Team working using CAQDAS packages

This information resource is for Sociology researchers using, or planning to use, Computer Assisted Qualitative Data Analysis (CAQDAS) software packages for collaborative projects. This type of software is referred to as Qualitative data analysis software (QDAS). The general protocols for data processing and preparing for analytic work below derive from our experience of using the software and supporting a wide range of team-based projects.

Collaborative qualitative research: the extra dimensions of project management

Conducting research in team situations can pose a number of challenges. Here we raise broad considerations as starting points in planning to use CAQDAS packages within team projects. The dynamics of research teams can vary quite significantly, as can the role of software within them. For example, you may be involved in a local participatory project, a multi-disciplinary intervention evaluation or a cross-national study comprising many complex components. Whatever the situation qualitative software may play an important role.

The needs of particular projects will be quite different as will the way your chosen CAQDAS package is used. Our aim is to clarify processes and provide constructive ideas about the management of collaborative work in the context of team working. See our software reviews for specific information about collaborative processes using individual software packages.

In team research there should ideally be a CAQDAS co-ordinator who is responsible for systematising everyone’s use of a qualitative software package. Therefore while these protocols are useful for everyone in a team or even an individual, it is the co-ordinator who might operationalise some of the ideas coming from all the protocol sections at this resource, into a set of conventions to be followed by team members. 

We have outlined the general considerations at the outset of planning for the use of a CAQDAS package in the team situation. The protocols below are for data processing and the preparation for analytic work. See also our software specific guidance for collaborative processes.

Teamworking protocols: introducing consistency with flexibility

These generic protocols are intended to enable efficient co-ordinated planning in the management of data. Collaborative project management and individual research projects can make use of these protocols (though they are more important for teams than for individuals). In some instances detailed minimal protocols are included to enable efficient planning. At other times more general advice is given since software specific considerations influence decisions to be made early in the process.

Team projects usually have to opt for high levels of organisation and co-ordination. All the items above will impact on the effective management of the project. However much more important is that project design and research questions should impact absolutely on how you apply these or similar planning exercises. The sections that follow on from this introduction are separate documents, but really they should be seen as interconnecting project management threads, all of which will allow CAQDAS packages to be used efficiently and to maximum potential.

Software specific support for collaborative work

We have distiled some of the major aspects of working collaboratively with a range of software packages. We have included: ATLAS.ti; Dedoose; MAXqda; NVivo and NVivo 9 Server; QDA Miner; and Transana. Each software package is discussed mainly in the context of collaborative work, which might take place in different ways. For system requirements and other information, see the website for each software package. No pricing information is provided here, except to mention free, low cost instances or unusual pricing mechanisms.

There are three main models of collaborative work in the context of CAQDAS (or QDAS) use.

1. Merging software projects and the work done, after working individually

Our main task is to describe if and how parts of projects or full project files can be merged or imported into each other, so that eventually multiple projects can be integrated. The usual principles considered as standard in the merging of projects are the ability to merge individual objects which are the same (and are in the same place e.g. identical codes in identical folder or hierarchy), and if required to add new things, codes, memos, data files (source documents – transcripts, field notes, audiovisual data ). It should be stressed that significant planning needs to occur with these models of collaboration to enable successful merging of work.

Tip: Before using any of these facilities on real project work it is important, to experiment with small projects created just for the purpose. Software included in this category: ATLAS.ti, MAXqda, NVivo, QDA MIner.

2. Working in serial and exporting work

In the context of sharing work however, much can be achieved simply by sending the whole project to another researcher for his/her contribution, or exporting parts of qualitative project work to other users. These aspects of teamwork are relatively unproblematic though working in serial requires careful controls. Included under each software heading are some of the major or special types of output and their format. For the synchronous use of software at point 3, the exchange of output is less important since researchers are potentially communicating and comparing ideas in the live software in real-time.

3. Synchronous working by multiple users

This model of collaborative work is newer, enabling multiple researchers to work simultaneously from several different workstations. In a sense there is less to say about this model of work, since it is similar in most respects to an individual working with the software. Much will depend on the numbers of researchers and the dynamics of communication rather than the careful planning required for sharing and merging work at model 1 above. Software included in this category: NVivo 9 Server, Transana, Dedoose.

Sharing and merging work initially done separately

Synchronous work by multiple users

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