Central Questions of Anonymization: A Case Study of Secondary Use of Qualitative Data
Anonymization—the removal of identifying information from data—is one way of preparing data for secondary use. This process has not received much attention from scholars, but close examination shows that it is full of methodological, ethical and theoretical tensions. Qualitative research focuses on how people live and act in very particular, situated contexts. Removing identifying information also, inevitably, removes contextual information that has potential value to the researcher. We propose to present a case study of working with anonymized data on the research project, Knowledge Utilization and Policy Implementation, a five-year program funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. This project involves the secondary use of qualitative data sets from multiple separate research projects across Canada. Based on this case study, we provide useful recommendations that address some of the central questions of anonymization and consider the strengths and weaknesses of the anonymization process.
ethical practice; collaborative research; confidentiality; privacy