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German Data Forum: Fostering Archiving and Re-Use of Qualitative Data

As a result of its last meeting on June 11-12, 2015, the German Data Forum has issued a statement [German] on qualitative social research data. Principally, it supports the aim of archiving qualitative data and making them available for re-use as long as this is possible without jeopardising the original research’s objectives and field access for researchers. It advocates fostering a culture of data sharing in qualitative social research.

Qualitative social research explores sensitive social areas and processes. Unmediated and productive access to these areas requires a bond of mutual trust between researchers and respondents. The German Data Forum acknowledges that the possibility, adequacy and scientific merit of re-use varies based on the type of material and research method, which require a nuanced approach.

Since researchers in qualitative social research are generally more involved in the production of their data, the issue of data sharing is intertwined with the issue of intellectual property. It is therefore necessary to establish archiving methods that preserve the value of the material without compromising data protection. Specialised research data centres could serve as core components of the necessary infrastructure.

Primary researchers, reviewers and funding institutions should jointly decide if and how research data can be re-used already during the project development and review phase. When applying for funding, research projects should be obligated to present a data management plan. However, the decision about a project’s approval should not be affected by the suitability of its data for re-use.