Tag Archives: conference

Culture Hack Scotland (#chscot) and Citizen Relay (#citizenrelay): on events and projects and communities and networks


Here are some notes on two projects I’ve recently been involved with – shame on me for not getting this onto the blog before now. On consecutive weekends I attended Culture Hack Scotland (Glasgow) and Citizen Relay training (Edinburgh).

From Culture Hack Scotland (27-28.04.2012)…

//April 27-28th//SocietyM, Glasgow//Come make stuff//#chscot

Culture Hack Scotland is a fast-paced and highly creative event that challenges designers, technologists and artists to make innovative new culture-related projects in just 24 hours.

…that about sums up the premise: get some very talented, creative folk together in an environment that breeds collaboration and experimentation, then (to some extent) let them get on with it. This is the second hack weekend in Scotland with a cultural theme, so I’d imagine the organisers were able to apply some of the lessons learned from the first running and be more ambitious. So I don’t think there was a coding workshop last time around, but charged with their inaugural success they knew they would be catering for a wider audience.


Then from Citizen Relay (06.05.2012)…

#CitizenRelay is a participatory project which relies on the involvement of people from across Scotland to effectively report on the untold local stories and creative ways that Scotland’s citizens are interacting with the Olympic Games.


…it’s another project that relies on people getting stuck in and creating work: collaboration through the kit in your pocket and the tools at your disposal. Led by staff and research students at University of the West of Scotland it taps into existing networks (through academia, etc.) in preparation for the imminent arrival of a newly applied connective tissue, soon to be sutured onto the winding roads, villages, cities and suburbs of Scotland: the Olympic torch relay is coming.


Three questions for this blog to address:

  • What did I do at these events and why?
  • What’s the bigger picture?
  • What could be the upshot… what happens to this work?


Ivory Tower Syndrome has a tendency of catching up on me from time to time: I view in awe and wonderment the folk who get on and do stuff, rather than reading, writing and talking about it. The chance to make a small contribution to these projects was too good an opportunity to pass up therefore, drawing on both some academic knowledge and expertise, as well as my former life spent working with the Edinburgh Festival Fringe (managing box offices and so on). The nature of the Fringe cycle, as with many an annual event, is of course that you get to know a lot of people very well for a few weeks or months… and then you go your separate ways. It can be a powerful way of working and often breeds an intensity of effort and a willingness to get the job done that might look out of place in a ‘regular’ job. (One without quite so many trips to the pub perhaps.)


For me one of the biggest differences between Fringe work and entering academia has been a greater degree of autonomy, matched with more personal responsibility. Collaborative processes are not always at the heart of my job, or at least I don’t perceive them to be: if I’m not ready for a class no one is going to step in and solve that problem, but within a box office you work together to build the events on your system, refer customers to your colleagues and so on. Of course there are collaborative projects in academia, but the teams tend to be smaller and there’s less overlap of skills – each person has their own expertise, it isn’t such a ‘flat’ structure.


All of which leads back to those experiences of working together in order to keep the festival moving, day after day after day, living in each others’ back pockets. Until it ends. So the project we conceived and started building at Culture Hack Scotland sought to provide an online space to maintain those links, as well as retrospectively piecing together the communities of old. Thanks to the expert design prowess of @rufflemuffin (Sarah) we pieced together an interface that would allow users of the website to add their memories to a piece of Edinburgh festivals history – maybe a festival in a particular year, perhaps a venue within that festival, a show that was performed there… ultimately even individual performances would be ripe for photos, written memories, perhaps video clips and links to other sites and contributors. It’s a way of recreating the collections of administrators, performers and audiences that made the festivals hap
pen: last year, the year before and right back to the 1940s.


I spent over a decade of summers in one bit of the festivals or another, and loved almost every minute. Back in the olden days there was no social media to link people together once they’d drifted apart, you simply didn’t know what had happened to most folk until miraculously half of you gathered together again at the allotted time to do it all over again the following year. So there’s a community aspect to it, with its attendant social capital potential, but there’s also an archival opportunity – I have a couple of degrees in social history, so that sort of thing appeals to me. Right now where can people get their online fix of Edinburgh festival history? There’ll be a few annual reports kicking about for sure, as well as a barrel load of reviews, previews and old news from the last decade or so; but further back? Not so much. We envisaged our site being populated with some curated content: pictures, listings, perhaps some documents and the like …a unified hub for this information with the scope for constant improvement, investment and development at the hands of anyone with a connection to the festivals – ‘citizen curators’ if you will.


