discussion paper

Our discussion paper, Doing Research Differently: Archiving & Sharing Qualitative Data in Studies of Childhood, Education and Youth (McLeod, O’Connor & Davis, 2020), explores directions and dilemmas in the archiving and sharing of qualitative research, taking a specific focus on studies of childhood, education and youth, predominantly from across the social sciences.

The paper was prepared as part of a program of work funded by the Australian Research Data Commons (ARDC), which comprised the development of the SOCEY website and archive, and the archiving of data from six pilot projects in the SOCEY Repository. It (DOI:10.25916/5e9e28eec21a1) is published on the Analysis & Policy Observatory (APO) website under a Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND) Licence.

Doing Research Differently begins by discussing the opportunities and challenges for archiving and data sharing in qualitative research (Section 2) and provides an overview of Australian and international examples of archiving and sharing (Section 3). It then discusses the development of the SOCEY pilot (Section 4) before considering protocols and exemplars of best practice for archiving and sharing research data alongside the experiences of those who conducted the pilot archiving (Section 5). Finally, it proposes some key principles intended to inform our future work in this area and defines our next steps (Sections 6 and 7).

The principles informing our future work are as follows:

  1. Decisions regarding data archiving and sharing should ideally be considered from the start of the research process, and further work is needed to encourage researchers to do this. 
  2. Standardised wording is needed for developing consent forms which provide appropriate and unambiguous archiving options
  3. Protocols can be established for best practice in anonymisation of research materials, but this process needs to take into account the particular purposes and contexts of the research project
  4. Ethical issues relating to consent and identification should be managed at the outset of the project, but also revisited throughout the research and archival process.
  5. Archived qualitative datasets have value not just in terms of the potential for re-use but also in terms of deepening understanding of the methods and nature of qualitative research, and the selection of materials for deposit should take this into consideration
  6. Qualitative research involving children and young people should generally be considered to contain sensitive data, and be made available via facilitated access, unless this is determined as not necessary by the lead researcher.

The paper includes appended reports prepared by our project archivers Sari Braithwaite, Emily Fitzgerald, Rachel Flenley, Jo Higginson, Monika Popovski and Henry Reese, as well as a report on software-based data anonymisation prepared by Geordie Zhang. These reports provide a detailed account of the different approaches taken to archiving project data. Significant support on the archiving of projects and the advice in the report was also provided by Janet McDougall and David Haddican from the Australian Data Archive.

Building on this work, we plan to develop specific guidelines for the SOCEY Repository as part of creating documentation that is relevant to and supports qualitative data deposit, archiving and re-use for researchers working in Australian research and regulatory environments.

These guidelines will provide researchers with a step-by-step process for organising their qualitative data for deposit, prompting them to consider what they do and do not wish to archive, and which data they wish to have as shareable and re-usable by current or future researchers.