This is the first of two joint blog posts in which Susie Weller and Rosalind Edwards consider, from different positions, ownership, connectedness, and archives.
Drawing on our experiences of contributing to and working with multiple datasets housed in the Timescapes Archive, this blog piece focuses on how our perceptions of ownership have altered over time, framing future contributions where we reflect on the partial and disjointed nature of archived data, and the implications for our sense of connection.
When we think of the ownership of research data, especially when preparing datasets for deposit in an archive, we’re often encouraged to focus on the legal and regulatory aspects. For instance, researchers own the copyright of recorded or transcribed interviews, with research participants owners of their recorded words. In most cases, the Intellectual Property (IP) of such data sit with the institution where a researcher was employed at the time of creation rather than with the individuals or teams that brought the data to fruition (Weller in press). These moves highlight the shift from regarding data as a private entity owned morally and legally by an individual or group to viewing data as a public good or commodity. This emphasis on the regulatory aspects of ownership masks the complexity of qualitative data. Rather, a sense of ownership can emerge from the emotional and intellectual connections fostered through the temporal resources, commitments, and care researchers invest in the relationships that are central to the production of qualitative data, and as we suggest in this blog, are equally apparent in empirical work and qualitative secondary analysis, albeit in different ways.
Connectedness through generating, analysing, curating, and re-using data
To illustrate this, we draw on our experiences of generating, analysing, curating, and re-using data housed in this archive. We were both involved in studies that preceded Timescapes, and we invited participants from these studies to join the ‘Siblings and Friends’ project. We developed an enduring sense of connection to the 50 young people whose journeys we followed for over 12 years, whilst acknowledging that our presence in their lives may have been experienced by them as intermittent or fleeting. In the midst of the project, this sense of connectedness was marked by the moments we shared in their homes, the aspects of their lives they divulged, and/or through our in-depth and repeated engagement with the data. Whilst we continued to work with the data after the funding had ended, we have since become immersed in new projects. Nevertheless, the ebb and flow of a sense of connectedness is still apparent. Flashbacks: small things, the mention of a name or place bring back all those sensory feelings of past shared encounters. We often contemplate what happened in the next chapter of a participant’s life. These flashbacks have encouraged us to think about the ‘Siblings and Friends’ data, and indeed new data in different ways. Reflecting on the palpability of this enduring sense of connectedness, led us to question whether this was merely about a sense of data ownership or rather, about how our lives had become linked through the moments shared, our developing research relationships, and our repeated engagement with participant’s accounts.
Connection to data over time
After completing ‘Siblings and Friends’, we collaborated with Emma Davidson and Lynn Jamieson on a methodological study funded by the National Centre for Research Methods and designed to explore the possibilities of working across multiple sets of archived qualitative (longitudinal) data. This offered us the opportunity to not only re-visit the ‘Siblings and Friends’ data but also to engage with five of the other studies lodged in this archive. As part of our focus on developing secondary analytic practice, we consulted colleagues about their feelings towards our planned use of the datasets they had (co-) created. Although some were still using the material, others reported that their connection to the data had lessened over time. Conversely, we had worked closely with the archived datasets for four years and felt a growing sense of connection to participants and their narratives, and the broader Timescapes collection, as well as, to the endeavours of the original researchers. The emotional, intellectual, and temporal labour we invested in working with the data and engaging with participants’ accounts meant that we became attached to it as our production, which altered our perceptions of ownership. For example, we pooled the six data sets into one assemblage and reconfigured the material into new categories so that we could analyse shifts in vocabularies and practices of care and intimacy over time by gender and age cohort using our breadth-and-depth method (Davidson et al 2019) for largescale qualitative analysis. This new dataset is now available for others to use in this archive. In these terms, (re)making research data available for others to use suggests that knowledge production is open-ended and muddies the waters of data ownership.
Perhaps then, it is useful to distinguish between data ownership in terms of the artefacts and outputs from the research process, and a sense of connectedness to, or ownership of, the knowledge surrounding that data, which evolves through multiple or different interpretations.
Our next joint blog post takes these arguments further, by focusing attention on to what or whom we feel a sense of connection.
Davidson, E., Edwards, R., Jamieson, L. and Weller, S., 2019. Big data, qualitative style: a breadth-and-depth method for working with large amounts of secondary qualitative data. Quality & Quantity, 53(1), pp.363-376. Available from: https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/s11135-018-0757-y.pdf
Timescapes.2013 Timescapes Publications: Publications and Outputs 2007-2012 Project 1: Siblings and Friends: The Changing Nature of Children’s Lateral Relationships[Online].[Accessed 16th January 2022].Available from: https://timescapes-archive.leeds.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/sites/47/2020/07/publications-project-1-2012.pdf
Timescapes.2021 Big Qual Analysis: Teaching Dataset.Timescapes Archive.[Online].[Accessed 16th January 2022].Available from: https://timescapes.researchdata.leeds.ac.uk/view/project/BigQual.html
Weller, S. (in press) Fostering habits of care: Reframing qualitative data sharing policies and practices, Qualitative Research.