Tuesday, 30 December 2008


I'm using Miles & Huberman to find ideas that will help analysis such as a matrix analysing role against the three dimensions of social capital to see which dimensions appear in the interview data against each role.

Another couple of ideas I'm using from Miles and Huberman are the
  • data accounting sheet
  • codes, listed all on one page.
It will probably help when I can use Nvivo to code, instead of the various colours that I'm using on the transcripts, like pink for relationships, purple for cognitive, and green for structure.

It's a bit slow but sometimes a simple thought stimulates a lot of analysis, it's just finding the right thought.

Miles MB, Huberman AM. 1994. Qualitative data analysis : An expanded sourcebook. Sage Publications: Thousand Oaks.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008


A rolling synopsis of your thesis is something you should write in your first year, advised Dunleavy. My brother swapping Christmas presents gave me the book as a 'mitbringsel' [1] last week, and it is indeed a good read. However, it is also scary. For instance in chapter three, Dunleavy says you should write a rolling thesis synopsis of three or four pages, and that you do this in your first year onwards. That's what's scary because I hadn't even thought of that and my supervisors hadn't mentioned it and I haven't done it - hadn't. I have now. I had to think about it for some days, but supervisor #2's advice to write up my case studies with my research questions in mind gives me a structure:
  • Chapter 1 about consultancy and the public sector
  • Chapter 2 the conceptualisation of engagement in the literature
  • Chapters 3-7 address each of my research question in turn
  • Chapter 8 conclusions
Now I just need to put together the 80,000 words to answer my research questions, and collect the data and analyse it.

[1] A mitbringsel is a small present for no particular reason but that you bring with you when you visit someone.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Christmas eve at the office

It's quiet with only a few students in, and (almost) fewer academics, but the support staff are here. We had a Christmas quiz in the canteen with questions set by our ex-research director, wearing his Moroccan fez, which was a clue to one of the questions:

Where was the first university?
  1. Egypt
  2. Iran
  3. Morocco
Most people were leaving by three o'clock. One of my fellow students is coming back to spend Christmas with us. We left around lunch time.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Project management & social capital

Found an interesting workshop last week - too late. It was a workshop on IT project management, and some of the papers looked useful, especially the one on social capital in IT project management by Randolph and Petter.

Friday, 19 December 2008


It's interesting to see that the Home Office is recognising the efforts of staff and suppliers who drive value by offering awards. See here. One category is of collaborative working with the Home Office. I'd like to see the entrants for that, but another category is for contribution to a project or programme and that might be closer to my research interests.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Transcription nearly done

I think I've got nearly the transcription done. I've finished all of one project and most of the other. I want to finish it before Christmas while I've got a comfortable and warm office desk to type at. Then I'll use my big old Edwardian bank desk at home to scribble analysis notes at while the office is closed.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008


A student has submitted his final thesis and waiting for his viva, next March, which is horridly far off. So he's got to keep his research in mind for six months, waiting for the examination. He spoke to us about his experiences getting this far, and gave us some advice:
  • warn your supervisors when you're going to submit
  • get your examiners sorted out early
  • read Dunleavy's book "Authoring a PhD"
This book, he says, is worth £100 because it radically helped him to sort out his ideas when he had a mass of data and wondered what to do with it. So I tried to put it on my wish list, but Amazon tells me it's already there. I think someone might have got it for me for Christmas. :)

Dunleavy P. 2003. Authoring a phd : How to plan, draft, write and finish a doctoral thesis or dissertation. Palgrave Macmillan: Basingstoke ; New York.

Sunday, 14 December 2008


I could get someone else to do the transcription for me, but doing it myself brings some of the themes to mind. I'm finding trust and commitment and team work keep coming up. And if people have worked together they trust each other quicker and teams gel.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Supervision after data collection

I emailed a short description to supervisors before yesterday's meeting, just to give them an idea of the projects that I'd had access to.
  • One supervisor hadn't been reading my emails and was a bit surprised at my progress.
  • One supervisor was really helpful on answering my question about how to write this up by tabulating and using my research questions as headings and sub headings.
But it's early days yet and I have another year and forty weeks for things to go wrong.

Monday, 8 December 2008


You'd think that with this gap in my blogging that I wasn't working, but I'm transcribing. I've got several hours of interviews from more than one project, so have heaps of work, just transcribing. I haven't started the analysis yet.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008


Now for the technical bit. How do you capitalize titles or stop them from capitalizing?

  • Open Endnote.
  • Go to Edit and in the drop down list find Output styles - see the figure
  • Pick a style - I've chosen Academy Management J
  • Click on Edit - it's highlighted in the figure
  • That will open a new window with information about this style. Go down the information on the left hand style and highlight Bibliography. That opens a different window on the right hand side with three radio buttons that allow you to choose what sort of capitalization you want. Select your choice.
  • Baboom! You've done it.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Transfer of knowledge

It's been bugging me - how does transfer of knowledge link with social capital?

One of our first year PhDs had a problem with Endnote. If you import a reference and it comes with capitals, then how can you automatically change it so in your references it isn't capitals? He came to ask me as one of the second years in the room. (This is an open plan office with desks for around 30 people, around 15-16 of whom are students and the rest are academics.) I knew it had to be something with the template but didn't know what, so I faffed about a bit, looking on templates that did and didn't change the CAPITALISATION but then went back to what I was doing.

First year student returned an hour later having worked out how to do it and told me.

So there's a transfer of knowledge - in one minute I knew, and so did the third year student who over heard. There's value from knowing and being in the same room as that first year and we saved two more hours of two other students searching independently. Why did he come and ask? Probably because he knew in the first place that other students are approachable, because the room lends itself to moving around casually and asking, because he suspected I might already know, which he could guess from already having chatted over coffee. See coffee video - he's often at coffee with us. So sharing coffee builds social capital and shares learning.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Rushed apologies

All at lunch time today!

Preceded by
  • Public meeting where interesting people are
  • NVivo training course
  • Student to student presentation on organisational fit with cake from our director
I can choose two of these six events to attend. I need to go on the NVivo course. I'd love to go to the student2student session and get people to borrow my new video camera and film us. But I'm signed up and committed to the lunch time seminar and I'd planned to go to the public meeting two months ago. I've sent my apologies. Maybe someone else will take a photo.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Collecting data

My head's spinning with data I've been collecting from a couple of projects. I've got loads of transcribing to do so will take ages before I get to analysis. But I'll jot down immediate impressions for supervisors and myself. Later, I think I'll use the Nahapiet and Ghoshal paper to identify initial codings, because first impressions suggest existence of various dimensions of social capital.

Nahapiet J, Ghoshal S. 1998. Social capital, intellectual capital, and the organizational advantage. Academy of Management Review 23(2): 242-266.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Career development workshop

It seems a tad late in my life for anyone to give me career advice - I don't remember getting it at school, or college, or though my OU studies. Nevertheless, it is now the thing to do, and I duly signed up for a career development workshop.

The most interesting and useful thing I think I've learned as that I need to rewrite my CV for an academic application. I've been writing it for AL posts, and keeping to one page, but apparently if I apply for research posts I should be using a couple of pages and putting my education and qualifications near the top, whereas it had seemed to me, that you should put your work experience near the top, and education wouldn't be so relevant later on in life.

I've got the chance to rewrite and get feedback on it. I'll do that and see what the trainer suggests.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Videoing coffee

Here's a video that a colleague and I made of students sharing coffee time.

I got myself this tiny little video camera for £79, (flip video) so this is a first experiment. I meant to splice this film together with another of hands and coffee cups, but haven't worked out how to do and upload it. I can upload, and I can mix the two movies, but I can't create a mix that I can upload.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Axelrod on engaging with clients

How should a consultant engage with clients?

Axelrod says through
  • widening the circle of involvement
  • connecting people to each other
  • create communities for action
  • embracing democratic principles
I shall look for these activities in my research. But will it be the consultants or the clients who do these?

His advice to create communities is interesting because it suggests the communities of practice that Wenger writes about.

Axelrod, R. H. (2001) Terms of engagement: changing the way we change organizations, Berrett-Koehler, San Francisco. 936
Wenger, E. Communities of Practice: a brief introduction. Available from: http://www.ewenger.com/theory/communities_of_practice_intro_WRD.doc from http://www.ewenger.com/theory/ [Accessed 8/08/ 2008].

