Research Questions

In the process of investigating and presenting the above (and potentially other) dilemmas, this demonstrator project will directly engage with contemporary and broader debates within qualitative research, and consider the role that new technologies may play in any future development. The applicability and accessibility of technological innovation for qualitative data archiving, sharing and (re)presentation help to formulate a number of substantive research questions that the demonstrator project will seek to address in the process of researching and constructing the Online Guide and Methodological Trail.

• The digitization of qualitative datasets and their archiving in interactive and accessible formats: How can qualitative data be digitally transformed and made accessible for users in meaningful and interactive ways? While there is an increasing use of computer software for qualitative data management and analysis, most qualitative data are not routinely collected or stored in digital form. ESDS Qualidata have already established that, for qualitative data archiving, sharing and reuse to be fully realised systematic mechanisms and protocols for digitally archiving complex qualitative data need to be established and made accessible to the wider social science community. These need to be faithful to the data and the research context(s), while facilitating reinterpretation and secondary analysis. The capacity to envision qualitative data as reusable digital information is vital to any form of computer-mediated resource sharing. Consequently principled methods for the indexing, storing and retrieving of varieties of qualitative data need to be established. The project will be in a good position to test out the techniques being developed by ESDS Qualidata for the neutral mark up of textual data in XML, and extend this in order to explore and document the capacities for digitising and representing multimedia qualitative data.

• Designing qualitative research for data re-use: What are the methodological dilemmas posed to qualitative researchers by the prospects of data re-use, and how can potential problems be resolved? Qualitative projects need to consider questions relating to the potential re-use of data during the design and fieldwork stages, as well as (or even rather than) retrospectively. The project will address a number of issues that need to be considered if future re-users are to make use of qualitative datasets in ways that will enable them to understand and follow the original research questions, approach and design, as well as generate their own interpretations. These issues will be explored and guidelines produced through the examination and presentation of ‘records’ from completed research projects.

• Working with multimedia and hypermedia data: How can technological strategies facilitate the storage, retrieval and sharing of multimedia and hypermedia qualitative data sets? Although computer aided qualitative data analysis software programmes have become increasingly proficient at managing and analysing textual data, audio-visual data still presents a substantial challenge. Moreover current protocols for the mark up of hypermedia have not been systematically applied to social science data more generally. Hypermedia and multimedia data sets can include hypertext links; documents and texts; digital video and still images; digital audio; analytic commentary; graphics; journals and diaries; coding structures and other analytical frameworks. The capacity for developing and sharing technological resources and guidelines may enable the manipulation of such complex data sets. This potential will be investigated through our development and demonstration work with existing datasets.

• Visualising and integrating qualitative data: What are the implications and possibilities of technological innovation for the (re)visualization and integration of complex qualitative data sets? Issues in the visualisation and sharing of qualitative data have not been systematically explored within the social sciences. While qualitative data sets are often not large in conventional terms, they can contain a variety of different data forms, making them potentially difficult to visualise in their entirety. Strategies for scanning, zooming and representing textual and audio visual digital data will be considered as part of the programme of work of the demonstration project. This will include an exploration of the differing modes of visualisation (for example positional, temporal, spatial and thematic) as means of sharing and navigating qualitative data sets. It is anticipated that any effective mode of visualisation and innovative transformation of audio-visual data would require large amounts of storage and processing power, to which new technologies (including Grid technologies) would be well suited. Moreover the study of sound (including voice, noise, soundscapes and rhythms) as qualitative data also requires an exploration of the potential for sympathetically integrating audio, visual and textual modes of representation (Bauer 2000).

• Ethical considerations: How are the ethical issues faced by qualitative researchers challenged or changed by the development of protocols and tools for data archiving, presentation and reuse? Issues such as informed consent, protecting the identities of settings and informants, sensitive representation and data cleaning are recurrent considerations for qualitative researchers. The emergence of new technologies, and the possibilities these offer for wider access and sharing of data generates significant ethical questions for qualitative researchers. The project will contribute to the critical analyses of current guidelines that provide ethical frameworks for social science researchers in the UK, and to the development of good ethical practice for widening data access.

• The (re)presentation of qualitative research: How can new technologies facilitate innovative approaches to representing and publishing qualitative research? The project will be well placed to explore the potential for the innovative (re)presentation and publishing of scholarly analyses and theorization as part of the development of accessible and navigable qualitative data archiving. This could also include the consideration of innovative approaches to data archiving and re-presentation for meaningful and active engagements with policy makers, practitioners, professionals, research participants and other non-academic users of qualitative data.