Sheila Henderson et al

Why read this account

To find out how one research team developed a process for anonymising transcripts that at the same time maintains the richness and detail of the data.

The challenge

The research team at South Bank University had some valuable data to publish but was mindful of not compromising participants’ privacy and trust.

About the research

Inventing Adulthoods is a qualitative longitudinal study of young people growing up in five areas of England and Northern Ireland at the turn of the 21st century. Its rich biographical material, contributed by young people who were 11 – 17 years old at the start of the study, provides a unique window on most aspects of growing up during an important period of social change in the decade 1996 – 2006.

The research data is located in the UK Data Service collection at Inventing Adulthoods, 1996-2006

About the data

The data sources considered for possible archiving for a showcase dataset were:

  • Six rounds of interview data, coded and stored in NVivo.
  • Questionnaire data, coded and stored in SPSS.
  • A ‘big picture’ database providing an ‘at a glance’ overview of case data according to key topics and themes of the study.
  • NVivo analyses for interview rounds 2 and 4.
  • Summary narrative analyses of locality based on narrative analyses of individuals.

With such a rich and complex project, the research team was concerned with contextualising the study historically and providing a taster for the cross-sectional aspects of the Inventing Adulthoods dataset. Data was collected in waves of fieldwork and organised and coded cross-sectionally so that historical time – the chronological passage of events that frame the entire data set – provides the common thread that gives each successive wave a distinct and contemporary character.

Archiving challenges

The research team decided to archive this dataset so that other researchers could access it and help realise its potential for methodological and theoretical advancement. However, they were mindful of balancing the archiving of their data with not compromising participants’ privacy and trust.

One of the biggest challenges to archiving their data was the development of a system for anonymising transcripts that maintained richness and detail, as well as the flow of participants’ words and stories. There were also issues around managing data, selecting cases, gaining consent for archiving, which needed to be taken into account.

Through their work, the team identified 13 steps to archiving their data.

Retrospective longitudinal case archiving: The 13 steps

  1. Case selection.
  2. Assess need for anonymisation.
  3. Develop enhancing and anonymisation guidelines.
  4. Establish initial consent.
  5. Collate and digitise data.
  6. Pursue written consent.
  7. Consult respondent during anonymisation process.
  8. Enhance all transcripts for a case.
  9. Reflect on the meaning and significance of the story and facts told both for the young person and those around them.
  10. Anonymise transcripts, tracking changes in standard tables, recording notes on the process, and consulting with team as anonymisation issues arise.
  11. Revisit anonymisation of earlier transcripts as learning accumulates and young people give feedback.
  12. Cross-check all enhanced and anonymised cases and standardise.
  13. Deposit enhanced and anonymised data with Qualidata.

Find out more

You can read more about the team’s concerns around providing context, confidentiality and anonymity and the technical potential for sharing data in the documentation index file on Inventing Adulthoods: the Showcase Archive, 1996-2006.

Read on

Follow this link to find the UK Data Service’s guide to anonymisation.