Monday, 17 November 2008

Knowledge and communities of practice

Wenger writing on knowledge transfer and communities of practice, argues CoP are “cornerstones of knowledge management" and suggests that there are three characteristics to communities of practice: domains, communities and practice. The combination of characteristics allows communities of practice to manage knowledge. It is their combination that enables CoP to manage knowledge.
He relates these domains to strategy.
  • domain - you need knowledge to do what you want
  • communities - you need people to have knowledge
  • practice - you need experience to produce usable knowledge & what have we learned?
It seems to me that there is some overlap of these characteristics with the Nahapiet and Ghosal dimensions of social capital (structural, cognitive & relational), and Wenger’s description of these characteristics in relation to knowledge has given me other angles on questions to ask in interview.

Nahapiet, J. and Ghoshal, S. (1998) 'Social capital, intellectual capital, and the organizational advantage', Academy of Management Review, 23 (2), pp. 242-266. 842
Wenger, E. (2004) 'Knowledge management as a doughnut: Shaping your knowledge strategy through communities of practice', Ivey Business Journal, 68 (3), pp. 1-8. 1051

Friday, 14 November 2008

Huxham & collaboration

Chris Huxham has written loads of stuff on collaboration. Collaboration is voluntary cooperation between organisations, so I'm not clear how much of it relates to organisations that have a business relationship like that with consultants. Is that collaboration?

In the public sector, there's the need to manage relationships between organisations such as suppliers and consultants involved in delivering, for example, advice and IT software or hardware or both. Huxham (1993a) calls that capacity and readiness to collaborate "collaborative capability". There are lots of conditions that facilitate collaboration (Huxham 1993b) such as participants sharing commons sense of mission, strategy, set of values. They also have to share power and decisions and resources as well as agree values of collaboration. I wonder if that's where consultants and clients might not agree - value of collaboration.

And I still wonder how collaboration works with social capital and how it increases intellectual capital.

Huxham, C. (1993a) 'Collaborative Capability: An Intraorganizational Perspective on Collaborative Advantage', Public Money & Management, 13 (3), pp. 21-28. 1043
Huxham, C. (1993b) 'Pursuing Collaborative Advantage', Journal of the Operational Research Society, 44 (6), pp. 599-611. 838

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Student to student presentation

Knowledge transfer - what is it? HaiYan has been researching this in Chinese mergers and acquisitions, and been in the OUBS for a year on loan from Peking University. She presented some of her work to us this morning. First she defined knowledge transfer (Cutler 1989) then explained some models such as
  • Shannons
  • Szulanski 1996
  • Jeffrey & Teng 2003 and Grant 1996
From these models she's taken 5 elements to create the factors she will use for her analysis. She told us about her literature review on knowledge transfer in mergers and acquisitions, then explained her strategy.

Who came?
We had a good turn out with three students from each of the first, second and third year PhDs plus a fourth year and an MRes student.

Some of us know about knowledge transfer, some of us are researching M&A and some of us are more experienced with statistics. So HaiYan was able to take away some of our thoughts and advice. For example, how to layout some of the questions on her survey, or who to contact in the OU on statistics.

And we finished with a scrumptious leaving cake for her.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

First year here

What would new students need to know?
  • Where's our desk? Where do the other students sit? Most of us are together but there are others on another floor with the real academics.
  • Who's in charge? It used to be the tartar of a secretary and then the director, but the secretary has moved on to better things. We miss her because she used to be the one who told us where to find things, how to get things done, and when to get our assignments or reports in.
  • Where do we go for the B852 seminars?
  • Are there tea making facilities?
  • Can we photocopy? Where? In colour? And how do we get a printer from our desktops?
  • There's a shower! - Where?
  • How do I claim expenses?
  • How do I get my access badge? I need it for library access and to access the bike shed.
  • How do I post stuff?
  • What's the browsery?
Answers to these and other as yet unthought of questions are coming in the video we are making as part of the participatory video workshops.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008


An anecdote is a short story. I like those and find myself telling them, because they usually illustrate a point I want to make. Where have I found this?
Anecdote: The difference between a sound argument and a good story
Perhaps it was on the web site of the company called Anecdote See http://www.anecdote.com.au/index.php [1], which is an Australian based organisation that seems to specialise in story telling for business reasons. Their front page seems to relate to collaboration and for that reason I want to investigate them a bit more. But also I like the technique of storytelling and I have to think of some way of narrating the findings from my case studies.

I can't get the link to work - it gives me a 406 message saying that the link is not acceptable. Sorry.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Free writing

I'm always writing blocked - anything seems more important, but there's a fun blog at One Minute Writer that gets at least a minute's worth of writing out of you - perhaps a better transition activity (what you do between doing things that you should be doing) than jigzone or playing cards.

However, as I wrote a month ago I need to write as inquiry so I need a load of prompts that are relevant to what I'm researching, like:
  • engagement,
  • knowledge management,
  • Foucauldian analyses,
  • trust,
  • power
  • transaction costs,
  • collaboration.
  • social capital
  • communities of practice
  • intellectual capital
But I don't have relevant prompts that are also easy to write freely about.

Transition activity: what you do between doing things that you should be doing

Saturday, 8 November 2008

PhD comics lecture

Poking fun at a PhD student's life is what PhD Comics is about, so I'd have liked to attend the Comics lecture at Oxford. It was the same time as they were voting in USA for Obama, so this is the artist's take on the Oxford experience. I like it because it is so true.

Friday, 7 November 2008


I've been offered access. Hurrah!

Thursday, 6 November 2008

The disposition effect in the Chinese stock market

We OUBS students do these seminars for each other. Presenting to each other has benefits:
  • it's friendly so less scary than for real
  • your colleagues might give you some good ideas on how to develop your research
  • it's one of the PhD skills you have to have (E3: Constructively defend research outcomes at seminars and viva examination - see joint skills statement)
  • it's good practice
  • it builds up the student community
Today one of our first year student's presented on
The disposition effect in the Chinese stock market.
Each PhD student has a web page, but she hasn't got hers yet, so I'll try to write up something of what I think she said.

Aim: find out how demographic factors influence individual investors disposition effect in China.
Research questions: there were three; the first two are about what the effect is and the third is about the reasons for that effect.
Methodology: Odean's model (1998) on the disposition effect can be measured by PGR- PLR (proportion of gains realised and the proportion of losses realised.

She's going to use quantitative data from a survey of 10,000 to answer the first questions, using factor analysis, and also qualitative data to address the reasons why. She'll use thematic analysis like Braun and Clarke (2006).

We asked her questions about her theoretical framework, about comparison with the western world and why she was using both quantitative and qualitative. We asked her who the research would be useful to. One student suggested a variation to her survey that would simplify and perhaps reduce her qualitative work.

Monday, 3 November 2008


This is such an insecure activity – looking for access.

The ethics committee told me to create an information sheet, which I’ve done, and my supervisors weren’t interested immediately but now have commented that they wouldn’t have written it like this, so I’ve got amendments to make. and my supervisors say that they’d write the email differently and so on.

I'm finding complying with the OU ethics committee on one hand and the need to get access on the other sometimes incompatible. On the one hand, I find example information sheets that cover everything, but on the other hand, such sheets might
  1. scare off potential participants
  2. be too simplistic for the intelligent business people that I hope to speak to.
For example, my supervisor found the wording that
"researchers are not allowed to persuade people to participate"
'rather bizarre'. And I agree. Why shouldn't I try to get people to participate? In the long run, the research should benefit more than just me.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Six Characters

What's reality? What exists and how can we tell the story of what exists? Can we tell a story truthfully?

That's problem is at the heart of Pirandello's play "Six Characters in search of an Author" now at the Gielgud Theatre.

The six characters have developed a life of their own, and have a story that they insist on telling. But this is a play within a play, because the six characters interrupt a rehearsal of a film documentary on assisted suicide in Denmark.

Each of the six characters wants to give his or her version of the reality that happened to them, in their life. Each has a different take on their lives together. Each constructs the same story according his/her own perception and personality.
  • The Father - guilt ridden
  • The Step-daughter - haughty, sexy
  • The Mother - distraught, weak and weepy
  • The Son - arrogant, distant
  • The silent Girl and Boy - why are they silent?
Then the actors attempt to reconstruct their story, putting a different angle to it. And here is yet another production of this play, with a different take from the one that Pirandello first produced - I think he might have liked this one.

