Common Data Elements: Benefits and Feedback Requested

Common Data Elements (CDEs) are definitions that allow data to be consistently captured and recorded across studies. Simply put, they allow researchers to ask the same questions in the same way across studies and receive standardized responses. For example, consider the following two questions about adolescent exercise, used on two different surveys.

Survey 1 Question:

In the past 7 days, how many days did your child exercise so much that he/she breathed hard? (Choose one)

  • No days
  • 1 day
  • 2-3 days
  • 4-5 days
  • 6-7 days

Survey 2 Question:

In the past 7 days, how often did your child exercise or participate in sports activities that made them breathe hard for at least 20 minutes. (Fill in the blank)

  •  __ day/s

The results from each could not be combined, as one question provides options while the other allows write-in responses, and their definition for exercise may vary (as one explicitly states 20 minutes).

Benefits of using CDEs in your research include:

  • Reduced time and cost to develop data collection tools
  • Standardized and consistent data collection
  • Improved data quality and data sharing
  • Allow for meta-analysis and comparison of results from different studies

The NIH Common Data Elements (CDE) Repository can be used to locate data elements recommended or required by National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Centers and other organizations. This repository can be searched or browsed by classification, topic, or organization, and CDEs and forms can be exported. Within a CDE record many details are provided including:

  • Details about the source such as copyright, status, or created date
  • If the CDE is used in a form/template
  • If related datasets that use the CDE are publicly available

Recently NIH has issued a Request for Information (RFI) regarding use of Common Data Elements (CDEs) in NIH-funded research, particularly but not exclusively in the context of COVID-19. Send your comments via webform by May 10, 2021. Feedback requested is around the themes: current use, challenges to adoption, and incentives to use.

For questions regarding locating CDEs, consult the “Help” drop-down menu in the CDE Repository or contact a librarian from HSLS Data Services.

~Melissa Ratajeski