The HERG Data Archive
For over ten years now, experienced qualitative researchers in the Medical Sociology & Health Experiences Researcher Group (MS&HERG) have been conducting in-depth, qualitative interviews with people with different health conditions. There are now more than 110 different sections published at www.healthtalk.org which present the lay summaries of these different projects with video, audio and text extracts from the interviews. A diverse sampling approach is used for each project to produce a sample with a broad range of experiences in terms of the particular condition being studied, and the demographic details of participants. The relatively unstructured, open-ended nature of the interview method helps to identify participants’ own concerns, meanings and priorities (rather than being linked to a highly focused research interest) and makes the interviews particularly fruitful for secondary data analysis (Sandelowski 1997, Thorne 1994, 1998).
While the website publishes a few extracts from each interview, chosen to illustrate key themes identified in each section, full sets of interviews (usually 35-50 per collection) and supporting documents are retained in the MS&HERG archive. Once MS&HERG researchers have concluded their primary analyses of the data the archive is available to other academic researchers for secondary analysis. In some cases, the primary researcher may return to their own data for a different purpose, possibly with external collaborators. Interviews in the archive are all copyrighted to the University of Oxford and available, under license, to qualitative researchers for secondary analysis (subject to approval and administrative costs).
The MS&HERG Archive contains over 3000 interviews with patients, carers and other family members and is a unique resource with enormous potential in academic and policy arenas. Despite Research Council encouragement there has been some resistance in the qualitative health research community to contributing and sharing data for secondary analysis (Fielding 2004, Corti 2004). The Oxford archive is an exception: the sections have been licensed for use by several well established academic colleagues. Studies using secondary analysis of the Oxford data include an SDO funded Information for Choice project (led by Professor Sally Wyke, Stirling), studies of gender and health (Professor Kate Hunt et al, MRC Social and Public Health Research Unit, Glasgow), an ESRC funded project on comparative keyword analysis in talking about health (Professor Clive Seale, Brunel), an ESRC funded analysis of chronic health issues in young people (Janet Heaton, Peninsula Medical School), an NIHR programme (Sue Ziebland et al, Oxford) and a comparison of local and national data on end of life care (Joe Calabrese, LSE). These secondary analyses have already led to peer reviewed publications in leading journals (for example, see Charteris Black 2009, Emslie 2007, 2009, France et al, 2012, France et al, 2013, Lowe 2009, Hilton 2008, 2009, Hunt 2010, Mazanderani, et al, 2012).
The archive has been used in different ways; to draw on a single section, such as depression (Emslie et al, 2007), a comparison of two or more sections (Shariff et al, 2009), and analyses that draw on several sections (Seale and Charteris-Black, 2010). The archive is also currently being used to provide materials for experience-based co-design in a more practice orientated approach.
We very much welcome interest in the use of this archive. In the first instance, please email Elizabeth Woolliams for more details.