Why am I so interested?

Because the problem of reality haunts me; it comes up in the way I approach and write up my research. Because this is a post-modern view:
  • of a world made up of people by people,
  • knowledge constructed through six characters, and reconstructed through producer and actors,
  • multiple knowledges: six characters and six knowledges,
  • knowledge contingent on time (now, in London or early twentieth century Sicily?)
  • knowledge that is not objective - who can be objective about assisted suicide
This play is so relevant to my philosophy.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Social network analysis

I thought earlier that if social capital lead to increased intellectual capital through relationships then analysing the relationships might be useful. But ...

I could see network analysis was going to be difficult. If I talk with half a dozen people per project in order to elicit their social capital in terms of structure, shared concepts and relationships, that gives me qualitative data to address a qualitative research question, but not quantitative data, which is what social network analysis uses.

I could ask questions like:
  • Who do you go to for information?
  • How frequent is the contact?
  • Is this formal or informal contact?
  • What type of contact is this? F2F, email, Facebook, phone, what?
So long as I ask everyone the same questions, I can use the replies to build a graph of the relationships. It allows me to build a picture so I can see who connects with most people. But it's a quantitative approach; it requires graph theory for the maths, (programs like UCInet analyse the data) and large numbers in order to produce useful information. So it can't be an approach that fits in with my constructionist philosophy.

And to do the analysis I need to have the whole network with a definable way of putting a boundary round it. That gives me a problem of the betweext and between, liminal spaces, that Sturdy writes about in "Guess who's coming to dinner". I might have a formal network of people within a project, but other sources of social capital might be who the consultant and client introduce each other to over a dinner party. So I dont' have a definable boundary.

Now, I've been warned to steer clear of the link between social capital and social network analysis. It is unclear what social capital is - is there an agreed definition? so using SNA, which assumes something is real enough to be measured, doesn't logically follow from an investigation into social capital. However, what might be useful is Granovetter's work on weak ties. So I'm off to read Granovetter.

Granovetter, M. S. (1973) 'The Strength of Weak Ties', The American Journal of Sociology, 78 (6), pp. 1360-1380. 1036
Sturdy, A., Schwarz, M. and Spicer, A. (2006) 'Guess who's coming to dinner? Structures and uses of liminality in strategic management consultancy', Human Relations, 59 (7), pp. 929-960. 900

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

ERP lifecycles

Which project life cycle model should I use? That depends on what projects I get data on and at what stage or phase of a project my informants are. So I wrote something basic about project life cycles for supervisors. That brought a comment on a preference for Markus and Tanis' model. It took a while to find the paper meant, because it's a chapter in a book edited by Zmud. but it's a very interesting book on IT management.

The model is particular to enterprise resource management (ERP) and worth my while being aware of it in case I end up in an organisation that is using ERP. I need to know how it compares to other IT project life cycles, but it's not the only model.

Zmud, R. W. (2000) Framing the domains of IT management : protecting the future ... ... through the past, Pinnaflex Educational Resources, Cincinnati, Ohio. 1034

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Question bank

The ESRC provides access to a question bank. I’m looking for techniques that will elicit social networks in a semi structured interview. The ESRC link is a mine of survey information and an excellent resource – for someone else.

It’s for structured surveys, not my approach.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Participatory video competition

Participative video is where you give the cameras to the participants, show them how to do it, and send them off to create. The OU technology department provides a series of seminars, run by Chris High, to practise, plan and design videos. The sessions are fun, and at the end of the year there's a competition. This year there were three entrants, and the winner might yet appear on YouTube.

There's an example at the Candace web site researching the usefulness of a chocolate teapot. Scroll down. It is also on YouTube here.

Unlike the competition entries I'm glad to say, there's no swearing. All three competition entries used the f* word, as if it were normal conversation. I can only forgive it because the students were not native English speakers, and must have been listening to too much post-nine o'clock television. But I do wish someone would point out how offensive it is.

I've a colleague who is researching pre-teenage boys and is thinking of getting them to video themselves. I bet that will go down well because they'll enjoy playing with the toys.

But I don't think it'll work for my research because
  • some people don't like being recorded
  • public servants are shy or scared of evidence that could be against them
  • consultants would want anonymity too
  • PV doesn't seem useful to my research
PV might work in action research, if I were participating in a consultancy project where using PV might help to demonstrate and develop relationships.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Collaborative software development & social networks

Dr Daniela Damian gave a rushed seminar today on her research that used social network analysis to study collaboration on software development projects within global software teams. They had access to text data so had a record of all the communication between members of teams, which enabled them to analyse between members.

My research requires analysis across teams, both the software team and the client-management team. I don't know what access I'll get to IT projects, but not all IT projects concentrate on software development, so Damian's work is only a bit relevant. But it is relevant.

They asked
  1. what the information flow patterns were, and
  2. if there was a good communication structure that fostered effective collaboration.
They identified different communication structures:
  • hierarchical
  • brokers where there was a go-between
  • completely dense networks
They used probability (Bayes theorem) to predict failing software-build results.

  • communication does matter
  • you can predict results using social network analysis
Her team had electronic data to work with. I noticed that one of the projects they analysed had only around 15 people in it, which might be what I might get access to. But I'm looking for more than electronic data (wouldn't it be great if I had access to electronic data). I'd like to know about face to face communication as well as telephone, email and any other. And I'd like to know where and when it happens. Damian's team analysed where in the world people were, and looked at the when from the perspective of time differences. But I want to photograph the rooms or car parks or caf├ęs where people meet.

Rushed? She spoke quickly and question time was limited because she had to catch a train.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Everything all right?

  • No access to data yet.
  • Checked the ESRC government placement scheme for PhD internships to realise that it is only for ESRC funded students, not people like me who are funded by other organisations. It will available to our two CASE students.
  • Ran a background check on a couple of NHS names someone had given me for potential contacts to discover how horrendous it would be to get through NHS research ethics committees. NHS research requires, fairly, a lot of thought for clinical trials, but my research is organisational. Someone from another university needed access to junior doctors, but by the time the NHS ethics approval came through a year later, the junior doctors had moved on, so she had data that didn't match her research question. I'll stick to local and central government organisations and avoid NHS.
So yesterday was a bit of a negative day.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Still no access

It's fourteen days since I sent my first request hoping for access. It's only fourteen days. And I've got another year and 49 weeks to finish my PhD. But I haven't yet spoken to anyone, had a conversation with anyone, or a phone call with anyone. But then again, I've contacted four people this week, and it's early days yet.

So I yo-yo between worrying and being sanguine. I know students who took all year to get their access for qualitative data, and one is still struggling. Studies on sensitive topics, like ethics of marketing, ("I heard you got told off for your advert so can I come and interview you?") and how someone fits into an organisation ("You're a bit odd - can we talk?") don't get access easily.

I don't have ethics committee issues, I'm not going to say nasty things about the organisation and I don't think my research topic is very sensitive. I just want to know how they do it, work with consultants.

Saturday, 18 October 2008


Why listen to the Open University orchestra's October concert of Bizet & Borodin? See the page here.

You might complain that amateur musicians make horrible noises, but I miss the amateur sing-songs that my family used to have as I was growing up, before you could hear professional music of high quality everywhere. You used to have the fun of doing it yourself, participation they call it now.

And that's what I got from this concert - the pleasure of watching people getting pleasure from successfully performing for their colleagues. The musicians looked so happy to hit the right notes at the right time, to make these lovely sounds, to be working together. And unlike in big concert rooms, I could see their pleased faces, watch the drummer's head approvingly nod and count the beat, the nervous look on the flautist face as she played the long last note of the Borodin Central Asia musical picture, and her pride as the conductor waved his baton to finish.

That's why you should go. Enjoy the pride.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Getting in

How do you persuade people to give you access?

They're busy, they don't understand research, they're suspicious that you'll publish something sensitive, they don't have the time to waste, or they've gone off on maternity leave or holiday.

I drafted a letter and showed it to a colleague, who pointed out that I had no pleases or thank yous. :( But he pointed me at Buchanan et al {Buchanan, 1988}, an article we read on B852.

