Slides – Free and Open Source QDAS: You have nothing to lose but your licence fees!



Here are the slides from my seminar on why proprietary software is hindering innovation in qualitative analysis and using the design philosophy of PythiaQDA to illustrate the revolutionary potential of free software as an alternative. Basically, the seminar was an excuse for me to bring together some of my favourite topics – qualitative research, free software, Marxism, the horrors of NVivo, and my plans for PythiaQDA.

The seminar is part of a series hosted by Qualitative Research at Glasgow who promote the “interdisciplinary use of qualitative methods in research and teaching”.


Qualitative data analysis software (QDAS) has the potential to revolutionise the array of analysis techniques and the scale of qualitative research. Yet, QDAS has largely failed to facilitate methodological innovation and its status and acceptance within qualitative research remains uneven. Historically, the QDAS literature was critical of software, essentialising design problems as inherent limitations. More recent contributions have challenged this, but shifted blame to poor training and user resistance. This paper makes an alternative critique by bringing together Marx’s theory of alienation and the case for free software. It sees significant limitations in extant QDAS, but views these as a product of the proprietary model they are based on. A model that centralises the means of analysis in the hands of a few private companies, locks data behind proprietary file formats, and forces researchers to adapt their analysis to the limited tools provided. By undermining community and frustrating analysis, it alienates researchers from their data, each other, and themselves. Free software restores power to communities through enshrining the freedom to use, study, share, and modify the software for any purpose. The design philosophy of PythiaQDA, a free and open source QDAS in (very) early development, will be used to illustrate the revolutionary potential of these freedoms. PythiaQDA’s vision of the future of qualitative analysis is one where everyone can access the means of analysis, modify the software to create new methodologies, work seamlessly with existing open source quantitative software, and share their analysis and findings in new creative ways.

Edit: As noted at the seminar it’ll be some time yet until PythiaQDA is ready for real-world use. Alternative open source QDAS includes RQDA, Taguette, and QualCoder. I mentioned at the seminar that you can convert NVivo project files using BarraQDA’s NVivo Tools into a format that can be read by RQDA. Taguette supports the REFI-QDA standard so should be able to import most text based information. QualCoder has added a feature to import RQDA projects but if you’re comfortable with Python you should also be able to modify BarraQDA’s NVivo Tools to convert NVivo project files into ones QualCoder can read.


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