At which point I turn to Citizen Relay, with its growing band of citizen journalists, getting tooled up to hit the streets and cover the Olympic torch relay from the host communities’ perspectives. Until the training day I wasn’t aware that the project is part of the Cultural Olympiad, so to an extent officially sanctioned to go out and deliver some Games legacy whether Scotland wants it or not. There’s less of the historical archive at the heart of this project, at least not yet – this is about real time coverage of the biggest peace time event the world will have ever seen, yet one which risks remaining out of reach for most of the UK population apart from fleeting glimpses of a torch and the mediated spectacle of the competitive action. #citizenrelay will be despatching reporters and interns to all parts of Scotland as nation speaks unto nation through the catalyst of the torch relay – it’s a great project made possible thanks to the small pieces of technology so many folk carry with them every day in their pockets and bags.


As for the upshot of all this relay coverage, there’s a particular Scottish motivation for this work because as with everything Olympic it’s just a dress rehearsal for the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games. Does that mean Glasgow and Scotland stand a better chance of delivering enduring legacies from its mega event after this learning experience? The trial run isn’t going to do it any harm that’s for sure. (Either way I’ll have had time to learn even more about what can be done with a humble smart phone.)


The Culture Hack project may well have a legacy too, beyond the bleary-eyed show and tell that ended the hack weekend. One of the contributors, Jennifer, works for Festivals Edinburgh… the perfect organisation to take this sort of idea further, give it some funding and get other partners on board. Who knows, maybe Jay (the patient programmer we worked with) will adapt it to work for mega sporting events as well as cultural celebrations.




Update: now with added logo!

Created, in the blink of an eye during Saturday lunchtime, by Dan Frydman (@danfrydman). Dan was with us in Glasgow on the Friday, then had to head back to Edinburgh. The joy of the internet meant he could keep in touch and lend his considerable talents to the project.

DREaM workshop three. (Part four of five events.)


Part four of the DREaM events took place at Edinburgh Napier’s Craighouse campus, on the same format as the previous two workshops. These three workshops have seen the cohort introduced to a wide range of research methods, suitable for an array of projects and approaches. It has been a very successful programme, which will be capped off on Monday 9 July at the British Library for the closing conference, details here.

But to the business at hand, the third workshop. Methods discussed included:
  • Horizon scanning
  • Repertory grids (from psychology)
  • Data mining

For a full review of these methods and for information on the rest of the day’s activities head to the main project site. The delegate reviews are particularly valuable, alongside the presenters’ slides.

Image: ‘Napier University Craighouse Campus’ / flickr.com/photos/hugomellon/5040041124/


Two elements of Edinburgh Napier’s annual cycle of staff and research student development are a couple of events that I’m becoming involved with: the Business School research conference and the whole-university staff conference. The research conference focuses on the work of current students, with some guest speakers and other contributors. The staff conference always has a theme, this year it’s technology. Both will take place at the Craiglockhart Campus, as illustrated above.

I would like to see the use of social media to produce a record of these events, combining the contributions of different people through a variety of media. In order to present these ideas to colleagues I put the following ideas into a couple of emails, which I’ve edited and am posting here for a wider audience.
Part one:

I’m interested in using social media and other tools to create a record of the staff conference – something engaging and reflective of the different sessions and experiences from the day. This was partly inspired by the Storify post that a friend of mine (@dgmcgillivray) put together for one of his events.

You can see that he’s used his own media, alongside tweets and other stuff from people who were there on the day. I therefore see a three part process…

Before the conference (maybe with a week to go)
Those who are signed up to the conference can be invited to attend a pre-conference workshop / seminar / symposium / chat to discuss the tools that could be used and ways of capturing the day. This could include…
  • Pictures: which can be taken with phones and cameras [uploaded to Flickr]
  • Video: captured in some of the sessions, as well as short interview, etc. [posted to YouTube]
  • Audio: more short interviews [posted to Audioboo]
  • Text: documents, write-ups, etc. [on blogs, Twitter and reports]
This chat could also decide upon a hashtag for the conference – something unique that can be used to link all of the above. I think this needs to be decided in good time so that it can (if the organisers are happy) be added to the conference literature. That way everyone who attends (and those who don’t) can use the tag in their contributions. It doesn’t matter if they come to the chat, if they knew what our hashtag is they can use it on the day.