I need some heuristics to get in:
  • avoid academic terms
  • tell them I want conversations
  • use words like 'conversation', ' writing an account', 'learn from your experience'
  • offer to present the request to interested managers
I've redrafted. It might work.

Buchanan, D., Boddy, D., McCalman, J., (1988) 'Getting in, getting on, getting out, and getting back '. In Bryman, A. (Ed.) doing research in organisations Routledge, London. 39

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Interview structure

What words do you use in an interview to get the information you want?

I structured my interview questions round {Nahapiet & Ghoshal's framework with the three dimensions of social capital:
  • structural
  • cognitive
  • relational
so I had questions about each of these, but the words were useless for interview purposes. Like you don't go and say to someone
"Tell me about your appropriable organisation."
They're going to go "What?!" And you can't bluntly ask
"Who do you get on with?"
Supervisors helped me write simpler questions like "Who do you spend most time with?" Also sup#2 says that we've got a couple of academics here who know techniques that help a researcher elicit people’s networks of contacts.

I've rewritten the interview schedule and drafted an agenda. I've tested them on a fellow student and seem to have elicited some information on structure in a job he once had. I'm not so sure yet about the cognitive and relational aspects. Slow progress.

Now, get access!

Nahapiet, J. and Ghoshal, S. (1998) 'Social capital, intellectual capital, and the organizational advantage', Academy of Management Review, 23 (2), pp. 242-266. 842

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Story of an open plan office

I like being a research student in the OUBS. The first and second year and the masters students sit together in an open plan office, half of a wing and there are 4 wings to each floor. We each have:
  • a desk top computer,
  • a personal drive on a central server where our work is automatically backed up,
  • office software,
  • any specialist software that is relevant such as Endnote, Nvivo, SPSS and
  • a cupboard for our files and books.
The director of research degrees programme (DoRDP) has an office in the corner with a permanently open door, literally and figuratively, through which we can hear him sneeze, groan, swear, snort or bleat about whatever email or paper has just passed beneath his glance. He is quick to answer any question we have, and is very supportive.

Students support each other too. One has helped me with a proforma for an ethics application. Someone else is expert on using Endnote, and another has the extension number for the IT technican. So we talk.

Most mornings we break off for coffee and meet together. Discussion is often about sport or families, but also about our research, so it is a supportive and safe environment to start PhD studies.

The third year students leave this home base to sit in their own research area. At least that is the theory, assuming that the student's research area has space. But this year the research areas had no space for the five rising third year PhD students, so DoRP had to work out how to fit in 3 new MRes students and 7 new PhD students. In the end, a couple of students who come in less often got hot desks on other floors, anywhere there was space, and three students together got put in the emptiest research area.

And there arose a small problem because three new people came in together already knowing each other to an office where there are existing standards and expectations. And open plan offices need common agreements on noise and activities. Within almost minutes of arriving the students found that they were talking too loudly for the floor. By the second week, one had been told not to use the phone for more than two minutes, which was patently absurd as work requires you to talk to people on the phone while looking at information on your screen.

What I like is hearing the story of the settling in from different people, the students, those already there, managers and others. Each narrative comes out with a slightly different angle on it. From some it might sound like a power struggle, from another it is just a case of getting on with it, and another might make a comment on a personality. They are all organising their experience and telling the story is part of learning, asking for interpretation of the experience. And relates to where I've got to on reading Czarniawska's Narratives, watching how the stories are being made. By narrating this story, I'm trying to make sense of it myself.

I wonder where they'll put me next year.

Czarniawska, B. (2004) Narratives in social science research, Sage, London. 892

Monday, 13 October 2008

Cognitive enhancing drugs

This research lark means I need to remember stuff, and I never have remembered as well as I would like to. Particularly if I'm under stress, like in an interview, I cannot remember words. I've reduced the alcohol (though I do like my malt whiskey or a glass of white Burgundy) and I'm taking the fish oil tablets (though salmon's nicer).

But now I hear that there are drugs that will help me concentrate better. Cognitive enhancing drugs says the BBC here. Well, I'm not using them, but if they're not illegal, I wouldn't mind giving them a go. Perhaps then I'd be better at remembering the difference between induction and deduction, or what the title of that paper was, or that I had an appointment a week ago and have just got the letter telling me I missed it.

It's not my age. I've learned that if I learn with music I remember better. For instance, when I was doing As Italian three years ago, I learned some songs by heart. When it came to the exam, I could remember the grammar and the lyrics from the songs, so just turned the relevant phrases into the essay topic that I needed to write. I got a surprisingly good pass, better than when I did my A-levels years ago. So some things I can do better than years ago. I just need to get better still.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Academic blogs

I see the Times Higher Supplement has an article here this week on academics writing blogs. The article and subsequent comments indicate the ambivalence and scepticism:
  • blogging is cheap
  • experimental
  • informal
  • not real writing
But these are the strengths of blogging, aren't they? Being experimental helps you to work out what you mean
"I do it to pin my ideas down," explains Ruth Page at Digital Narratives
It helps me also to remember thoughts that I'd had a few months ago on topics, put aside, but then my research turns to that topic again and I can see what I thought then in my blog.

It's sometimes useful for other students who've missed a seminar or tutorial.

And sometimes people comment, which is lovely. It lets me know of other people who are looking at similar areas, or just encourage me. It's a networking tool for spreading and sharing ideas.

It means I write something, not a thousand words a day, but something. Eventually I may have the habit of writing so be able to write my doctoral thesis - all 50,000 words.

And it's addictive (See Steve Hill here.)

That's what I get from blogging, but I'd like to read blogs in my area, and there aren't many. There's Dubnick, the accountability bloke in the States. (THS reviewed bloggers in the UK). I don't know of business academics who blog. There's an OU communications blog. The OUBS has a blog where it brings in guest writers from the business school, but it's not the personal blog of any one OUBS academic. Maybe they are all blogging anonymously somewhere. I know some of the Associate Lecturers blog, like these:

Friday, 10 October 2008

Useful academic networking site?

Useful networking site? http://www.academia.edu/

It looks nice, & its content could be useful, but there's usually enough information on universities' own sites to find out what you want to know about academics.

I might put myself on, once I work out whether I'm with "The Open University" or "Open University".

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Bunking off

Yesterday was a lovely autumnal day. The afternoon sun shone brightly on red, yellow, green leaves, and long shadows lay across the Northamptonshire hills around Towcester.

One of us students had this brilliant idea of going over to the Towcester races if the weather was good, and it was. So one third year, two second years and a first year nipped over there for the afternoon. We all got some work done in the morning, and enjoyed the sunshine and atmosphere at the races. We lost money. :(

The first year student is researching financial behaviour, and he runs our investment club. He didn't take the (recently reduced) funds of the club, but perhaps choosing which horse to stake your money on isn't much different from choosing where to buy your shares.

Why aren't I researching such pleasant environments as race tracks? There must be something researchable in the racing business.Perhaps there's social capital to develop there.

More detective novels

Czarniawska has written on detective stories and research. So did Thorpe and Moscarola. Isn't research like a detective story? You find something out by induction or deduction or abduction, and then you have to write it as an interesting tale.

Czarniawska, B. (1999) 'Management She Wrote: Organization Studies and Detective Stories', Studies in Cultures, Organizations & Societies, 5 (1), pp. 13-41. 490
Thorpe, R. and Moscarola, J. (1991) 'Detecting Your Research Strategy', Management Learning, 22 (2), pp. 127-133. 1019

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Detective novels and writing social science

I've been reading stuff relating to qualitative methods, especially social constructionist and enjoying reading this small book from Czarniawska. She writes about other than the traditional interview, stuff like shadowing (both people and objects), doing diary studies and observant participation. She has written heaps and heaps of stuff - look at this list. No wonder she's an honorary academic at Copenhagen and Gothenburg.

She's interested in:
  • organisational studies
  • constructionism
  • narratology
In Shadowing (2001), she describes her embarrassment when following an FD in Warsaw she is told that the FD is busy or "these matters are not intended for the ear of strangers". So she knows the practical difficulties of research.

