Tag Archives: phd

#enubs12 Day 1: Edinburgh Napier University Business School Research Conference 2012




A few days ago I wrote about some of the differences between working in academia and my previous gainful employment with the Edinburgh Festival Fringe – I’ll continue the reflective theme to kick off this post.


Given my position at Edinburgh Napier a couple of years ago (relatively new to teaching but generally settled as a lecturer and programme leader) I was beginning to catch on that what universities hanker for is a solid research portfolio. In order to fit in with this I was going to have to build up that aspect of my contribution to the institution, regardless of the number of modules I might teach (home and abroad) or the volume of students on one of my programmes (up to 300-350 in recent years). The PhD is therefore a way for me to structure my research efforts, a focus for the sort of topics and themes I’m interested in and ultimately I hope to ‘get something out of it myself’.


The opening to this year’s Business School Research Conference provided some context for this as we heard from the university’s new Vice Principal Academic and the Dean of the faculty. Between them they talked up the importance of research, with its links to the reputation, teaching, income and identity of the institution – this element of our work is therefore intrinsic to our status as a university. I wouldn’t argue against that, particularly as we then heard from Prof Alan Fyall of Bournemouth University, discussing the roles they play within the local economy. The benefits of having a clear contribution to make to the interests of partners and stakeholders were clear, facilitating access to key people and resources, lending authenticity and value to shared projects, and helping to contextualise local efforts in the bigger picture. Alan’s talk captured some of the goals I work towards in my teaching, demonstrating that contemporary forces and structures affect the decisions of those in industry, universities and other partners: it’s vital that students and staff recognise and can interpret the environment they’re operating within. In Bournemouth, England, this means contributing to ‘Local Enterprise Partnerships’ among other things; in Edinburgh, Scotland, it will increasingly mean following the independence debates and what this will mean for the city’s access to public resources, entrepreneurial opportunities and renewed connections to the rest of the UK and the wider world.



The conference continued with a wider range of excellent student presentations, demonstrating the wealth of talent and energy within the faculty. There was a fairly consistent theme of ‘community’ across some of the work: events and collective memory; virtual communities and customer relationship management; the ability of sporting mega events to cure the ills of host communities; and my own ideas around festivals, communities of interest and social media. The speakers developed their ideas by questioning whether those in positions of relative power understood the needs of those they are working with, with implications for the level of buy-in from that community. Likewise is the community in question brought into the discussion at an early enough stage: the benefits of co-creation can easily be undermined or compromised if the ‘co’ element is too much of an afterthought, or if views are not listened to. These presentations also brought home to me the relative lack of reading that I’ve done, no matter how much talking, discussing and thinking might have taken place! It was interesting to hear from a DBA student looking into social media and CRM that there is far more industry literature available in this area than there is academic. From my own work I would agree that there is still a relative dirth of material on social media, which to bring this post full circle suggests that an academic researcher must keep in touch with the industry to which her or his work is partially addressed.



The first day of the conference rounded off with some wine, nibbles and broken legs in the Chapel, as you do. Spread over an hour or so we were treated to four ‘20×20’ presentations, which variously looked at the life of a graduate teaching assistant, research while incapacitated (the broken leg), my research ideas and a grand tour through a range of research vegetables (you’ve heard of the research onion, now meet the carrot and the tomato). This idea started as something that the organising committee let me run with, but with others on board it seemed to work and I hope its gets repeated.



[[posterous-content:pid___0]]Top image: ‘Community for the 21st Century’ / flickr.com/photos/choconancy/5613817067/
Bottom image: my own! (Taken ahead of the 20×20 event.)



Seeking a little focus for my research


There come points in every PhD when the intrepid researcher has to account for what they’ve been doing. Fair enough I say, we can’t spend our time reading and pondering and reading some more in isolation – that would just reinforce the stereotype… wouldn’t you say? So it is that my institution provided a couple of opportunities for me to do so last week: I’ll post something about our faculty research conference soon, what follows is about my ‘RD4′, where we sit down and try to work out whether my research ideas have some merit. It’s May 2012, so I’ve had eight months to reach this stage (though I can’t help thinking I’ve only managed about ten weeks’ productive PhD work in that time).


At the heart of the proposal is the main research aim, which at the moment looks like this:


‘To use social network analysis to examine communities of interest around cultural festivals, evaluating online and offline connections and their influence on social capital and power in these community networks.’


What do you think? Too vague, broad, ambitious, outdated and missing the point? Will it be relevant in five years time? Where should it be positioned in the theoretical literature?


It needs focus, to be tightened up and made more manageable. The ‘and offline’ could be dropped, bringing the focus firmly onto the online. Perhaps ‘social network analysis’ and ‘social capital and power’ aren’t necessary either, but they point to both methodology and theory: which methods am I interested in using and which areas of cultural festival communities do I think are impacted/augmented by these online connections (social media and so on)? The question then becomes are they the right approaches and concepts to be thinking about?

  • Social network analysis: I think this is appropriate and should stay. I like what I’ve read about social networks and I think it fits as a proposed methodology with its own theoretical literature.
  • Social capital: again this is something I’m interested in and there’s a growing literature linking these ideas to festivals and events. I think it deserves to feature in the main aim in order to keep it front and centre throughout the research.
  • Power: I’m less sure about this one, although perhaps it’s impossible to consider social networks without some reference to (im)balances of power. I’m also proposing a critical realist research philosophy, which has an emancipatory motivation. Consideration of power could facilitate this, recognising that not everyone in a community network has equal influence.

The aim could therefore be seen to follow this construction:

  • Methodology: social network analysis
  • Focus: communities of interest
  • Context: cultural festivals
  • Data: online connections
  • Theory: social capital, power


These themes have all featured in the work I’ve done to this point, from the original proposal to the scoping literature review and deliberations on how best to proceed with a systematic review of the literature. That all suggests consistency, but via an ongoing and iterative process involving a range of people.


To go with the aim are a series of objectives, which I’ve written to reflect the structure of the overall thesis. That has resulted in a different objective for each chapter, more or less, drawing attention to the idea of a ‘systematic review’ of the literature, and a possible three tiered approach to the primary research. The systematic review would take a relatively positivistic approach to the literature, demanding that the process follows specific methods and that it is carefully documented. A three tiered approach would facilitate research into the experiences of individuals; as well as the impacts on specified festivals; ultimately then the situation across a whole festival city economy. This is about three PhD’s worth of work, so another round of focusing beckons sometime in the future!



Image: ‘Focus’ / flickr.com/photos/ihtatho/627226315/


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’