My hope is that by having this meeting before the conference we can pull together a core team of interested people, some of whom will be familiar with all these platforms, some just a few. I hope that some people will use this as an opportunity to try something new and to share their enthusiasm for tools they like using.

On the day
Some will be charged with carrying out particular tasks – interviews and the like. Some will just send the odd tweet. Others will take some photos, or write up their day on their own blog. A mix of structured work and free-flowing conversation is great, so long as we’ve done some of the ground work to be able to bring it all together afterwards.
This is a conference about the use of technology, so let’s use some as well as talk about it!

We (I?) will have to find ways to bring this together. This could result in a Storify post, or perhaps a whole new blog with different posts for different aspects of the day. The joy of uploading this material to social media platforms (Audioboo, Flickr, etc.) is that it can then be embedded into other places – hence the use of YouTube with all its tools, which is then brought into your own work. That’s why it’s more about collating the work from various sources, rather than copying and pasting it into a new document.

That said, we’ll hopefully be able to find out how many times the hashtags get used on Twitter, etc. This is something I don’t know much about as yet, but I can ask around…

The finished product can then live online forever, available to everyone who was at the conference or wasn’t able to make it. With a comments board open people can also continue the conversation, though this may require moderation from the conference executive.

Part two:

After writing the above I had a reply asking whether attendees would come on board with it, and I agree that this might be tricky. However I don’t think we should expect everyone to engage. In my mind there would perhaps be three types of contributors:
  • Those ‘on the team’ who are deliberately setting out to capture the event.
  • Those ‘interested parties’ who come to the pre-conference meet-up to see if they can bring something to it.
  • Those ‘existing users’ who will be doing something like this anyway, but can be encouraged to add their contributions to the main body of work (through hashtags, etc.).
This is not an exact science, it’s all about experimentation and bringing your own ideas to the party. If we can plan ahead though it should be easy enough to collate and present the data after the event in an accessible and engaging way.

I shall report back on how this project continues. My hope and expectation is that there are plenty of people within the university already using social media, enough to carry an online conversation through the conferences and have something to show for it afterwards!

Image: ‘Craiglockhart Hydropathic’ / flickr.com/photos/22087304@N07/5131371927/

The Onward March.


One of the contributors to a recent In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg made the glaringly obvious point that ???clockwise??? is only so because of the sundials that preceded clocks and watches. With most of the R&D being done in the northern hemisphere, the way we read our modern timepieces owes much to the spin of the earth. Glaringly obvious if you ask me??? once someone had pointed it out.

However you choose to measure it, time marches onward. The academic year has reached Easter, an oasis of comparative calm between timetabled teaching and end of module marking that announces an academic year???s completion. With room bookings required we???ve started looking ahead to September 2012 and the arrival of new students, when the cycle will begin again with fresh faces, new ideas and a summer of events to reflect upon. Before then my attention has a chance to settle back on research, PhD matters and whether my progress is onwardly marching at a fast enough pace.

Three deadlines are looming???
  • My faculty has an annual research conference in May, at which I???ll be be presenting.
  • Following that I???ve been accepted to talk about an events studies conference in Belfast, with what I intend to be a development of the May paper.
  • These two talks will tie in nicely with my ???RD4???, which is the next hurdle put in place by my university.

The RD4 requires me to set out clear aims and objectives for my work, alongside a literature review, methodology ideas and future plans, all in five pages or fewer. I???ll be using some existing work to develop these sections, having recently completed a ???scoping??? literature review of a couple of dozen sources. This gave me a chance to test some ideas against the literature, before the planned ???systematic??? review. I???ve been playing around with the requirements of systematic reviews, to try them on for size. It???ll be interesting to see whether a formal systematic review will be appropriate to the event management literature; I haven???t seen it used before, but it???s something else to talk about in the methodology discussion.

Working within the university???s requirements and those conferences gives me some focus, but it???s also a framework on which to build supervisory meetings through the summer. I???m not sure I???ve got the hang of managing my supervisors yet, as PhD candidates are encouraged to do, but then I need to make sure I???ve made some progress to show them: onwards!