The last section of the book is about writing up research and it is here that she compares writing about research with detective fiction. I hadn't seen the genres as similar, but I enjoy detective novels, like Dexter's Morse, and P.D James' Dalgleish, or Sara Paretsky's VI Warshawski. Czarniawska compares approaches:
  • inductive
  • deductive
  • abductive
which were mentioned in the doctoral training workshop last autumn, and on the B852 business research methods in a paper by Thorpe & Moscarola. Different detectives have different approaches, as do researchers. When it comes to reporting findings convention might be flouted and she gives an example of chapter headings, some taking a dramaturgical approach and others framing activity as cyclical in character. She illustrates the influence on her own reports.

She also writes about people using multimedia, like cameras and videos. I want to use a camera to record where people meet and work, but think video will be too much intrusion, especially in the public sector. What clues will photos add that other methods would miss?

And then, wouldn't it be fun to be able write a detective story from the research data!

Czarniawska, B. (2001) Shadowing: and other techniques for doing field work in modern societies. 815

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Asking for access

I've written two drafts of an email asking for access. I'm happy with the second draft. I just don't yet quite dare to press the send button.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

New doctoral training workshop site

I'm pleased to see that at last they've updated the DTW web site. See here.

Friday, 3 October 2008

New OUBS students

We welcomed our new MRes and first year PhD students today. Yesterday and this morning they had a general introduction, but today they arrived at their desks, with their brand new computers, and a small pile of stationery to welcome them. The OUBS treats its full time students well.

I checked what I'd noted a year ago here, when it was all a bit more scary.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

First day of second year

Assume an overall time plan of:
  • Year 1 - read the literature
  • Year 2 - collect the data
  • Year 3 - write it up
I am now at the start of year 2. Today I find a note from my supervisor.
"Move on to drafting your interview schedule and arranging your pilot study"
This is encouraging - leave the dry old literature and do something. Hurrah!

Thursday, 25 September 2008

CETL conference

The OU ran its third teaching and learning conference yesterday and today. After the BAM conference it was splendidly practical, not academic with lots of ideas and words that I understood and appreciated, like blogs, quizzes, digital divide, JavaScript because this conference was for practitioners.

As well as stuff for teaching I picked up something relevant to my research when Shailey Minocha referred to tacit knowledge and concepts that she'd picked up when studying B823 for her MBA. This came from a paper by Marwick on Nonaka and Takeuch's model of knowledge. It might be relevant to building intellectual capital.

Marwick, A. D. (2001). Knowledge management technology. IBM systems journal, 40(4).

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Interview questions

This writing an interview proforma isn't getting done quickly. A matrix or table might be useful, one that related to consultant-consultant, client-client, consultant-client and client-consultant, like the table in the NAO paper.

{NAO, 2006 #109}

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

The start of the Internet

Vint Cerf, the father of the Internet, spoke today about its future. We were at the Oxford Internet Institute. He started by showing us a toy, a toy that flashed, played music, waved its bits in time to the music, a toy that cost $600, maybe $800, but he says it's the toy that Japanese children are playing with, and you download the music and programs and choreography for it from the internet.

He talked about sending messages between planets - it takes some time, and by the time you're up and running the planets have rotated.

He pointed out how cheap hardware has become, a few gigabytes of hard disk that would have cost several million dollars in the seventies, now being less than a $100. Now he could buy 2TB of disk for, say, $100. Then he could buy 10MB for similar. 2TB is 2 * 10 to the 8 times as much so 2*10 to the 10 dollars or 20 G$ - I think…

He showed us, real time, how the internet could give him data on the humidity and temperature of his wine cellar now, in passing commenting on the variation in light that suggested someone had been into his wine cellar.

He commented that he'd thought IPv6 had such a large number of addresses that each electron in the Universe could have its own web page – but somebody had pointed out that the number is 50 orders of magnitude greater than the IPv6 address space.

He spoke quickly and absorbed us for an hour, answering four questions clearly and concisely and thanking us for inviting him and listening. Swell speaker. Lucky PhD students in the OII who are working on such a fascinating area.

Here are the details: http://www.oii.ox.ac.uk/events/details.cfm?id=215

Monday, 22 September 2008

Research design

Following Jennifer Mason I'm matching my research questions to the methods that I intend to use to answer them. For example, if a subquestion is:
How does engagement contribute to an effective project?
then I'll use
  • Observation
  • interview data
  • shadowing
I'm getting a table for each research sub question with headings of data sources, justification, analysis and relationship to theory. I am changing some headings for the ethics proforma that I must submit. That includes practicalities and ethical issues.

The justification for interviews is that they will provide client manager’s accounts of how they and the users engage with each other and with the consultants. Observation will triangulate that data, though I don't know that I will have much opportunity to observe or shadow, depends on the access I get. So another column in my table will be practicalities, like access, time, equipment.

Mason, J. (2002) Qualitative researching, (2nd ed Edn), Sage, London. 973

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Interview questions from Nahapiet & Ghoshal

I'm splitting up the questions to match the different dimensions of social capital that Nahapiet and Ghoshal refer to, but then I have to work out how those questions help me to answer the research questions.

Nahapiet, J., & Ghoshal, S. (1998). Social capital, intellectual capital, and the organizational advantage. Academy of Management Review, 23(2), 242-266.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Devising interview questions from the literature

It's sensible to leave an audit trail that shows how the data you collected relates to the literature you read. So, I'm attempting to devising interview questions from relevant literature, like Nahapiet & Ghoshal's paper. Hence, for example, they had a theoretical model of different dimensions to social capital. One dimension is structural, so I'm trying to work out questions that related to structure, like
  • who do you know. or
  • tell me about who provides access to resources?
  • what other people have you known at other stages of the project life cycle (which should tell me about network ties)
But creating something practical from a highly academic and theoretical model is taking a bit of time and thought.

Nahapiet, J., & Ghoshal, S. (1998). Social capital, intellectual capital, and the organizational advantage. Academy of Management Review, 23(2), 242-266.

Friday, 19 September 2008


I was reading Mason's advice on qualitative design when I came across her advice on ethics too. She advises on layout - use a table with rows for each research question and headings for data sources, justification for using those sources, practicalities and consequent ethical issues. Then she has a chapter on each type of qualitative data source, like observation or interview, with advice on the possible ethical issues. So it's quite thought provoking.

Research questions

Data sources and methods


Practicalities (e.g. resources, access, skills)

Ethical issues [1]

I need also be aware of the ESRC framework held here.

[1] Taken from Mason, J. (2002) Qualitative researching, (2nd ed Edn), Sage, London. 973

Thursday, 18 September 2008


I use Endnote to record literature. I need some citation software, am aware that Cranfield uses Procite. The associate lecturers and students at the OU have access to RefWorks, but the full time staff and post-grads can have Endnote on their desktops and get technical training. We have access to a course in professional English with a session in which the lecturer demonstrated practical rather than technical use of Endnote, like how to select and print
  • author
  • title
  • research notes
So I now use Endnote to
  • export citations from databases such as Web of Science and EBSCO
  • connect to the OU library to export citations for books
  • copy {first_author, year, #ref_no} into my word document
This means that I have all the citation information without having to check if I've missed something, and it's rarely mistyped. When I run my word processing program, I press one button and all my references appear at the end of the document. I need only change a selection in given list and I can format in anything: Harvard, Journal of X, or Y or Z! Dead easy!

I've started to note my comments on articles in the notes sections, because if I pick up an existing reference for some reason, I can see what I last noted about it. And the search function allows me to find my articles on consulting, or engagement, or collaboration, or participation, or project management quickly.

One of my colleagues is struggling with his Endnote database that has got corrupted, so I'm making copies of mine each month, just in case. His experience demonstrates that it takes a bit of effort to learn and use it.

I was slightly surprised to find that my supervisors don't use citation software. This is because they don't have to write a whopping great long 100,000 word thesis with loads of references. But then, when they need a reference, they've nowhere to go and look for it, and must wait for a student to provide it! LOL!

Wednesday, 17 September 2008


Today's supervision meeting has brought things together - good, because we haven't met for a couple of months. Things were in my mind, like getting the interview questions together and the ethics approval, and now we've discussed them together I feel that this is the time to write them. So I have three things to write:
  1. set of interview questions
  2. ethics proposal
  3. a draft to the head of a consultancy firm to get that perspective on my research.
I'd written on engagement, I'd written three drafts, and presented the last one to my supervisors at the last minute. (Sup #2 likes the structure and that's a first! :)) Sup #2 knows now where I'm going with engagement and why. He suggests I read the collaborative literature, and he's right, but I just wouldn't have got round to it for ages if he hadn't said it. So I've reading to do too.

