The beQuali/DIME-QUALI instrument is an archive of qualitative social science surveys available to the research and teaching community. The catalogue offers raw data, collected using qualitative methods (observations, interviews, focus groups, etc.), as well as additional analytical and contextual material on the research process, intended to facilitate the handling of the archive.
Designed to give France an archive of qualitative political science and sociology surveys equivalent to those of other European countries (UKDA, etc.), DIME-SHS be-Quali represents both a continuation and expansion of the work accomplished by the ANR’s réAnalyse project, which sought to test the possibilities of reanalysing French qualitative surveys.
In the same spirit, beQuali seeks to capitalise on existing and often under-analysed qualitative data, for purposes of secondary analysis or reanalysis, comparison or teaching. The preservation and dissemination of qualitative social science surveys also has a dimension of transparency, which reinforces the scientific character of qualitative research.
The retrospective documentation of the surveys and the development of exploration tools are at the heart of the project, intended to further understanding of the survey materials and, in particular, to improve the conditions of training in research through the use of real and tested data.
BeQuali fits into an international landscape of qualitative databanks created for the scientific community. Although beQuali is not comparable with the UK Data archive or with Harvard’s Henry A. Murray research archive (in terms of numbers of surveys or personnel), the instrument shares the same goal of making data available for reuse by researchers and of preserving social science materials.
Moreover, the beQuali survey archives has no equivalent in France and is therefore a pioneer in the hitherto empty French landscape of survey preservation and archiving (reports by Braibant1, 1996 ; Silberman2, 1999 ; Cribier and Feller3, 2003).
Aspiring to compare with international databanks and a frontrunner at national level, beQuali is undertaking a major task of documentation and re-contextualisation on the surveys in order to facilitate and encourage reuse.
The surveys that form the catalogue are selected on different scientific or feasibility criteria by a scientific and technical committee (STC). The scientific community is invited to submit its projects through a call for proposals issued at least once a year.
Part of beQuali’s role is to preserve research data and it is planning to archive the surveys available at the National Higher Education IT Centre (CINES).
There is strong interest in the academic community in having access to qualitative survey materials. Making the beQuali materials available thus publicises the work of the researchers who produced it and allows others to reuse it, in particular for the purpose of comparison or new interpretation (reanalysis, comparison, etc.). In addition, there are considerable benefits in sharing these materials for the teaching of qualitative methods.
As well as the raw material (interviews, preparatory documents, etc.), beQuali provides documentation that contextualises the research process: a “survey into the survey” is included in the form of a written report accompanied by audio extracts of interviews with the researchers who conducted the surveys.
Although it is still too soon to draw definitive conclusions about what lessons can be learned from this experiment in terms of research and teaching, the first reuses show the benefits that can arise from giving these materials a second life. For example, revisiting a survey on the political representations of the French 30 years on made it possible to enrich the original typology by reintegrating sections of the material that could not be included at the time.
Another example, a piece of research on parliamentarians in France and in Germany was substantially broadened by the inclusion of interviews originating in another piece of research conducted a few years earlier.
Beyond this, the availability of these materials offers new pedagogical possibilities for a growing number of teachers wishing to use alternative sources to tackle methodological issues differently, as well as the big questions of sociology or political science. In this sense, beQuali is helping to provide the scientific community with the resources needed for genuine methodological research to develop in France, comparable with the situation that already prevails, for example, in the Anglo-Saxon world.
At present, the aim is to exploit beQuali’s activity by continuing to develop the catalogue of surveys, both numerically and in terms of disciplines and methods employed (focus groups, observations, etc.).
In a context of open research data and with the aim of broadening the services offered to the scientific community, beQuali provides support for projects during the implementation process (participation in the establishment of a Data Management Plan). The goal is to help research teams to manage the data they produce in anticipation of their eventual inclusion in the beQuali survey bank. The aim is also to initiate good practices in terms of documentation, storage and archiving, and thereby to facilitate and accelerate the dissemination of these surveys.
In parallel, beQuali continues its work to facilitate the use of the materials already available. A teaching kit is currently being developed that teachers will be able to use as “turnkey” material for their classes in qualitative research methods.