Image: ‘Sun Dial Closeup’ / flickr.com/photos/joshstaiger/20836332/

Clay Shirky at The Guardian (video)

I’ve always enjoyed Clay Shirky’s work since happening upon an article of his, or an interview perhaps, a few years ago. Some of the criticisms of his work focus on its sometimes evangelising nature, but I’m struck by the insight he brings to his work and his ability to contextualise the argument. Cultural theory, finance, statistics and a liberal democratic impulse infuse his ideas, all of which are on show in this video. It’s from the recent ‘open weekend’ hosted by The Guardian at their King’s Place offices. There’s a natural fit between Shirky’s ideas and what this organisation is trying to achieve, each legitimates the other.


The full interview, with Alan Rusbridger, is an hour long. Watching the whole thing perhaps, or see some of the highlights on the right side of the page:


Image: ‘Clay Shirky’s new book’


DREaM workshop two. (Part three of five events.)

Part three of the DREaM sequence took place in the British Library’s conference facilities on Monday 30 January – full details are here, presentation videos are here (for community members). This was the half way mark in a series of events that I’ve written about here, exploring a range of research methods with Library and Information Science scholars in mind. After a little scene-setting from Hazel Hall (@hazelh) we moved on to the speakers.

The most relevant discussion for my own research was presented by Mike Thelwall on the subject of ‘webometrics’. Mike is part of the Statistical Cybermetrics Research Group at Wolverhampton University, with much of his work based on software that is free to download (see below). Thelwall described the motivation behind this kind of work as seeking to gather and make use of some of the data being added to the web all the time, material which might be used alongside other forms of research that utilises both online and offline sources. The social web in particular could sit alongside survey data: there’s a lot of information out there and it can be quick to gather. Much will depend on the topic being studied, because those who contribute online are a self-selecting community – Twitter may be a great source of information about Twitter, but it may be representative of general opinion on other subjects.

What Thelwall and colleagues have been able to show is that data from the web, including analysis of links between websites, can reflect the degree to which different countries recognise the academic output of other nations – which parts of the world are well connected and which talk only to themselves.

Tools of the trade:
  • Socscibot: hosted on the Wolverhamption Uni site. ‘SocSciBot is a Web crawler for link analysis research. It is for link analysis on a single web site or collection of sites, or for text search/analysis on a collection of sites. It can also be used in teaching, to illustrate how link analysis and search engines work.’
  • Webometric Analyst: also hosted by Wolverhamption. ‘Webometric Analyst, formerly known as LexiURL Searcher, automatically analyses the impact of collections of documents or web sites, and creates network diagrams of collections of web sites. It automatically submits queries to search engines and process the results.’
  • Sentisoft: also at Wolverhamption. ‘SentiStrength estimates the strength of positive and negative sentiment in short texts, even for informal language. It has human-level accuracy for short social web texts in English, except political texts.’ This is about judging the strength of feeling behind a tweet, etc. Over time more rules are being added to take account of emoticons, exaggeration and new forms of language. More can be found at CyberEmotions.
  • Using some of these tools it is now possible to analyse huge amounts of data: 35 million tweets, for example. We can see which events captured the most attention, which way the sentiment fell and so on.
  • Comments on YouTube can also be tracked, to see who is commenting, whether they are related to other commenters on the same videos, which subjects capture the most attention and the most varied opinions. Is there a community, or are the commenters neither linked nor associated with each other?

Thelwall also drew attention to ‘altmetrics’, an attempt to devise and use alternative means by which to recognise academic output. By utilising the available data it is now possible to widen the evidence base when judging the ‘impact’ of a paper. Now blogs, government papers and other data sources offer to shine a light on the wider utilisation of academic research. Thelwall and others have taken this further, proposing an ‘Integrated Online Impact’ (IOI) indicator that combines searches from a variety of online sources – there’s plenty of potential to take this further.

Overall the message remains that these are new forms of data analysis and should be used with some caution. At the moment their greatest strength is perhaps in identifying and drawing attention to topics worthy of further analysis. Quite when and how other forms of research are then brought in is up to the researcher.

Peter Beresford spoke on user involvement in research, approaching the subject from a policy perspective much of the time. As such he described a dynamic relationship between action and research, with one informing the other – a pragmatic approach perhaps. An organisation that exemplifies this approach was cited in the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), specifically their INVOLVE project.