And dates to negotiate for cases.

BTW, I took along a table of the search terms and databases I had used for engagement. Supervisor #1 was happy with this approach, evidence that could fit in an appendix for my PhD eventually. Why did I have such a table? Because I'd been to that systematic review of the literature at the BAM conference, where I felt encouraged to record and tabulate what literature I'd searched for and found. Supervisor also kept looking at the table I'd done of a thematic analysis of the literature - something I'd seen in a couple of the Cranfield papers that I mentioned here, here and here.

Perhaps I have reviewed something systematically.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Consultancy value programme

The consultancy value programme is newish, started up this year. At the government computing exhibition in June, gcexpo, someone from the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) mentioned it.

In the light of the adverse media interest in poor but extensive spending on consultants, suppliers and outsourcers, the NAO produced a report on government use of consultants. This report made a number of recommendations on how to procure consultancy services and to obtain best value from these services, not just value for money, but general value through for example:
  • identifying skill gaps,
  • being smarter clients,
  • engaging earlier with the market,
  • providing staff with incentives.
In response to the NAO, the OGC set up the consultancy value programme to influence government spend and address the NAO recommendations. It is focusing on:
  • training
  • demand management
  • category/supplier management
  • consultancy performance review
The programme must be making an impact because the Management Consultants Association public sector interest group is having its second session this year with an OGC speaker on the programme.

There's more explanation of it on the OGC site here.

NAO (2006) Central Government's use of consultants Vol. HC 128 Session 2006-2007 (Ed, National Audit Office) HMSO. 577

Friday, 12 September 2008

Writing as inquiry: an experiential workshop

The last session I got to at BAM was on writing, run by Daniel Doherty. It was called an experiential workshop, which seems a bit of a tautology to me, as I assume that workshops will involve gaining a bit of experience - hence the work bit of workshop. He started by quoting
"How can I know what I think until I read what I write"
or something like that, perhaps from Richardson. I understand this and that's why I need to talk to people about my research because otherwise I don't know what I'm thinking. I don't know what I'm thinking until I hear what I say.

Then he gave us a 10-minute free writing exercise with a starter of
"My writing garden of Eden is when ..."
Free writing is when you just write, and keep writing for a predetermined time, disregarding spelling, grammar, punctuation and legibility. You write, even if you get stuck and have to write, "I'm stuck, stuck, stuck and don't know what to write, and why is everyone else writing so much and I'm just dribbling on and on and on".

After ten minutes, we stopped and discussed. I've never read my writing out to people before and no one else in there had done free writing before. I think the exercise surprised some of us. Some were initially shy, but eventually more of us volunteered to read our work. It revealed an insecurity that seemed surprising for such competent academics. They described earlier experiences of literature and teacher expectations. One said that at school she'd been reading a novel, when a teacher told her:
"You won't need novels where you're going!"
Another, going through some difficult times at home was reading "Grapes of Wrath" and realised that it spoke to him, despite being decades earlier in the 1930s, resounded with his experiences of mines closing and unemployment in his town in the 1980s.

We had a few minutes for another exercise, starting from
"As I write my physical/emotional responses..."
I found this harder, perhaps because I couldn't visualise in the same way as with the first starter, but also when we read back, I discovered that people responded better depending on their styles. One wrote how the feel of the pencil and its sound going over the paper mattered. And that initiated some discussion on preferences for hand writing or typing at the computer. There's advice here on using the computer for free writing.

Dan gave us what he promised - an experiential workshop.

Perhaps readers of this blog could try their own 10 minute responses to these two prompts. I'll put mine up another day.

(Laurel Richardson and Elizabeth St. Pierre). 2005. Pp. 959-978 in Norman Denzin and Yvonna Lincoln (eds.) Handbook of Qualitative Research (Third Edition).
Also see Richardson's book here.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Consultancy track: 2 papers

The consultancy track has only one session, but there are two full papers:
  • Experts or Organizational Witchdoctors from Peter Graham and Steven Brammer
  • The pervasiveness of Liminality in the lives of independent co-creatives from Daniel Doherty
Graham's paper is relevant to my research because he's been studying aspects of power in the client-consultant relationship from the consultant perspective in the context of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) . He's done 39 interviews in 28 consultancy firms. The witchdoctor thing in the title is because he's comparing the traditional model of consultants with the critical model that Tim Clark writes about. Woodworth calls consultants witchdoctors but it is probably Fincham who is better known.

The traditional model is where the client is in charge, controls key elements and evaluates the quality of the project, being able to stop payment.
The critical model is where the witchdoctor-like consultant seems to be in control, managing the clients' anxiety. It involves building up trust, but with a problematic relationship (anxiety, defensiveness) and poor thinking from the client. The metaphor 'witchdoctor' elicited a strong and somewhat negative reaction from a South African member of the audience, who drew our attention to how some cultures perceive a witchdoctor to be extremely powerful and dangerous. Perhaps it was the SA who suggested reading "Management Decision" but the OU doesn't get this journal.

Graham discussed these models and aspects of power. He suggested that expertise (in CSR) mattered less as the relationship build up, then more collaborative relationships developed (which matches the engagement stuff saying that one engaged employee contagiously got others engaged). This is something that I want follow up .

Graham hadn't separated out the types of client that consultants worked with and suggested there was a need for research from the client perspective was needed, particularly in case studies. And that suits me.

The second paper was presented in an unusual manner, which involved singing Martin Carthy's "Christ made a trance", and then a dialogue read between two people. Daniel Doherty explained liminality with reference to Sturdy. Liminality is about work that happens really in the liminal spaces, the betwixt and between spaces, e.g. the car park. I suppose that in the sense of being temporarily in an organisation, consultants are liminal beings, and they face ambiguity being part of their consultancy firm and of the client organisation. They are chameleons who match shapes and colour in the environment, who tie between academic and practice boundaries. He mentioned Kitay's paper on consultants being outsiders in a firm.

I wonder how that compares with the theme of Pirendello's "Six Characters in Search of an Author", six people with six perspectives on one story, or six different narratives of one event.

I found Doherty's paper a bit difficult so have to think more about the concept of liminality.

Clark, T. and Fincham (Eds.) (2002) Critical consulting: new perspectives on the management advice industry, (1 Edn), Blackwell, Oxford. 39
Fincham, R. (2002) 'The Agent's Agent', International Studies of Management & Organization, 32 (4), pp. 67-86. 500
Kitay, J. and Wright, C. (2003) 'Expertise and Organizational Boundaries: The Varying Roles of Australian Management Consultants', Asia Pacific Business Review, 9 (3), pp. 21-40. 462
Sturdy, A., Schwarz, M. and Spicer, A. (2006) 'Guess who's coming to dinner? Structures and uses of liminality in strategic management consultancy', Human Relations, 59 (7), pp. 929-960. 900
Woodworth, W. and Nelson, R. (1979) 'Witch Doctors, Messianics, Sorcerers and OD Consultants: Parallels and Paradigms', Organizational Dynamics, 8 (2), pp. 17-33. 253

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Employee Engagement at BAM

I've been to a symposium on
Employee Engagement: The links to performance across cultures and generations
with 3 fascinating presentations on engagement, but using one definition (Schaufeli) and not going into various constructions of engagement.
  1. looked at work engagement using Schaufelli's definition: "a positive work-related state of fulfillment that is characterized by vigor,dedication, and absorption." This study used on-line questionnaires (over 190 Dutch principals and 190 teachers) to rate performance quoting Demerouti 2001 that engagement leads to better performance, client satisfaction and engaged colleagues. The more personal resources there are, the more people can engage - something similar to the concept of psychological capital.
    • job resources are related to work engagement "because they enhance employees' resiliency and self-efficacy beliefs"
    • An engaged and productive leader enhances engagement.
    • Work engagement is positively related to performance.
    Practical implications for empowerment of job resources, empowerment of personal resources, role of engaged leader - is this the first study that brings together leadership and engagement? (Despoina Xanthopoulou from Erasmus University, Netherlands. See http://www.c4ob.nl/)
  2. looked at the cross-cultural nature of employee engagement, getting 13 companies across the world to design and execute the study. They concluded "the engagement level of the sampled population was very consistent across the globe with four universal drivers: variety & challenge of the work, interpersonal relationship with immediate manager, shared values with company, career growth opportunities. (John Gibbons, The Conference Board).
  3. looked at work engagement differences in new generation employees and employees from prior generations. (Jim Westerman, Appalachian State), suggesting that the new generation is less engaged.
But they assume engagement is real and measurable, whereas I'm tending more to a construction of engagement being something similar to collaboration. In that sense, research that explores engagement as collaboration is needed. Perhaps that sort of engagement does link to performance.

