The September 2021 issue of Monitor on Psychology from the American Psychological Association includes an article “Leading the Charge to Address Research Misconduct” by Stephanie Pappas. The article discusses the various circumstances or “pressures” that may lead researchers towards weak research practices that result in anything from “honest” mistakes or errors (e.g., due to insufficient training or oversight) to deliberate “outright misconduct” (e.g., falsifying data, dropping outliers from the analysis and reporting). The article goes on to talk about what psychologists are doing to tackle the problem.
One of those psychologists is James DuBois, DSc, PhD at Washington University School of Medicine. Dr. DuBois and his colleague Alison Antes PhD direct the P.I. (professionalism and integrity in research) Program at Washington University. This program offers one-on-one coaching to researchers who are challenged by the demands of balancing scientific and compliance requirements, as well as researchers who have (or have staff who have) been investigated for noncompliance or misconduct. The P.I. Program also conducts an On the Road Workshop which is an onsite session for researchers “doing empirical research in funded research environments” covering such areas as decision-making strategies, effective communication, and professional growth goals.
Another approach to the problem of misconduct and the goal of research integrity is transparency by way of sharing data (and other elements of design), allowing other researchers the opportunity to examine research practices and substantiate the reported results. Dr. DuBois and his co-authors discuss this and other advantages to sharing qualitative data in their 2018 article “Is It Time to Share Qualitative Research Data?” The authors assert that allowing other researchers to assess supporting evidence and “comprehensiveness by examining our data may improve the quality of research by enabling correction and increasing attention to detail” (p. 384).
In response to DuBois et al., Roller and Lavrakas (2018) published a commentary expressing a resounding “yes,” it is time to share qualitative research data, stating further:
We believe that the greatest advantage to sharing qualitative data is the promise it holds of raising the bar on methodological rigor in the qualitative research community [and] its ability to bring quality issues to the forefront, leading to scholarly discussions and more explicit and critical self-evaluation, as well as new quality approaches to the design, implementation, and reporting of qualitative research. (p. 396)
Roller and Lavrakas (2018) go on in their commentary to discuss “a comprehensive and consistent way to think about what information to share about a qualitative study” through the lens of the Total Quality Framework (TQF). For instance, the types of information related to the Credibility (or data collection) component of the TQF that might be shared are: how the appropriate methods and modes for the research design were evaluated; how study participants were chosen, e.g., using a list; the strategies that were used to gain access to and cooperation from the research participants; copies of the data collection instruments, e.g., interview or discussion guide; the actual data gathered (to the extent that confidentiality and privacy of participants are fully protected); and the researchers’ reflexive journals (to the extent that confidentiality and privacy of participants are fully protected). With respect to the Analyzability (or analysis) TQF component, it is recommended that researchers share details of the data transcription process as well as explanations of how the unit of analyses were chosen and codes were derived, the coding process, the rationale by which categories, themes, and interpretations of the data were obtained, and a discussion of the verification process including how the results of this process were applied to the data analysis.
Archiving and sharing qualitative data is one approach towards raising methodological and ethical conduct in qualitative research, and it is suggested here that a consistent and comprehensive strategy to sharing will enhance this effort. As Roller and Lavrakas (2018) state
We fully support [the sharing of qualitative data] for the principal reason that it will hold qualitative researchers to a higher standard and raise the quality of qualitative methods, while also furthering researchers’ understanding of the lived experience related to myriad human conditions and issues…[And] by utilizing the TQF to bring consistency and comprehensiveness to data sharing, qualitative researchers will be rewarded with heightened attention to quality designs that serve to deepen the usefulness of their research outcomes. (p. 400)
Dubois, J. M., Strait, M., & Walsh, H. (2018). Is it time to share qualitative research data? Qualitative Psychology, 5(3), 380–393. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/qup0000076
Roller, M. R., & Lavrakas, P. J. (2018). A Total Quality Framework approach to sharing qualitative research data: Comment on DuBois et al. (2018). Qualitative Psychology, 5(3), 394–401. https://doi.org/10.1037/qup0000081