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

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

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

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

I???m getting used to the idea that piecing together a PhD is likely to involve periods of thinking about all sections at once. Reading some expansive texts one day, which provide a theoretical context for ones ideas, is then followed by a day???s discussion and consideration of appropriate research methods. So it was that last week I attended the first of three workshops spanning the autumn to spring months under the DREaM banner: ???Developing Research Excellence and Methods???. At its heart this project is designed for Library and Information Science practitioners and researchers, but as one of my supervisors is a leading figure in the whole scheme I was grateful to have been notified of the events and very happy to attend.

There are three workshops, but they are bookended by two more conference-style events. There will be folk who attend every session, although special efforts have been made to treat workshop attendees as a cohort who will work together. Workshop one took place at Edinburgh Napier University, Craiglockhart Campus, on 25 October 2011.

I???m reluctant to write too much here when the whole DREaM project is deliberately placing a great deal of information online. Here, then, are some links:

DREaM home page, with background information about the project
DREaM online community, complete with video, slides and other material from the project
DREaM: event one (first conference, 19 July 2011; archived material available via the links here)
DREaM: event two (first workshop, 25 October 2011; archive material due soon…)

What I should write about however are the aspects of the day of greatest relevance to my research, which I???ll base around the three main visiting speakers that we heard from???
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???Introduction to Ethnography???
Paul Lynch, Department of Management, University of Strathclyde

  • From a researcher???s perspectives, ethnographic techniques enable observation and analysis of a vast array of potential sources. It demands an awareness of ???personal reflexivity???, reflecting on whatever the observer brings to the table in terms of experiences, prejudices and so on.
  • The study of subcultures came into Paul???s talk and I was interested to see that they may be structured around both permanent/ongoing interests (clubs, fashions, etc.) or temporary phenomenon such as events (DREaM workshop participants, perhaps). It follows, therefore, that this has relevance for my festivals based interests, perhaps as an alternative to social capital as a binding theory?
  • As for research methods, from participant observation to documentary analysis, responses to observations are prioritised: recording comments while they???re fresh, drawing on almost anything that seems relevant to the research. There???s also plenty of merit in getting stuck in, living the life of the observed and thus gain plenty of first hand insights.
  • Data issues: avoiding contaminating the data is very important??? or at worst being aware of what???s happening if this occurs. So keep a diary for thoughts and reflections, distinguish between what???s presented as a public outcome from the research and what???s held back, consider focusing on cultures which are not too far removed from the researcher???s own.
  • When writing up key distinctions and perspectives occur: detachment / involvement; subjectivity / objectivity / insider / outsider.

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???An Introduction to Social Network Analysis???
Louise Cooke, Loughborough University

  • Louise gave a very good introduction to a topic, and form of research, that I???m very interested in using. She also said that the need to perfect the maths involved is decreasing thanks to the tools now available.
  • After some definitions, about what constitutes a network and its constituent parts, we looked at some examples ??? complete with arrows to demonstrate the relationships between nodes. Those which demonstrated change over time were particularly interesting, showing how interaction over time between members of a community led to a much more complex and potentially rewarding set of relationships.
  • The ???strength of weak ties??? was drawn upon: those which help link one network to another, or provide some of Putnam???s bridging social capital perhaps. See Mark Granovetter (1973) for more on this.
  • Four key social network theories were discussed:
    • Small world phenomenon: akin to ???six degrees of separation???.
    • Strength of weak ties: from Granovetter.
    • Embeddedness: whereby a social network might be embedded in an organisation, yet not in a way that reflects the formal structure of the organisation.
    • Social capital: improve the network and you can improve the group???s effectiveness, building social capital; the particular conception of social capital being to be used is likely to be affected by the particular case you???re studying.
  • Within the conceptual discussions, some core concepts:
    • Directed and undirected network: with or without arrows.
    • Density and centrality: such as the proportion of possible ties that have actually been formed; then the centrality of a particular node in the overall network.
  • To some extent social network analysis was presented as a starting point: it can reveal relationships, but not necessarily say much about them, so more work is needed. This works well for me as I???m interested in change over time, over the course of a festival or event ??? further analysis can try to get the root of the changes that have been identified.
    • If problems are identified, what???s causing them?
    • Can SNA identify particularly effective communicators, or potential information bottlenecks?
  • As for gathering the data, online surveys were recommended, providing a nice spreadsheet for instant interrogation. That said, much data already exists, through emails, social media, group memberships and the like.
  • Software: UCINET was recommended as worthy of a look ??? it does much of the maths and it draws you some nice graphics.
    • There???s a free guide to SNA which uses UCINET, see Robert Hanneman at University of California.

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???Introduction to Discourse Analysis???
Andy McKinlay, University of Edinburgh

  • Andy covered a lot of ground in his talk, which was somewhat truncated thanks to the extensive lunch: social networking in action.
  • He brought us back to thinking through the reasons for carrying out particular research, identifying four methods for devising research questions ??? each of which can spur considerations, thoughts, ideas for further investigation:
    • Obervation
    • Theory
    • Contingency
    • Communication
  • It was also apparent from Andy???s quick review of the Library and Information Science literature that a wide variety of topics and themes are covered within each field.
  • Discourse analysis: rich data from the media, documentary sources and primary research from the investigator. If it needs transcribing, do it.
    • To a large degree the discussion led on topics that are familiar to undergraduate dissertation research: carrying out interviews, focus groups and the like to gather data.
    • The use of ???convenience??? sampling, rather than ???randomised???, is another familiar approach.
  • Characteristics of the discourse were identified??? it may be…
    • Contextual
    • Rhetorical
    • Action-oriented
    • Constructed
    • Constructive
    • ???Andy???s slides go into depth on each of these.
  • Discourse analysis is therefore a means by which to identify and analyse what people say and some of the meanings behind it: why are they saying what they???re saying?
  • The qualitative approach helps retain more depth to the data, it gives it a voice in the research.

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The workshop concluded with a discussion on research ethics, which clearly has considerable implications for the research methods listed above. This might be the decision to carry out covert ethnographic research, or the apparent need to know a lot about people in order to put together meaningful social network analyses.

I???m looking forward to the next workshop, which will be at the British Library in January. The topics covered will again be methods-focused, which is entirely appropriate as I put together the conceptual basis for my research ideas. The range of methods available, and their relative flexibility, should make for plenty of opportunities to carry out some innovative research in an dynamic field of the festival industry: engaging audiences and contributors for their benefit of all.