The discussion did include the thought that engagement needs a landmark paper that sets it out coherently.
  • confusing the drivers of engagement with the concept of engagement, so you cannot relate engagement to performance. You confuse the outcomes.
  • Engagement is not satisfaction nor organisational commitment and engagement can change over time even within a day, but longitudinal research on it doesn't exist.
  • Stability of engagement - if an engaged employee works with others they become engaged, so how stable is the concept? Studies in Finland suggest it is stable depending on how you measure it.
  • Contagious: engagement crosses over from one employee to another. The study showed the more engaged trainees were, the more engaged the trainees became, therefor e look for this in the UK public sector IT projects.
  • Wall Street Journal concludes that perhaps engagement may not improve performance, but since consultancies are selling their brands of engagement, research that finds engagement is useless would not get published. That doesn't augur well for my research.
People recommended Luthan's work on psychological capital.

Schaufeli, W. B., Bakker, A. B. and Salanova, M. (2006) 'The Measurement of Work Engagement With a Short Questionnaire: A Cross-National Study', Educational & Psychological Measurement, 66 (4), pp. 701-716. 835

Professors galore

Heaps of professors are here! Imagine a heap of professors - what's the group noun for professors? I've decided it's a heap. I guess there are around four or five hundred people here.

Lots of rooms, tracks and special interest groups (SIGs) but tracks seems to be the same as SIGS. Most are from British universities (it is the British Academy of Management), though there're a few from Canada Hong Kong, New Zealand and South Africa.

A PhD student, Andrew Schuster, from Cranfield, was timetabled to present an interesting developmental paper in the Transformation, Change and Organisation Development track. It was to be on Exploring the Development of Project-based Organisations in the Public Sector. But he didn't turned up, unfortunately. I was disappointed but maybe I've found it here in PowerPoint so without the explanation that goes round it.

If you want to know about the conference, look here.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Systematic literature review again

When researching, you need to know what you don't know. "Ignorance is undervalued" was the starting point of a session on systematically reviewing the literature. And:
"Research is the process of going up alleys to see if they're blind"(Marston Bates)
Colin Pilbeam at the BAM conference set out a framework for a systematic review, explaining that
  1. a critical review comes before
  2. a scoping study that leads into
  3. the systematic review.
I hadn't realised that sequence. They mentioned Wallace and Wray - a quick search gives me this recent overview from an enthusiastic student who recommends their framework too and gives a link to downloading questions for a critical review.

The overheads that Colin Pilbeam and Rob Briner displayed gave me a better sense of being systematic, and encourage me to keep records of for example:
  • information sources
  • citation databases
  • searches I've done and the search strings
and to tabulate my findings. I'll keep the records; they'll be evidence.

Monday, 8 September 2008

BAM doctoral symposium: career & RATS

I enjoyed this session that Chris Huxham gave on potential careers after PhD (Who for? For me?!).

RATS is a mnemonic for
  • Researching
  • Administration
  • Teaching
  • Service
It had more or less the same content as the OUBS research week session in July (See here). But
  1. was visually interesting and
  2. added a service component
That service component sounds likeHandy's portfolio, volunteering, doing extra that is socially useful, like joining a special interest group or volunteering for a board. It would help the networking as well as open other areas of research or work. I don't remember all her arguments.

But her visuals included RATS!
Moving rats in cartoons - I wonder why she got the images from

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Conceptual framework

Somehow I want to use Nahapiet & Ghoshal's dimensions of social capital to write my interview questions, but those questions also need to relate to my research questions and I am not getting them to be close enough to show the audit trail. The table below shows beginning thoughts.

Client Consultant
much social capital through institutionalisation
too much capital leading to negative consequences might be another reason for bringing in consultants in some circumstances

perhaps there’s less social capital, especially for the insecure consultants who work in liminal spaces

The matrix comes from the NAO advice on engaging between client-client, client-consultant, consultant-client and consultant-consultant. What do I put in the empty boxes?

Nahapiet, J. and Ghoshal, S. (1998) 'Social capital, intellectual capital, and the organizational advantage', Academy of Management Review, 23 (2), pp. 242-266. 842
NAO (2006) Central Government's use of consultants Vol. HC 128 Session 2006-2007 (Ed, National Audit Office) HMSO. 577

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Collaborative learning

The post grads in the maths, computing and technology (MCT) faculty are having a series of lunch time seminars or lectures on human-centred interfaces. This week, a third year student, David King, presented his findings these far on collaborative learning in a wiki environment. He's going to present his results at the Alt-C conference next week. ALT-C is an association for teaching and learning.

He'd studied two cohorts of OU students whose courses required collaborative work on an on-line report. One course was in requirements engineering and one in public administration, so one lot you might expect to be techie, and the other lot, not.

What interested me was the need to introduce a wiki to students because they hadn't used one before. So the course provided some reading and a collaborative icebreaker, like introducing themselves on the wiki, saying what they expected from the course and then editing each others input. Through out the course, this last was difficult. One reason was that it seemed rude to edit someone else's writing, and another was because there was assessment of the work, so it seemed wrong to interfere with what someone was going to get assessed on. Another problem was students' understanding of an on-line document. What they produced got too big to read on line without scrolling, or took ages to load. They needed to rethink what they were producing, and use links for example. (I wish course teams would remember this when they email out the TMAs and tutor notes, formatted for printing, but they inconsistently expect tutors to read them on the screen).

Lessons that David found included the need for constraints, like the use of templates, and for more guidance. You'll have to ask him for details - see his web page.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008


Next week I'm attending my first conference as a post grad. I'm going to the BAM conference in Harrogate. I'm not presenting a paper - they had to be in by around April this year and there was no way I was going to have anything ready. I'm just going to look and listen. Here are the details of what to expect.

I've been to conferences before, such as the UKSS conference, which is on now - see here or the OU teaching and learning conference but as an associate lecturer when I was teaching systems or in how to teach. I've registered for the CETL conference later in the month too since it is here on campus.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Interview questions about knowledge

I'm planning questions as I read and reread relevant literature. The practitioner literature is best for sensible approaches. You imagine that they've already done the research, but they haven't written it up for academics to analyse.
  • How bright are you?
I want to know, because I want to know about value from knowledge transfer. So how bright are the clients and how bright are the consultants?
  • Do you have any qualifications?
That seems reasonable to ask, but I'd hope they'd carry on and tell me a bit about their qualifications, though qualifications don't necessarily mean that you're really really bright, but that you're bright enough and worked hard enough.
  • What do you do? How do you solve problems? In what ways to you involve others in problem solving?
That relates to knowledge and skills, problem-solving skills and social skills.
  • Who do you ask for information? What kind of information?
I got ideas for some of these questions from Czerniawska {Czerniawska, 2002 }
  • How do you find people who have dealt with this situation or have relevant experience?
These are questions for the client, rather than the consultant, but there will be parallel questions to ask of consultants.
  • What situations have allowed reuse of assets, for example, a proposal written for another situation or context?
I don't know that this question is about knowledge. Here's one about co-ordination and synergy.
  • How do you coordinate things? What do you coordinate? In what situations do you combine resources?
Discussing development -
  • Who do you discuss development with? Whose opinion do you ask of development?
On documentation of projects -
  • What do you write down? When? Why?
  • Who do you visit and why? Who visits you?
Mapping knowledge and identifying gaps -
  • Who knows what? What are you missing? What other groups should you connect with?
I have a note that {Probst, 2008} said something about managing knowledge, but need to rewrite what they wrote.

