Help an academic organize interviewee data!
June 6, 2011 9:34 AM   Subscribe

I'm a social scientist heading off to do a year of field research, which will include lots and lots and lots of interviewing. What tools to you recommend to keep all your interviewees' data straight, and to show how they are connected to each other?

I'm going to be interviewing a lot of military/Pentagon people, so keeping track of who belongs to what office and who referred me to whom is pretty important. I'm envisioning something like a social network analysis tools, crossed with a customer relationship management tool so I can keep track of my interactions with them.

It would be great if it was visually organized - eg. I can click on a person, and it will show me who they've referred me to, or click on an organization, and it will show me all the people who've worked there. I realize that this is basically a database query, but it would be really helpful to have it visually displayed so I can get a sense for the direction/thickness of the connections, as well as any holes.

Some customer relationship management functionality would be great, too, so that I can keep track of when I've contacted them, as well as documents and other things associated with that person or organization.

Does what I'm imagining actually exist? Free or paid is OK, up to a few hundred dollars. If the answer is "build a database", that's OK if you can also point me towards recommended resources, and especially if you can offer advice about any ways of also making it visual.
posted by foodmapper to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
posted by k8t at 11:07 AM on June 6, 2011

For all the whiz-bang out there, I would enter most of the data into either an excel sheet or maybe a mySQL database. This will keep your data clean, and clean data can be exported and imported to whatever fancy application all day long. That means your data doesn't get stuck in somebody else's platform

As for those fancy things that are in the "free" category...
1. SalesForce is a CRM that some educational places can use for free.
2. Also you may be surprised how easy it is to make dynamic visualizations within excel. Start here:
3. Google's Fusion Tables might have something for you, too.
posted by jander03 at 11:33 AM on June 6, 2011

Microsoft ACCESS, multiple linked tables. Use forms to make the input interface easier to work with.

Excel just isn't good for looking at relational data.
posted by vitabellosi at 11:50 AM on June 6, 2011

Sorry---there are a lot of how to videos online for learning ACCESS
posted by vitabellosi at 11:52 AM on June 6, 2011

Best answer: You have lots of CAQDAS options. My favorite is ATLAS/ti, and while it's designed with grounded theory in mind, it works well for a variety of qualitative data analytical approaches.
posted by yellowcandy at 12:14 PM on June 6, 2011

ATLAS/ti is also good.
posted by k8t at 12:15 PM on June 6, 2011

Best answer: In my experience there are just not great tools out there. I've tried ATLAS/ti (like 7 years ago - it may have improved) and it was quite a bear. Also, windows-only if that matters to you. For my most recent project I tried Dedoose and it was also pretty awful. Cheaper than ATLAS for sure, but not really any better for my purposes. Doesn't have any network viz stuff like you're looking for.

In the end, I think the nature of qualitative data is that it's quite context dependent and attempts to abstract research processes around it are really difficult. Coding is probably the most universal and easily-abstracted and implemented approach to interview data, and any tool that does that will get you part of the way there. But this kind of rich visualization + social network tool sounds pretty custom to me.

I've never been able to really makes heads or tail of Tinderbox, but it's got maybe a framework for you to start with. I'm not sure how to build a workflow around it, but its fans (and they are relatively few, but rabid) claim it's great for this sort of thing. I got a copy ages ago and just couldn't work it into my life in a way that was effective.

The other thing about tools is that they can sometimes railroad you into a certain way of thinking about what you're doing that can be detrimental. It might be worth starting out with a non-tool approach and just do it by hand. Buy (or make, if you're trying to save money) a huge whiteboard that you can have on site with you where you can draw these diagrams out at night when you're reflecting on the day. The process of producing and editing and re-drawing it might itself be helpful. Plus, doing stuff by hand gives you so much more expressive power. You don't have to a priori setup a taxonomy of potential relationship types or anything, you can just do it on the fly with different color markers or whatever. Maybe later on in the process you want to formalize and look closer at database tools, but early on I think it might be useful to stay low tech. There may be some other analytical frame entirely that turns out to be more valuable than a social network view, who knows.
posted by heresiarch at 12:38 PM on June 6, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you everyone - while I wish there was a magical program that fit my needs perfectly, at least I know that I'm not just failing to find it. I'll give Access a try, and look into Atlas.ti.

Heresiarch, thanks for the methodological cautioning - I don't want to grab the bull by the horns and find out that it's the wrong bull or the wrong horns.
posted by foodmapper at 9:16 AM on June 7, 2011

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