Workshop: CAQDAS Projects and Digital Repositories

On October 28, 2016, a group of 19 developers, researchers, and repository specialists met at Syracuse University’s Lubin House in New York City to discuss “CAQDAS Projects and Digital Repositories’ Best Practices,” a one-day workshop organized by the Qualitative Data Repository. CAQDAS – Computer Assisted Qualitative Data Analysis – describes a group of applications that allow researchers to manage, link, tag/code, annotate/produce memos about, analyze, and visualize qualitative and multi-method data.

SU's Lubin House
Syracuse University's Lubin House in New York City. Image from Syracuse University (c)

The workshop aimed to respond to two parallel trends: the increasing popularity of such software packages among researchers and the movement towards data sharing, including the sharing of qualitative and multi-method data. As data repositories move to archive, preserve, and publish CAQDAS-based data projects, they will face a range of challenges that the participants discussed in the workshop’s four sessions.

Data repositories work closely with scholars, advising them on how to manage their data during their research, and then curating that data before publication. With those two roles in mind, the workshop began by clarifying best practices for shareable CAQDAS projects: what makes a project high quality, what components add values for secondary use, and what is key to allow for others to understand the data? As with all data, good documentation is key for understanding and potentially using them. More specific to CAQDAS software is the ability to annotate key decisions in the research process either via memos or by annotating, for example, coding labels. While we also considered the potential for automated logging to facilitate some of these tasks, most participants were skeptical of its practicability, at least given current technology. There was significant interest in providing guidelines and templates for “archivable” CAQDAS, which could be provided by data repositories or even built into software.

A key requirement for the digital preservation of data is the availability of an open, well-documented exchange format. This mitigates the risk that data depend on particular software, which over time may change or even disappear. Louise Corti of the UK Data service presented a brief overview of the QuDEx format, developed for this purpose. As of yet, however, QuDEx has not been widely adopted. More recently, efforts to develop an exchange format were renewed by KWALON, the Netherlands Association for Qualitative Research. With this guidance, a large group of CAQDAS developers is discussing a joint data-exchange standard. The dialogue at the Lubin House workshop session centered around key and minimal components of a standard and how to balance comprehensiveness with the burden (and thus the likelihood) for widespread implementation and adoption.

In a final session, participants discussed the prospects for enhanced publication of CAQDAS-based projects, reflecting on the role repositories can play in adding value when publishing data. Both the retrieval of information based on specific codes and, where possible, the combination of different CAQDAS projects were mentioned as exciting possibilities. Visualization – both of individual projects and of multiple projects or even the entire repository – was the other prospect that elicited most excitement. Some of these proposals may require a homogeneity among CAQDAS projects that is neither likely nor desirable, but may still be applicable to specific subsets, e.g. within a specific research program. Others, like visualization, will help repositories to serve not just as stewards but also as value-added publishers of research data.

The workshop produced a great many promising ideas and a long list of to-dos. QDR is looking forward to continue collaborating with the dynamic group of participants, as well as with other interested parties. Do you do work using CAQDAS software and may be interested in depositing your data? Or do you develop CAQDAS software and want to learn more about the needs for archiving and preserving CAQDAS projects? Please contact us at qdr@syr.edu.