Rummaging through data: exploring secondary analysis

Rummaging through data: exploring secondary analysis

Secondary analysis is widely used to inform research and social knowledge that may in turn, influence policy decisions. There are large amounts of high-quality data available for free or at a nominal cost. Researchers who use this method can produce research of significance with modest funds.

Despite the obvious benefits, there are a range of concerns about the validity and precision of secondary analyses.

The potential contribution of secondary analysis to policy and the concerns regarding this form of social knowledge, makes 'secondary analysis' an important focus of research.

This project is expected to be completed in February 2014.

Research objective

This study will attempt to answer some of the concerns around secondary analysis, using theoretical resources from science and technology studies.

The two major concerns around secondary analysis are:

  • the nature, boundaries, complexities, affordances and limitations of secondary analysis of large-scale, numeric and international comparative data sets
  • how secondary analyses of international comparative data inform and shape national policies, and how their use might be impacting national policy imaginations.

These are very broad questions which have to be investigated empirically and on a case by case basis.


This project will focus on the secondary analysis of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) data set, and its use and usefulness in informing national policy. Three case studies will be examined – education policy in the US, New Zealand and Australia.

The project aims to:

  • understand how the PISA database is currently being utilised by analysing published papers of secondary analyses of PISA
  • interview measurement experts and policy makers in the US, New Zealand and Australia on the ways in which secondary analysis can influence education policy.

Project team


This study was awarded funding ($26,451) by the Victoria University Researcher Development Grant through a competitive grant application process.


The project is expected to result in several journal articles and presentations.

Preliminary results of the mapping of secondary analysis of PISA are being presented at the European Council for Educational Research (ECER) annual conference in September 2013.


For further information contact:

Dr Radhika Gorur, Research Fellow
Phone: + 61 3 9919 9124
Email: [email protected]