Politics, Policy and Privatisation in the Everyday Experience of Big Data in the NHS

Chapter by Andrew Goffey ; Lynne Pettinger and Ewen Speed in Martin Hand , Sam Hillyard (ed.) Big Data? Qualitative Approaches to Digital Research (Studies in Qualitative Methodology, Volume 13) : “This chapter explains how fundamental organisational change in the UK National Health Service (NHS) is being effected by new practices of digitised information gathering and use. It analyses the taken-for-granted IT infrastructures that lie behind digitisation and considers the relationship between digitisation and big data.

Qualitative research methods including discourse analysis, ethnography of software and key informant interviews were used. Actor-network theories, as developed by Science and technology Studies (STS) researchers were used to inform the research questions, data gathering and analysis. The chapter focuses on the aftermath of legislation to change the organisation of the NHS.


The chapter shows the benefits of qualitative research into specific manifestations information technology. It explains how apparently ‘objective’ and ‘neutral’ quantitative data gathering and analysis is mediated by complex software practices. It considers the political power of claims that data is neutral.


The chapter provides insight into a specific case of healthcare data and. It makes explicit the role of politics and the State in digitisation and shows how STS approaches can be used to understand political and technological practice.”