Managing anonymity and confidentiality in social research: the case of visual data in Community research

Crow, Graham and Wiles, Rose (2008) Managing anonymity and confidentiality in social research: the case of visual data in Community research. NCRM Working Paper. ESRC National Centre for Research Methods. (Unpublished)



Anonymity and confidentiality of participants are central to ethical research practice in social research. Where possible, researchers aim to assure participants that every effort will be made to ensure that the data they provide can not be traced back to them in reports, presentations and other forms of dissemination. The primary method researchers use to preserve anonymity and confidentiality is the use of pseudonyms for participants and also for the location of the research. In addition, other practices, such as changing the reported characteristics of participants (such as gender or occupation) are also used by some researchers to conceal identities and thereby maintain the confidentiality of the data provided by participants. There are several issues that such practices raise. One is that it is difficult for researchers to know how far to take anonymisation of individuals in order for them not to be identifiable, given that research findings may be presented to a variety of audiences, including members of participants’ communities. A second issue is that research participants hold differing views about the desirability of anonymisation, presenting researchers with difficult choices between respecting the preferences of those participants who wish to be identifiable and those who prefer to remain anonymous. A third issue is that of whether or not to attempt the anonymisation of the location of the research, which may be adjudged more or less practical or impractical (depending on its distinctiveness) and more or less desirable (depending on its importance in providing the social context of the analysis that is being developed). This paper explores these issues by looking at how they have been handled by researchers in the field of community sociology (broadly defined) who have used visual data in their reports. This analysis allows the argument to be developed that although the issues themselves are not new, the ways in which they are handled by researchers are necessarily evolving in the context of technological change, the growth of research regulation, and shifts in the expectations of research that participants hold.

Item Type:Working Paper (NCRM Working Paper)
Uncontrolled Keywords:NCRM Publications
Subjects:4. Qualitative Data Handling and Data Analysis > 4.13 Visual Data Analysis
4. Qualitative Data Handling and Data Analysis > 4.23 Qualitative Approaches (other)
8. Research Management and Impact > 8.2 Confidentiality and Anonymity
8. Research Management and Impact > 8.3 Research Ethics
8. Research Management and Impact > 8.9 Research Management and Impact (other)
ID Code:459
Deposited By: NCRM users
Deposited On:05 Dec 2008 18:23
Last Modified:12 Oct 2010 17:39

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