The Timescapes Initiative

The broad aim of ESRC Timescapes was to advance Qualitative Longitudinal (QL) research, archiving and the re-use of QL data. This was achieved through a network of empirical projects, the creation of an archive of QL data, a secondary analysis programme and a range of training and capacity building activities. The network of projects, conducted by researchers from five universities, was the test bed for advancing QL research. Spanning the life course, the projects have produced new insights into the dynamics of personal relationships and family life. By ‘walking alongside’ individuals and family groups as their lives unfold, the research has captured the intricacies of biographical and intergenerational processes, and explored how personal lives intersect with the broader sweep of historical change. The extensive publications include research monographs, articles, special issues of journals, policy briefings, methods guides, exhibitions, creative media outputs, and theoretical contributions to the study of time.

The rich datasets from the projects have been gathered together to form the Timescapes Archive. This unique, multi-media resource of QL data was created using a stakeholder model of archiving that seeks to integrate research and archiving, and primary and secondary methods. Our secondary analysis researchers have undertaken groundbreaking work to showcase the use of the Timescapes resource, to explore and advance methods of secondary analysis, and to build a culture of data sharing and re-use based on stakeholder ethics. We have set up an international network for the archiving of QL and Qualitative data (EQUALAN) which is spreading these messages across Europe. These too represent major achievements of the programme.

As the initiative comes to an end, the work of Timescapes continues. Projects are seeking funding to extend the historical reach of their research, combining primary and secondary analysis in their designs. Substantive, theoretical and methodological dissemination is ongoing, including an edited collection for Palgrave and the Sage Handbook of Longitudinal Research. Timescapes researchers continue to deliver methods training, with demand now increasing across Europe. The Timescapes Archive will remain open until August 2013, with support from our project partners (UKDA and the Leeds University Library). In 2013 we plan to bid for further archive funding under the new UK Data Service. The work of ‘growing’ the archive also continues, with ingest of two QL datasets scheduled over the coming year.

More broadly, QL research is flourishing. Over the course of the five years, we have supported the design and development of over 50 QL projects, and acted as a magnet for the development of many more. The method is now being applied across a wide range of disciplines, with studies funded across the research councils, including the EPSRC, and commissioned through major research charities and government departments throughout the UK and across many other countries. Timescapes has acted as a catalyst for this growth, ensuring that QL research can take its place as an established method of social enquiry.