Sunday, July 8, 2012
Qualitative Research Data Bases
I described it to myself as three phases: 1) disassociated; 2) associated; and 3) distributed. This is what I meant:
This period refers to the pre-qualitative data analysis software period of qualitative research. Thus, we are talking early 1900's to late 1900's. During this time, we didn't actually think of what we had as a database. At least, my own experience of my data was that I tended to think of it where it was put...and where it was put was different file cabinets and file folders. I didn't imagine or experience it as close to each other. Over time and many readings it became closer to each other, but I had a sense of physical separation, of size (and weight--try moving it!)
This period refers to late 1900's to the present--we are living in it. With the advent of qualitative data analysis software (QDAS) we can now experience this thing we call the qualitative research data base. In the e-project, the materials are virtually associated and connected through hyperlinks. The project becomes transparent and portable. I can take it anywhere with me on a thumb drive...yes I have left projects in Dropbox...and then I can go find them on the Internet. I can code in such a way that materials can appear to be mixed at similar levels.
This is what we are headed into I think. This is what Silvana diGregorio and I have talked about as beyond QDAS (see the Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research, ed. 4). It's not clear what shape it will take but like many things on the Internet, there seems to be fragmentation and new forms of networked connection. I liken this in my brain to what people talk about as "distributed leadership". Not all the intelligence is kept in the same individual brain. I see this happening as people start to work outside of QDAS, using different networked capacitities (blogs, tumblr, vlogs, Survey monkey, wikis)...all kinds of ways that are available to capture data AND to reflect upon it. Mash-ups bring these distributed parts together.
The distributed idea is still emerging and experimental so there are a lot of unanswered questions--like is it safe and ethical? What about analysis? Why would you give up the capacity for coding or creating analytical files as you can do in QDAS? Are the mash-ups really going to work as we need them to? It's sexy, it's new, but is it as robust as what you can get in QDAS--which is actually made for us?
Actually all three stages are active and present in today's world of qualitative research. There are people who are determined to stay in disassociated...others who are try to work into associated...a larger group that is coming to accepted associated...some people always look for the new so they are happily experimenting with distributed...and there are people leaping from disassociated to distributed--it just seems easier to them. We are all over the place.
So why do I keep worrying about this thing called a data base? Maybe it is just an anachronism of the associated phase and I will shed it as I become more distributed...could be. Miles and Huberman have that great section in their text (the big gray Sage volume) that talks about bounding a study, and why it is critical to develop boundaries around your study--what belongs in and what belongs out. This is a conceptual issue, but also an issue of technique/technology. How many things will you/did you collect? Do these things belong together? How do I construct relationships among them?
As I read over what I just wrote, I feel like I am moving from the notion of a fixed and contained data base toward the idea of curation--as in curating a collection. Is this the metaphor that will go along with a distributed relationship to a collection of qualitative research data? Instead of seeing ourselves as kings and queens of our little e-projects...will we begin to see ourselves as curators, creating different kinds of collections in response to different questions about the materials, purposes, etc.?
The notion of curation has been playing a larger and larger role with me--thanks to more experience of it through art adventures...I have written about this idea in the recent article I had in FQS http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1848/3375.