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Elman receives $600,000 National Science Foundation grant to establish Qualitative Data Repository

December 01, 2011

Jill Leonhardt
(315) 443-5492

The Moynihan Institute of Global Affairs at the Maxwell School will be the home of the new Qualitative Data Repository, which is to be established with a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant of $600,000. Associate Professor of Political Science Colin Elman is principal investigator on the grant (his second NSF award in 2011).

The Qualitative Data Repository (QDR) will be a new, dedicated repository for storing and sharing data generated or collected through qualitative and multi-method research.

The QDR will address the problem that qualitative data are typically used only once: they are collected for a particular research purpose and then discarded. The absence of a data-sharing tradition among qualitative social scientists is in part due to an infrastructure gap—the absence of a suitable venue for storing and sharing qualitative data—and the lack of clear, consensual practices among qualitative and multi-method social scientists for preparing qualitative data for sharing. Providing a dedicated repository for data generated by qualitative and multi-method research will fill this gap and facilitate standardization of archiving practices among qualitative political scientists.

The QDR will have four main purposes. First, the repository will store data in digital form, providing access with appropriate search tools and indexes. Second, the repository will be a portal to material beyond its own holdings, allowing users to identify relevant data from diverse databases and archives. The ubiquity of qualitative research compared with the relative infrequency with which political scientists share their own data or use others' data points to the repository's third function: encouraging sharing. Finally, the repository will help to promote common standards and practices for publishing qualitative research data and for citing data and data sets produced by another scholar—as well as for granting due credit to scholars (especially untenured faculty) for the publication of data sets.

As disciplinary norms, standards and mandates for sharing qualitative data evolve, the repository is expected to become a crucial center of expertise, advice and training on data sharing.

Facilitating and regularizing the storing and sharing of data arising from qualitative and multi-method research will deliver several important benefits. First, a repository will dramatically reduce the costs of assessing empirically based qualitative analysis. At present, if scholars wish to check the findings of a qualitative study, they typically have to do field or archival research on the same topic. The repository will make available the data from the original study, greatly facilitating evaluation. Second, the repository will increase the transparency and visibility of qualitative research processes. Researchers who anticipate transparency will be incentivized to carry out data collection and analysis in a systematic, replicable way. That is, as research procedures become more visible, they will become more rigorous. Third, a repository will allow qualitative data to accumulate and be available for new research, not just for assessing or replicating previous studies. Fourth, the publication of data will vastly increase the visibility of scholars working on particular topics, facilitating intellectual exchange and the formation of epistemic communities and broad research networks around particular areas and questions.

QDR will be located in the Moynihan Institute at the Maxwell School and will be developed with the assistance of the School of Information Studies (iSchool). The NSF grant has four co-PIs: Howard Turtle of the iSchool, Syracuse University; Lisa Wedeen, University of Chicago; Diana Kapiszewski, University of California at Irvine; and Michele Lamont, Harvard University.

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