In most advanced economies the digital archiving of quantitative data is as old as digital technology itself but the idea of digital archiving of qualitative data is of quite recent date1. Two interrelated events are relevant in this context. The first is the establishment of the Qualidata Centre in the Department of Sociology at the University of Essex in the UK in 1994. The initial idea was to preserve data from pioneering examples of social research: in particular empirical data from the classical sociological studies of John Goldthorpe, Peter Townsend and Stan Cohen. The second related event happened in1996, when the UK’s largest provider of funds for social and economic research, the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) imposed new requirements on its grant-holders, namely to consider the issues of preservation and sharing of empirical data provided by their research projects. According to the agreement of 1996, between the ESRC, Qualidata Centre and the UK Data Archive (UKDA), Qualidata was appointed to provide a specialist archiving service for the UKDA, while at the same time the ESCR started to impose a requirement on all their award-holders to deposit copies of their qualitative data with Qualidata.
In other countries the issue of preserving and re-using qualitative data began to attract serious attention in the mid-2000s. This interest was initiated by the OECD’s Declaration on Access to Research Data from Public Funding, 2004 and the OECD’s Principles and Guidelines for Access to Research Data from Public Funding, 2006. According to these documents, the most important advantages of ready access to research data are: improving the transparency of research processes; recognizing the fact that products of publically funded research are public property; avoiding unnecessary duplication of field work and the burden on research participants; and making data available for other researchers.
Despite all these arguments the idea about archiving and open access to research data is viewed among some of the actors involved as problematic. While within quantitative research communities, data archiving and re-using are mainly perceived as trouble free, many qualitative researchers are skeptical. Most are generally reluctant to deposit their empirical data for sharing and re-use. This situation has led to an academic debate, primarily among British qualitative researchers so far, which is not surprising bearing in mind that the archiving policy was introduced in the UK approximately a decade earlier than elsewhere.
In the first part of this paper I will present and comment on the epistemological/methodological, ethical/legal, ideological/political, and practical/technical aspects of the ongoing British debate about data archiving and re-use. In the second part of the paper, the Swedish case will be briefly described and considered in light of the academic concerns that have been raised by the British debate.
Linköping: Linköping University Electronic Press , 2011. , 17 p.