Researchers in many disciplines, both social and natural sciences, have a long history of collecting and analyzing qualitative data to answer questions that have many dimensions, to interpret other research findings, and to characterize processes that are not easily quantified. Qualitative data is increasingly being used in socio-environmental systems research and related interdisciplinary efforts to address complex sustainability challenges. There are many scientific, descriptive and material benefits to be gained from sharing and re-using qualitative data, some of which reflect the broader push toward open science, and some of which are unique to qualitative research traditions. However, although open data availability is increasingly becoming an expectation in many fields and methodological approaches that work on socio-environmental topics, there remain many challenges associated the sharing and re-use of qualitative data in particular.
This white paper discusses opportunities, challenges, resources and approaches for qualitative data sharing and re-use for socio-environmental research. The content and findings of the paper are a synthesis and extension of discussions that began during a workshop funded by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) and held at the Center Feb. 28-March 2, 2017. The structure of the paper reflects the starting point for the workshop, which focused on opportunities, challenges and resources for qualitative data sharing, and presents as well the workshop outputs focused on developing a novel approach to qualitative data sharing considerations and creating recommendations for how a variety of actors can further support and facilitate qualitative data sharing and re-use.
The paper is organized into five sections to address the following objectives:
(1) Define qualitative data and discuss the benefits of sharing it along with its role in socio-environmental synthesis;
(2) Review the practical, epistemological, and ethical challenges regarding sharing such data;
(3) Identify the landscape of resources available for sharing qualitative data including repositories and communities of practice
(4) Develop a novel framework for identifying levels of processing and access to qualitative data; and
(5) Suggest roles and responsibilities for key actors in the research ecosystem that can improve the longevity and use of qualitative data in the future.