I could also ask questions about who an interviewee knows who sees things differently? Where can I find people who don't engage or don't get involved? I think that would address maximum variation sampling that Miles and Huberman talk about.

Czerniawska, F. (2002) The intelligent client: managing your management consultant, Hodder & Stoughton. 894
Miles, M. B. and Huberman, A. M. (1994) Qualitative data analysis : an expanded sourcebook, (2nd Edn), Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks. 758 :28
Probst, G. and Borzillo, S. (2008) 'Why communities of practice succeed and why they fail', European Management Journal, In Press, Corrected Proof. 852

Friday, 29 August 2008

Why the public sector?

A new report on the market for public services, commissioned from Oxford Economics by the CBI, demonstrates the growth of the public services industry in the UK. Government procurement of services in seven key sectors is now worth £44bn. Providers in this market generate £25bn in added value and employ over 700,000 people, making the industry bigger than the pharmaceutical and automotive industries combined. Surely such a big market is of interest for researchers. Surely, since it's public money that provides these services, media and stakeholders and politicians must demand transparency and accountability for the expenditure, so any research into how that money is spent on services must help improve transparency.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Human centred computing

A Human-Centred Computing seminar today was a dry run of Yvonne Roger's keynote to be presented at the HCI 2008 conference.

The covering email read:
New Horizons for HCI

"HCI is experiencing a renaissance. No longer only about being user-centred, it has set its sights on pastures new, embracing a much broader and far-reaching set of interests. From emotional, eco-friendly, embodied experiences to context, constructivism and culture, HCI is changing apace: from what it looks at, the lenses it uses and what it has to offer. At the same time, new technologies are proliferating and transforming how we live our lives, for example, significant growth in techno-dependency and hyper- connectivity. As a result of these changes, HCI researchers and practitioners are facing a congeries of concerns that can be overwhelming. In my talk, I discuss how a different way of thinking is needed to help manage and make sense of the multiple perspectives, challenges and issues that increasingly define HCI."
I'd not had anything to do with the seminar series before, but am interested in such technology. Yvonne Rogers seemed to be talking beyond usability or ease of use but was addressing social aspects, ethics and value laden decisions. She had a great book to share with us, called 'Being Human', which is a report. You can find out more about it here and the BBC reviews it here.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Measurements of engagement

Measurements of engagement:
  1. assume engagement exists
  2. is important to have
Saks {, 2006} researched employee engagement, distinguishing between organisational and job engagement. It is a useful review of the literature. For example:
  • Kahn (1990, p. 694) defines personal engagement as “the harnessing of organization members’ selves to their work roles; in engagement, people employ and express themselves physically, cognitively, and emotionally during role performances.”
  • Rothbard (2001, p. 656) also defines engagement as psychological presence but goes further to state that it involves two critical components: attention and absorption
  • Burnout researchers define engagement as the opposite or positive antithesis of burnout (Maslach et al., 2001).
  • Schaufeli et al. (2002, p. 74) define engagement “as a positive, fulfilling, work-related state of mind that is characterized by vigor, dedication, and absorption.”
  • Robinson et al. (2004, p. 8) state that: ". . . engagement contains many of the elements of both commitment and OCB, but is by no means a perfect match with either."
Then Saks states:
"Engagement is not an attitude; it is the degree to which an individual is attentive and absorbed in the performance of their roles."
A degree implies that there is some that can be measured. Saks measured using social exchange theory (SET) as his framework. But he writes that SET provides a theoretical foundation to explain why employees choose to become engaged. (So he's not answering my question of how).

Saks created hypotheses from the components of this diagram, then used questions with answers based on the Likert scale.

Schaufeli {2006} developed a questionnaire to measure work engagement, defining it as:
"Work engagement is defined as a positive, fulfilling work-related state of mind that is characterized by vigor, dedication, and absorption."
To me, that doesn't say that you can measure a state of mind, but Schaufeli's questionnaire measured the factors of vigor, dedication and absorption. He concluded that the results showed that "work engagement may be conceived as the positive antipode of burnout" and that his questionnaire could be used in studies of organisational behaviour. But his research doesn't tell me how people engage with each other or how engagement adds value.

It seems funny that you can measure some behaviour without knowing how you do that behaviour.

Saks, A. M. (2006) 'Antecedents and consequences of employee engagement', Journal of Managerial Psychology, 21 (7), pp. 600-619. 938
Schaufeli, W. B., Bakker, A. B. and Salanova, M. (2006) 'The Measurement of Work Engagement With a Short Questionnaire: A Cross-National Study', Educational & Psychological Measurement, 66 (4), pp. 701-716. 835

Monday, 25 August 2008


Engagement brings value to a project and a consultant wants one project to lead to the contract so the value to the consultant must be that engagement must lead to the next contract. That motivates the consultant.

BUT motivation is manipulation, not engagement, according to Marcum {Marcum, 1999 #875}
So value (for a consultant) is inconsistent with engagement. A consultant cannot get value out of engagement.

My brain is in a muddle. What's the relationship of engagement and value? Does engagement add value or is it just a buzz word? If it adds value, then does it add value for both client and consultant?

Marcum, J. W. (1999) 'Out With Motivation, in With Engagement', National Productivity Review (Wiley), 18 (4), pp. 43-46. 875

Saturday, 23 August 2008


  1. How does the public sector engage when the NAO exhorts it, if the NAO also says to use incentives. Incentives motivate, but motivation is not engagement {Marcum, 1999}.
  2. How does engagement add value?
  3. How does engagement benefit the consultant?

Marcum, J. W. (1999) 'Out With Motivation, in With Engagement', National Productivity Review (Wiley), 18 (4), pp. 43-46. 875

Friday, 22 August 2008

Government life cycles

Government requires a classical project life cycle for systems development I've read somewhere, but where?

The NAO assumes a life cycle with Gateway reviews at stages: strategic assessment, business justification, procurement strategy, investment decision, and readiness for service, and benefits evaluation, which is repeated as required (NAO, 2004: 27). It insists on Gateway scrutiny early in the IT procurement lifecycle.

The NAO document is slightly confusing because it refers to:
  • product life cycle (NAO, 2004: 27),
  • project life cycle (NAO, 2004: 12, 14) and
  • procurement life cycle (NAO, 2004: 20),
without clearly distinguishing between them. I wonder if the authors knew what they meant

NAO (2004) Improving IT procurement: the impact of the Office of Government Commerce’s initiatives on departments and suppliers in the delivery of major IT-enabled projects Vol. HC 877 HMSO. 728

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Engagement undefined

Definitions of engagement are woolly and soft. People don’t say what it is but they work around it.

For Axelrod engagement is a “paradigm for change” (Axelrod, 2001)
For Block engagement is “the art of bringing people together” (Block, 2000)
For Buckingham it is “a journey of sensing and learning” (Buckingham, 2005)
For the NAO, engagement is “a critical element of a consulting project” (NAO, 2006)
For Robinson, engagement is a two way relationship between employee and employer (Robinson D, 2004).
For Smythe it is a management philosophy (Smythe, 2007).
For McMaster it is a “process of communication” (McMaster, 1996)
For Wenger, mutual engagement is a dimension of a community of practice that involves processes of community building (Wenger, 1998)

So engagement is:
  • A paradigm
  • A journey
  • An element
  • A relationship
  • A philosophy
  • A process
  • A dimension
  • An art

Can I reconcile all these metaphors?

AXELROD, R. H. (2001) Terms of engagement: changing the way we change organizations, San Francisco, Berrett-Koehler.
BLOCK, P. (2000) Flawless Consulting: a guide to getting your expertise used, Jossey-Bass/Fpeiffer.
BUCKINGHAM, M. (2005) Chapter FOUR: 'Buy-in', not by-pass: the rules of engagement. Leadership for Leaders. Thorogood Publishing Ltd.
MCMASTER, M. D. (1996) The Intelligence Advantage: organizing for complexity, Butterworth-Heinemann.
NAO (2006) Central Government's use of consultants: Building client and consultant commitment. National Audit Office.
ROBINSON D, P. S., HAYDAY S (2004) The Drivers of Employee Engagement. Institute for Employment Studies.
SMYTHE, J. (2007) The CEO chief engagement officer: turning hierarchy upside down to drive performance, Gower.
WENGER, E. (1998) Communities of practice: learning, meaning, and identity, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.