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Workshop on “Archiving and Access to Qualitative Data”

More than 50 researchers got together for an interdisciplinary RatSWD workshop at the University of Bremen on 27-28 April 2018 to develop solutions for archiving and re-using qualitative research data. The participants evaluated past experiences, discussed fundamental problems of archiving and secondary analysis, and identified requirements for improving the archiving infrastructure for qualitative data.

Germany lacks institutional structures for archiving and the sustainable provision of qualitative research data: video recordings, images, diaries, interview transcripts, field notes, context knowledge of researchers – the qualitative research process produces diverse data, which cannot always be put in writing and contain far-reaching insight.

How can qualitative data be archived and made accessible to researchers in accordance with data protection regulation and the principles of research ethics? This was the central question of a RatSWD workshop at the University of Bremen on 27-28 April 2018. More than 50 participants from a wide range of disciplines and institutions joined the discussion.

One of the challenges to archiving qualitative data is satisfying the legal requirements of data protection while preserving their research value. Additionally, research ethics play an important role in this context. First experiences gathered in certain disciplines as well as by the established British archive QualiData indicate that case-specific access restrictions and user contracts may facilitate striking a balance between anonymisation and maintaining data quality and re-usability.

The workshop made clear that archiving and data access require flexible solutions. However, the financial and technical resources needed to adopt such solutions are (currently) limited. The participants emphasised that such approaches should not be shaped by the logic of technological constraints, but instead be developed based on the requirements and demands of each individual research community. This was essential for establishing a data culture that values exchange and re-use.

There was a consensus among the participants that accompanying research was required that works towards two aims: 1) to highlight the potential of secondary use of qualitative data, for example, through “lighthouse projects” and 2) to analyse the ramifications for field access and data collection due to possible re-use by individuals, who were not directly involved in the original research situation.

The results of the workshop will be featured in a publication formulating the requirements to a future research data infrastructure for qualitative social research.

For the full programme of the workshop, please click here.