ACSPRI Conferences, RC33 Eighth International Conference on Social Science Methodology

Font Size:  Small  Medium  Large

Qualitative research in a digital age

John Owen

Building: Law Building
Room: Breakout 2 - Law Building, Room 026
Date: 2012-07-10 03:30 PM – 05:00 PM
Last modified: 2012-03-14


Our world today is fast paced, and constantly changing. Technology continues to shape new forms of social interaction, communication and relationships. Hundreds of millions of people the world over are embracing social media as a tool to share and connect in ways we’ve never seen before. The result of this rush to the social web is an overwhelming volume of rich data available to researchers, including unprecedented levels of text, video, audio and image based information.

And social media will only continue to grow as a data source.

How does this globally unified cultural and technological shift affect what researchers do? How do researchers take this onslaught of rich data and harness it to find meaning?

Technology has played a key role in creating this rich, new data source, and technology is also key to researchers capturing, analyzing and understanding it.

Right now qualitative researchers are using technology to analyze data and solve problems in ways that would have been unthinkable 10 years ago. But, like social media, these tools must keep evolving in order to align with and meet the changing ways researchers interact with data and their studies. Qualitative researchers - and the developers who serve them - are locked in a constant inquiry about what’s next in the world of data analysis – and most pressing is how we move from basic Internet searches and rudimentary analysis of online data to unlocking deeper themes and presenting findings in new ways.

For researchers, and for the developers of QDA software, keeping up with the societal shift to social media and online communication is not without its challenges. The speed at which the social web evolves can be blinding. There’s continual conjecture about which social platforms and tools are here for the long run, and which ones aren’t. There are new challenges such as ensuring data integrity, as well as privacy requirements to consider. The boundaries between researcher and participant can become blurred. And the inclusion and presentation of social media in qualitative research is still being shaped. For instance, how do we represent live data from a snapshot in time?

Never before have such volumes of rich data, from a global population been so easily accessible. Researchers now have an opportunity to make the most of this new paradigm, and pursue new ways of analysis, uncovering fresh findings and meaning.