to deal with proprietary data?
If a third party owns the original data and does not allow its upload to Opasnet for free use, you have three possibilities if you need the data. First, find another data provider. Second, get a permission to upload the data into the protected area so that only a dedicated group can utilise the data directly. Third, create such an aggregated version of the data that the data owner is relaxed to give that information for free use.
How does Opasnet deal with software IPR?
The basic principle is that open source software is recommended for making assessments and running models. See Basic set of software for an open assessor. On the other hand, many pieces of assessments are modelled outside the Opasnet system with proprietary software. This is OK; the most important thing is to get the model results for public use.
Why would anyone contribute in a system where you don't have control over your own results and give the IPR away?
We hope to find people to whom the outcome - good policies - is more important than the question about who gets the IPR. At least for researchers, the credit for producing results is typically more important than the actual IPR. The system records all contributions, so it is possible to find out who has provided which piece of information and when. We are also planning to found a scientific journal that is based on the novel principle "publish first, review later". If the journal is successful, it may remove a major obstacle from researchers to contribute directly to Opasnet.

Protected area

What is the protected area of Opasnet?
There are data that cannot be given for free use. The most common reasons for protecting information are that the material a) will be published in a scientific journal in the near future, b) contains personal information, or c) creates commercial competitive advantage if kept secret. For these data, there is also a protected side of Opasnet, where data can be protected against reading by outsiders. The structure and functionalities are the same as on the public side.
What are the terms of use for the protected site?
Users are allowed to view data in the protected area and use them for assessments within the protected area. However, if a user wants to take some information out of the website, the user must get an explicit permission from all producers of that piece of information. If a user does not accept this rule, he is not allowed to enter the protected area.
How is data data secured in the protected area?
Each wiki page can be separately protected so that only a dedicated group of users can see the page. The security and reading rights are based on personal user accounts.

Data security

How is the data secured?
Regular backups are taken from the system. In addition, anyone can take a full copy of the whole system and store it to another computer. If you are interested in doing this, you should contact the administrator.

Funding and long-term maintenance

Where does the funding for Opasnet come from?
The basic funding from the National Institute for Health and Welfare. However, most of the work and assessments are performed with research project money. The most important projects include Intarese, Heimtsa, Beneris, Hiwate, Bioher, and Claih. In addition, other researchers or policy groups can start their own assessment with their own funding. The infrastructure and platform is provided for free.
Who maintains Opasnet?
Opasnet is hosted and maintained by the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL, Finland). THL has an obligation to do research and develop expertise that is relevant for public health, and provide knowledge and guidance for policy-making in Finland. To this aim, THL has developed Opasnet.
Who will maintain Opasnet in the future?
So far, the development has happened with project funding, which will be available for at least 2-3 years more (until end of 2012). We are actively applying for new funding to ensure the continuation of the work. We also hope that Opasnet will be "institutionalised" so that it will get permanent (well, what is permanent in the current world) budget funding from the Government of Finland.
Under what terms will Opasnet be maintained?
Participation will be open also in the future. The content will be published under the GNU Free documentation license, which will ensure that the information will be available for everyone. The topics that are handled are not restricted to any particulate field, although the main interest of THL is in public health. Reasons to restrict topics are not foreseen.