Promoting data archiving and sharing in the social sciences

Categorised: News

Sharing and reusing qualitative research data is not as prevalent in the humanities and social sciences as it could be.

Research in these areas often involves highly contextual data. Archiving and reusing these materials can raise logistical and ethical concerns, especially regarding participant consent and anonymity.

This helps explain why open access and FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reusable) data practices aren’t always perceived as being appropriate or applicable to those working in these areas – and why a team of researchers and data archivists decided to try a new approach. 

The team, which was led by Julie McLeod, Professor and Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research Capability) at the University of Melbourne, included specialists from the University of Melbourne, the Australian Data Archive and La Trobe University. They wanted to investigate innovative, ethical approaches to data archiving and reuse to help address this dilemma.

School Children on Sydney Harbour Bridge during opening celebrations, 16 March 1932. NSW State Archives

Easier access to qualitative data about youth and education can help policymakers and community groups better address educational inequality and young people’s pathways.

This project, which received support from the Australian Data Research Commons (ARDC) through its 2019 Discovery Activities program, aimed to curate a network of qualitative research data collections and strengthen researcher engagement through a community of practice. 

“The support from the ARDC was a great opportunity. It allowed us to put a lot of work we’d been trying to get underway, for quite some time, into action,” said Kate O’Connor, Lecturer at LaTrobe University and one of the project leaders.

“One of the key challenges involved in creating this type of work is time – and that’s why having additional funding is so important,” Kate said.

The team developed a new archival repository for qualitative research data collections in the Australian Data Archive (ADA), which aligned with FAIR principles. They also created a new website, the Studies of Childhood, Education & Youth (SOCEY), to support a linked community of practice. 

The project has already captured a number of important data sets, including “Making Futures”, a qualitative study of young people’s journeys through the senior years of secondary schooling and into the world beyond. Another, “Childhood Maltreatment and Public Inquiries”, examines the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in relation to previous inquiries.

Along with providing the Australian social science community with access to an array of valuable data, the website and repository also give researchers a useful roadmap for highlighting important results – broadening opportunities for scholarly and social impact.  

The team has addressed some of the key challenges of archiving and sharing qualitative data in a discussion paper. It includes examples of best practice along with suggested principles for future work.

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