For most scholars, what we choose to research is largely determined by personal interest and a desire to produce new knowledge that will meaningfully contribute to the advancement of our chosen field of study. For those of us who do work in the areas of criminology and socio-legal studies, this pursuit of knowledge often requires that we gain access to public officials, state institutions, or government documents to collect necessary data. Regardless of whether we engage in quantitative or qualitative research, the findings we produce are highly dependent upon the information we are able to gather. Access therefore emerges as a key topic for researchers, raising important methodological concerns as well as broader political questions regarding the availability of information in liberal democracies.
However, although gaining access to data is a crucial step in the research process, it is one that seems to garner little scholarly attention within criminological and socio-legal circles. Indeed, although there are a countless number of textbooks on the market (many of which are used every year as required reading in undergraduate and graduate research methods classes) that discuss the various ways researchers can go about collecting and analysing data, very little is said about the processes involved in negotiating entry with the gate-keepers of these data. Much of what is discussed in most methods text-books and classrooms is often limited to questions of ethics and the moral duties and obligations of researchers to their participants, rather than critical considerations related to the actual practice of gaining access.