We are thrilled to announce the official release of “Managing Qualitative Social Science Data,” a free, interactive, self-guided online course. The course was developed by Diana Kapiszewski and Sebastian Karcher of the Qualitative Data Repository (QDR), and draws on their extensive experience teaching classes and workshops on managing and sharing research data. Jason Rhody and Penelope Weber of the Social Science Research Council’s (SSRC) Digital Literacy Initiative (part of the SSRC’s Digital Culture program), along with a group of SSRC International Dissertation Research Fellowship (IDRF) recipients, provided general specifications and ideas as well as in-depth feedback on a preliminary version of the course. The course is supported by SSRC Labs and the SSRC Digital Literacy Initiative, which are generously funded by Richard Witten.

A critical skill

Research data management is a crucial skill for researchers. The availability of new data sources and technologies means that researchers deal with more data, and more complex data, than ever before. These developments affect the management of “big data” as well as qualitative data (e.g., text, audio, video, and images). At the same time, funders, journals, and communities of social science researchers have also begun to expect more transparent research practices, such as sharing the data and materials (questionnaires, statistical analysis code, etc.), underpinning research findings.

These twin developments raise open-ended questions with regard to managing, sharing, and deploying qualitative data. More heterogeneous and less structured than quantitative data, such data can pose particular challenges with regard to organization and documentation. When qualitative data take the form of records from direct and long-term interaction with human participants, and in particular when they are sensitive, special care must be taken with regard to how they are shared. This course is designed to help researchers by offering best practices and general strategies for data management that should be useful for scholars using a range of methods to generate and analyze qualitative data. Importantly, the course closes a gap in available instructional materials, which focus mostly on quantitative data.

Designed for a diverse audience

The course has four modules, each with 3–4 lessons:

• Planning the Management of Qualitative Data
• Managing Qualitative Data
• Sharing Qualitative Data
• Writing with Qualitative Data

The course is designed to be useful to a broad audience, from early-career researchers about to embark on their first major research project to more experienced scholars seeking to improve their practices. Lessons are organized sequentially, with later lessons building on earlier ones, and users may work through the course from start to finish for a comprehensive introduction to research data management. To accommodate diverse needs, researchers can also “create their own adventure” when using the course materials. For example, they may sample from the offerings, choosing modules or lessons focused on the topics with which they need assistance, e.g., writing data management plans or digitizing and transcribing materials.

One of the distinctive features of the course are 27 exercises with solutions provided. These allow for a deeper and more interactive learning experience, and have options that facilitate interaction among small groups of scholars taking the course simultaneously. The exercises are embedded in lessons but also accessible individually. The image below shows an example of one of the exercises.

An open resource

We want the course to be freely available to anyone, anywhere in the world. Because qualitative research practices—like qualitative data—are heterogeneous, it is important that users can easily “remix” the course for their purposes. Accordingly, all course materials are licensed under a permissive Creative Commons, Attribution Share-Alike (CC-BY-SA) license. That means they can be freely re-used (as long as their origin is acknowledged). We hope, for example, that instructors who teach qualitative and multimethod research will adopt some of the lessons or exercises we provide. This is easy to do given the technology underlying the course. The site is hosted on GitHub, all lessons are written in easy-to-modify markdown, the site can be copied, and a modified version can be spun up easily using the open-source Jekyll software, and built automatically by GitHub. The design of the site, built by Matthew Milner of Agile Humanities, is released under a free/libre and open source license (MIT license) and can also be freely re-used. The gorgeous banner images are all winning photos from SSRC’s annual IDRF photo competition. We were excited to use them to complement our course.

QDR hopes the course serves as a useful resource for social scientists, and welcomes reactions and feedback (qdr@syr.edu)!