Reanimating data: experiments with people, places and archives

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sussex
Department Name: Sch of Education and Social Work


In contemporary times archives are just a click away. There has been an extraordinary flourishing in personal and community archiving, using commercial and open access digital resources as a way of showing and telling about who we are. Emerging new contributor-audiences are offering transformed possibilities of a public and popular social science. Analogous shifts in academic practice have been initiated by funding bodies requiring that datasets are archived. This prescient move anticipated the digital revolution that would transform our ability to share and re-use data, assuring UK social scientists a leading role in debates around open archives and opportunities for data linkage and secondary analysis. Before 1996 the norm was that the documentation arising from qualitative social research was destroyed, lost - although some remained stored in attics and garages.

Our demonstrator project will secure and share an at-risk academic archive and bring it into dynamic conversation with a related community archive. We will harness the current extraordinary moment where lay and professional expertise are in dynamic equilibrium - with academia equipped to understand the protocols of long term preservation and community archives bringing new energy and imagination as to the value of data and what it might 'do' for and with us. At the same time, concerns about the ethics of visibility/ anonymity/ privacy, trust and the practicalities of sharing ownership, risk hindering the ability to realise these potentials. Through linking community archives with institutional repositories to facilitate an exchange of values, protocols and resources, we aim to develop the kinds of trust, imagination and inventive ethics for creative innovation to take place.

The substantive focus for our experiment is the question of teenage sexuality over a 30-year period, a question of public interest as well as academic contestation. We will work with two unique projects. The academic study is the influential ESRC-funded Women Risk and AIDS project (WRAP) conducted between 1988-90, involving 150 in-depth life history interviews with young women (16-21) in Manchester and London. The community archive is Manchester-based Feminist Webs a 'work space that acts as an archive and a resource for practitioners, volunteers and young women involved in youth and community work with young women'.

We will work with key stakeholders including archivists and museums, ethicists, youth workers, young people, data re-users, information scientists and data engineers, in order to do a number of things for the first time: return academic data to the community from which it was once extracted; to take careful risks in sharing documents without prior consent; enable distributed ownership using protocols to link institutional and community archives; re-enact research encounters.

Using drama methods with new generations of young women, practitioners and researchers, we will develop methods for public participation, collaborative analysis, to enact and re-perform the archive, creating new stories from our data, and new understandings of changes in the experience and portrayal of teenage sexualities over a complex thirty year period. We will create an open access online archive, including advice on practical and ethical guidelines platform, open access tools for data visualisation and analysis, that can be adapted and adopted by others, with the benefit of our learning on re-use, archiving and reanimating; including open educational resources materials targeted at schools as well as and trainee social scientists. Our aim is to inspire current and future researchers, academic and community-based, to archive and share their own data, to create linkage opportunities with community archives and academic datasets and popular research practices, which will allow us to better understand recent social change.

Planned Impact

This project will produce a range of outputs directed at, and in a form useful to, the range of stakeholders involved. Most of the outputs will be freely available through the open online archive which will also host a range of enriched resources. As well as the newly archived WRAP data, and new data from the project, there will be open education resources, methodological and ethical guidelines, as well as extensive documentation of our own process of working together, including performances and documentation of our two workshops with critical friends.

Direct Beneficiaries: The immediate beneficiaries will be youth workers and other informal and formal educators, health professionals working with young people, and young people involved in the project themselves. They will benefit from capacity-building through the development of research skills, including collaborative analysis and performance skills. Participating in crossgenerational conversations through the research team, as well as through analysis and performance of the data we are archiving, offers participants an opportunity for a deep engagement with the changing nature of teenage sexuality over a thirty year period. Ongoing access to the open archived dataset and the co-produced educational resources offers a pathway for these constituencies to continue to benefit beyond the life of the project.

Partners and Collaborators: Crucially the project will directly contribute to the development and publicising of Feminist Webs through bringing the archive to new audiences, and not least through creating live conversations with a flagship social science project and dataset, which had a profound impact on many of the youth workers who were a part of the Feminist Webs archive. The opportunities for data linkage here are far-reaching, as well as the opportunities for new audiences through the enriched archive. A further benefit here is the potential for documenting the impact of the WRAP project on a particular cohort of youth workers working in Manchester at the time of the original study. Planned events, including the workshops with critical friends, as well as public performances, will provide a site for local and regional networking, facilitating knowledge sharing around resources for engaging with teenage sexuality.

Influencers and Decision-makers: Our group of critical friends has been carefully chosen to maximise relevant input to our project, and with future dissemination possibilities designed in from the outset. In a contemporary context where teenage sexuality continues to be the object of many policy interventions, including now a statutory responsibility to provide sex and relationship education in England from 2019, we anticipate considerable interest in our outputs. We view teachers and youth workers and youth-focused organisations as key influencers here as they will have responsibility for introducing the new curriculum. We will work with BrookLearn as well as contribute to A-level sociology magazine as ways of disseminating our resources. Our international 'critical friends' Professor Julie McLeod and Deb Warr (University of Melbourne) will join us by skype or in person when on other trips to the UK and both inform debates here from other contexts as well as from the internationalisation of education policy more broadly. Additionally they will be important in bringing resource to new audiences in Australia where discussions about sex education and personal relationships in schooling are also very live. A further cohort of influencers here are professional archivists who are seeking to work more closely with community archives and members of the public, including young people; our project will create a range of methodological resources which will support new practices, including collaborations and linkages between institutional repositories and community archives.


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