The Qualitative Transparency Deliberations (QTD) platform provides fora for discussion of the meaning, costs, benefits, and practicalities of research transparency for a broad range of qualitative empirical approaches in Political Science. It is an initiative of the American Political Science Association's Organized Section for Qualitative and Multi-Method Research (QMMR), generously supported by the Social Science Research Institute at Duke University.
At its 2015 business meeting, the APSA’s QMMR Section unanimously passed a motion to initiate a process of deliberation over transparency in qualitative research. The motion tasked Tim Büthe and Alan Jacobs, building on the symposium they edited in the Spring 2015 issue of the QMMR Newsletter, with drawing up and putting before the section membership a proposal for a deliberative process about the meaning and practicalities of research transparency for the many research traditions represented in the QMMR section.
Efforts to enhance research transparency have gained increasing prominence across the natural and social sciences. As a "meta-standard," research transparency is broadly valued among political scientists for a variety of reasons, including: aiding the understanding and assessment of researchers' findings and interpretations; easing the communication of ideas across diverse scholarly communities; facilitating the accumulation of knowledge; and enhancing the credibility and usefulness of empirical social research to policy practitioners.
However, the meaning of research transparency and how it ought to be operationalized is not self-evident and is likely to vary widely across different forms of research. The meaning, the costs and benefits, and the practicalities of transparency will be different for students of politics than for scholars of other subject matters. They may also be different for qualitative and interpretive, as compared to quantitative and algorithmic, forms of analysis; and different for different types of qualitative and interpretive inquiry.
Open and careful deliberation over the value, costs, risks, and practicalities of research openness for specific forms of qualitative political-science scholarship is necessary to help ensure that evolving expectations and practices of transparency in the discipline reflect the distinctive features of different approaches to social inquiry: their distinctive intellectual premises, the differing research contexts in which scholars operate, the diverse types of observation and evidence on which they draw, and the multiple forms of analysis in which researchers engage.
Büthe and Jacobs proposed that the QMMR Organized Section lead a deliberative process, called the Qualitative Transparency Deliberations, over the meaning, value, and practice of transparency for different forms of qualitative empirical research in political science. In December 2015/January 2016, the proposal went to an online vote of all QMMR section members. The proposal passed by a vote of 98% in favor and 2% opposed, with turnout of 303 out of 645 members. The QTD platform implements this proposal.
The QTD deliberations will be organized by forms of qualitative inquiry or types of issues that arise in qualitative research. The organizing principles for the differentiated substantive discussions are to be defined during a first stage of the deliberative process. The deliberations might be organized, for example, around distinct forms of qualitative analysis, different types of qualitative evidence, and differing contexts of field research. Disaggregating the deliberations will allow discussion of particular forms of inquiry to be undertaken by scholars who regular engage in those kinds of research. Thus, for instance, deliberations over transparency in interpretive ethnography would be undertaken by interpretive ethnographers, deliberations over fieldwork in contexts of political violence would be held among those conducting fieldwork in contexts of political violence, and so on.
Each set of deliberations will culminate in the production of a text—a Community Transparency Statement (CTS)—that reflects current understandings of transparency within a particular research community.
The Community Transparency Statements will likely vary in their degree of prescriptiveness and in the degree of consensus that they reflect. Yet all documents will (a) provide one or more conceptualizations of research transparency appropriate to the form of research being considered; (b) identify common and best practices of transparency for this form of research; and (c) identify costs and benefits of these transparency practices for researchers and research audiences. While some Community Transparency Statements might articulate relatively clear transparency norms or standards around which the working group has identified broad consensus, other Community Transparency Statements might identify a range of perspectives current among relevant research communities and identify both areas of convergence and areas of divergence across those perspectives.
Differentiated, bottom-up articulations of the meaning and practices of research transparency for various forms of qualitative research will simultaneously advance several important objectives:
Informing editorial policies and practices: Over the last several months, many political scientists have expressed deep concern about the implementation of DA-RT (Data Access and Research Transparency) principles, as articulated in the October 2014 Journal Editors’ Transparency Statement (JETS, previously known as "the DA-RT Statement"). A key concern is that journals might implement new data access and transparency requirements that are not compatible with the diversity of epistemological assumptions and logics of inquiry that are at work in the discipline and/or with the ethical, legal, and practical constraints under which many qualitative researchers operate.
Such a development would be undesirable because it would disadvantage qualitative as compared to quantitative work in the publication process (and, possibly, disadvantage some forms of qualitative work more than others) and thus create a disincentive for political scientists to undertake (some forms of) qualitative research.
Moreover, there are numerous open questions about how to achieve transparency in various forms of qualitative inquiry. Key questions include: what analytic transparency entails for non-statistical forms of analysis; how to achieve transparency while meeting ethical and legal obligations to protect human subjects; how to take into account the costs associated with archiving some forms of qualitative evidence; and what "data access" means for research communities that understand empirical social research as an intrinsically relational and intersubjective (rather than data-extractive) activity.
As the output of an inclusive deliberative process among qualitative researchers, the envisioned Community Transparency Statements (CTSs) can provide crucial guidance to journal editors and editorial boards seeking to articulate guidelines for authors and reviewers that are appropriate to diverse forms of qualitative inquiry, and that are viewed as relevant and reasonable by those research communities. Such guidance will be valuable not only to editors who have committed themselves to DA-RT implementation, but also to editors who have declined to commit to DA-RT yet nonetheless seek to promote research transparency in a manner consistent with the discipline’s intellectual pluralism.
Informing research design and practices: A carefully differentiated discussion of the value, meaning, and practice of research transparency in different forms of qualitative research should be beneficial for professional activities well beyond journal publication. The envisioned Community Transparency Statements will become a valuable collective resource for researchers seeking to navigate the challenges of making their research as transparent as possible as they design and carry out their research projects. The envisioned Community Transparency Statements will, for instance, provide analyses of both the costs and the benefits of different ways of realizing research transparency, allowing researchers to make more informed choices. In addition to raising awareness of the context-specific risks of some transparency practices, the CTSs will also identify innovative and effective ways of minimizing those risks or reducing the costs of research transparency. Further, the Statements addressing research with human subjects will provide important guidance to scholars seeking to engage with study participants with maximal respect and openness.
Training in qualitative methods: Community Transparency Statements – in identifying and evaluating transparency practices in various forms of qualitative research, and in discussing the choices and dilemmas that researchers face in pursuing openness – will serve as valuable pedagogical resources for the training of graduate students in research design and methods. The CTSs should also prove useful for more advanced scholars seeking to learn new qualitative research tools or methods.