On 5 April we invited Libby Bishop to give a workshop on how to share qualitative data. Libby is well known in the Research Data Management (RDM) world as the Manager for Producer Relations at the UK Data Archive (University of Essex) although she introduced herself as a “maverick social science researcher”.
Why have a workshop on sharing qualitative data?
The short answer is: because it is difficult! If we look at the datasets deposited in our Lancaster Research Directory (currently about 150) you will find very few qualitative datasets. The reason for that is that there are many challenges in sharing this type of data. Which is why we invited expert advice from Libby.
Firstly, you can have a look at Libby’s slides below but I would like to highlight a few things that were especially of interest to me further on.
Qualitative data does get reused! Not just for research.
One of the surprises for me personally was that the reuse purpose of qualitative data is mainly for learning purposes (see figure below). According to Libby’s research 64% of downloads of qualitative data are for learning and 15% for research.
In our workshop Libby used a dataset created by Lancaster University researchers to illustrate the benefits of archiving data: It will get re-used! The example is the dataset “Health and Social Consequences of the Foot and Mouth Disease Epidemic in North Cumbria, 2001-2003” which is available from the UK Data Service (http://doi.org/10.5255/UKDA-SN-5407-1). It is a rich qualitative study including interviews with people affected by the Foot & Mouth crisis and diaries documenting experiences in Cumbria 2001-2003.
Libby explained how the researchers themselves thought the data could not be archived but with support (and some extra funding) created an important resource that is being reused in different contexts.
Get the consent right!
A major hurdle on the way to sharing qualitative data is the right consent from research participants. Workshop participants worked on some real life examples provided by Libby and realised that critiquing consent forms is much easier than writing one yourselves.
For example, any pledge to “totally anonymise” an interview is a promise you are unlikely to keep. Also, vague statements or legalistic terminology were criticised.
Libby highlighted that consent statements actually have become more difficult to write as dissemination tools (including data archives) have diversified.
Here are a few points that stuck on my mind after the Sharing Qualitative Data workshop:
- Sharing qualitative data offers many benefits. We heard of examples where research participants were more keen on sharing their (anonymised) data than overly careful researchers.
- The prime responsibility of the researcher is to protect participants but she/he has also a responsibility to science and funders. Both together according to Libby “is not an easy package”.
- The three tools for sharing qualitative data are:
- A well written and explained informed consent form
- Protection of identities (through careful anonymisation)
- Regulated access (not all data should be open without restrictions)
Full citation of the paper mentioned above: Bishop, Libby and Kuula-Lummi, Arja (2017) ‘Revisiting Qualitative Data Reuse.’ SAGE Open, 7 (1). https://doi.org/10.1177/2158244016685136
Hardy Schwamm, Research Data & Repository Manager, Lancaster University
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