Whether within the health field or more generally, Beresford believes there is growing pressure for more user involvement, from government, funders, users themselves and those who act on their behalf. This might include greater consultation with user groups in setting up research, closer working in partnership and ultimately research which is led and controlled by users. Where might such an influence be felt: from funding choices to methods used, peer reviewing processes and the selection of projects to pursue.

Beresford was confident that this could have an emancipatory and democratising effect, giving voice to under-represented groups and ultimately granting them new levels of control over the research agenda. Where this is linked to policy interventions the impacts could be dramatic.

Questions for researchers therefore include…
  • To what extent is there a place for user-involvement?
  • Who are the ‘users’ and how might they be selected, or represented?
  • How much consultation is too much?
  • What sort of returns can be gained from this investment and are they sufficient?
  • Are the views being expressed worth taking notice of?
  • What are the costs of involving service users in your research?
  • What are the benefits: will users ultimately gain from the adoption of this approach?
  • In a given instance is it more than just box-ticking?
  • What are the i
    mplications for the REF?

When discussing policy related research, the involvement of users will necessarily add a politicised dimension to research work. Policy is about making choices, making changes and hopefully improving people’s lives – it’s not just about fact-finding. As a result there will be differences of opinion and of course contentious decisions.

So, why do it – why involve users in research? Ultimately they speak from experience: they know what they’re talking about. And yet, this goes against the positivist grain when it lacks objectivity and distance from the subject. So to not listen to the views of user groups perhaps implies that they are seen as less reliable sources of information. Such obstacles may have contributed to the length of time it has taken for some issues to gain recognition as necessary of thorough investigation, such as child abuse cases.

Beresford closed with a comment that reticence to involve users in research doesn’t ring true with real life: we regularly turn to others because of their experiences, taking their views on board, so why not when planning and carrying out research?

Thomas Haigh covered plenty of ground in his discussion on historical research and transferable techniques. The initial emphasis was on history as a study of change over time, as told through stories that we tell ourselves and others. Haigh singled out some examples of ‘bad’ history, such as that which overlooks connections between the present and the past. Likewise however the problem of ‘presentism’, whereby the past is judged by the standards of the present day – a comment here was that we shouldn’t be judging what actors from the past did, but what they thought they were doing.

An interesting balance was struck between academic approaches: the historian as craftsman, somewhat protective of their methods, as opposed to those in the social sciences who like to show their working. Haigh also drew attention to the variety of historical approaches which have their own communities and styles: social, institutional, cultural, etc. As such each type of history would prioritise a different type of question and focus. It seems however that each discipline goes through a phase where it discovers its history – a point is reached where it becomes important to some that the history of their subject is recorded, before it is lost. Thus begins a process of analysis that ultimately leads to histories written by trained historians, rather than the elder statesmen of a community.

I was also fortunate enough to talk to Alison Brettle about systematic reviews of literature. Alison is also attending all the DREaM events and in her day job works at Salford University. She has compiled this resource for her students on the uses of literature reviews, including a discussion on systematic versus traditional reviews. The reason for my interest in this is that I expect to use a systematic approach for my PhD literature review, bringing some structure and order to this element of the research in a way that rarely features in my subject area.

Overall another excellent day as part of the DREaM series. Next stop is Edinburgh again a little after Easter.

Blogs for teaching, learning and research: a personal collection

The blog is an established social media tool, emerging in the late 1990s as a way to publish online. A wide variety of organisations have developed ways to create a blog: mostly free, generally making the process easier, with greater flexible and ultimately creating more attractive finished products. Text remains very important to many blogs, though within a given blog post it is also possible to include photos, video, sound recordings, tweets and links to other sites. The basic structure for most blogs continues to work on the sequential addition of these posts – hence their popularity as diaries, or to chart the progress of a project over time. For more information on blogs head the Wikipedia entry.

This particular post is the basis of my short talk at Edinburgh Napier’s programme leaders’ symposium on Thursday 12 January – welcome if you’re sitting in front of me reading this from the screen! There are links below to posts that have been written for different purposes, some by me, that I’d like to talk about. We’ll also look at one written by students for an autumn 2011 module.

Personal blogs for a (semi)public audience

Blogs used in modules

Programme management

The flexibility of the blog format lends itself to use across our work, with many examples of excellent practice publicly available. Some blogging platforms advertise the potential to use their tools in education: Posterous, WordPress and Edublogs for example.

I look forward to your thoughts and questions, either later today or in the comments below.

Image: ‘my first lolcat – in ur blog’