Monday, 30 June 2008

OUBS research week

The OUBS is having a research week.
"The week will provide an opportunity to focus on research activities and highlight the research being undertaken by colleagues in the School. The idea is to develop new University collaborations and kick off new research activities."
It also involves the PhD students doing a ten-minute presentation (round-table) to other students and academics.

My table included 3 other PhD students, 2 MRes students (who looked as if it went way over their heads) and 3 academics. I thought the session was incredibly useful for the PhD students, because the academics had lots of advice on:
  • literature
  • methodology
  • linking it all together philosophically
Unfortunately the advice also came across somewhat destructively. So, for example, one student couldn't say what ontology she was following, but eventually thought it might be critical realism. Unfortunately this didn't match the way she'd said she'd designed the research with interviews, although the research question might have matched her philosophy. She suggested that she might really mean empirical realism, but got told that was a tautology - her face puzzled perhaps because she didn't know the word - but the discussion might have lead her on to reconsider how she justifies her research.

Another student's presentation elicited: "you've got no foundation". I thought that was a bit scary, specially if you're a third year student writing up your case studies.

A third student had changed her research question only two hours earlier having been in a session with a leader in her research area so there was some talk about whether she should change, and how the literature in her area was ripe for criticism.

I was last. Two PhD students had left. The third was unwell and the MRes students' eyelids were drooping. They bravely stayed for the end of me talking, but then discreetly left while the academics discussed my research. They suggested looking in depth at Bourdieu, and at the trust literature, and also to speak to academics in the field, such as Alan Cochrane who is here in the Social Policy unit, Geddes at Warwick, Joyce Liddle at Nottingham Trent.

I was glad of feedback on my proposed design because something was niggling: the number of case studies and use of questionnaires. Instead of 5-6 case studies with only six interviewees, use questionnaires first to get background, job titles for example, then interview lots more people but fewer case studies. That avoids the maths, which doesn't fit in philosophically and gives more depth to what I find from more people; it looks more at the relationships.

Now I've got actions or advice from:
  • the round-table discussion
  • supervisor feedback #1
  • more supervisor feedback that came in after handed it in.
  • the mini-viva I'll have in July
So I should end up with researchable research. :)

Sunday, 29 June 2008


Supervisor has read my proposal & suggests:
  • rewrite the introduction - Supervisor has attacked it and written five sentences that bring the argument together - why didn't I write like that?
  • sort out month numbers with real dates - good idea, I didn't like the numbers anyhow.
  • reconsider which life cycle model to use - yes - the one I'm using is perhaps too simple for the context
  • I be less casual - whoops!
  • also have to work out some points of clarity
Nevertheless, perhaps I have a "robust" research question. Yeah!

Friday, 27 June 2008

Data analysis & using NVivo

Third year student, Linda Wilks, presented on the role of habitus in festivals. That was interesting but of greater relevance and use to us students was her explanation of how she analysed her qualitative data. Here's what:

Recording the interviews
  • Assess background noise
  • Put your recorder on something soft
One of my colleagues had problems transcribing an important word when the interviewee spoke as he put his coffee mug down.

  • Use a foot pedal
  • Contract some of it out but expect to have to check it thoroughly yourself too. Cost is £11 per hour of their time.
  • Takes approx 7 hours to do 45 minutes
I thought this useful & practical. But it got more useful because she talked about organising the data to make it manageable by:
  1. Designing a data classification system
    • Based on research theory
    • Related to interview questions
    • Be prepared to modify it
    • Transfer into NVivo under ‘tree nodes’

  2. Import your transcripts into NVivo
    • Highlight sections of the transcript and drag into the appropriate tree node

  3. Export the tree node contents
    • Make sure you tell NVivo to include the folder and hierarchical name

She gave us a screen dump of NVivo with nodes and folders and hierarchies. She explained with examples of sources and numbers of references in the nodes, and an analysed transcript.
  • To get an idea of the important areas, assess how many references a node has.
  • Print out tree nodes for analysis.
For the second level of analysis, she used Fairclough's critical discourse analysis and justified the use in relation to her work.

She had a check list to scribble on her texts, for example what styles, types of statement, intertextuality and transferred the notes to a spreadsheet.

The final step is to write up findings, without reference to theory at this stage and no language that precludes conclusions.

What I've noted above is all Linda's work, and if you want to know the detail you should contact her. I'm going to get NVivo and practise on my MRes data, and I'm going to look up Fairclough.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Round table

We have to do a ten minute informal presentation to colleagues and OUBS academics. There was some hint that we should provide PowerPoint type stuff as a handout, but then I got advice from one of our third years who's using a single sheet to brief herself, so here's what my handout will be:

Liz Daniel, Richard Holti

Public sector management and use of external consultants for value

Research question
How can public sector organisations engage with consultants in order to contribute to an effective project?

Main theories
  • Schein’s types of client and levels of problem (Schein, 1997)
  • Bovens typologies of accountability (Bovens, 2007)
  • Social network theory in particular Nahapiet & Ghoshal’s idea that intellectual capital can be created through social capital (Nahapiet and Ghoshal, 1998)
Planned approach
  • Constructionist
  • Five-six case studies with six interviewees using Nahapiet & Ghoshal’s ideas as a framework
  • Questionnaires
  • Analysis – discourse analysis and social network analysis
  • Contribution
  • Academic: literature on engagement
  • Practitioner: of interest to public sector in attempt to improve value, and of interest to consultants who work in the public sector
  • Access to suitable organisations
  • Philosophy of a constructionist approach when public sector measures value for money
  • • Use of questionnaires to bring out relationships

BOVENS, M. (2007) Analysing and Assessing Accountability: A Conceptual Framework. European Law Journal, 13, 447-468.
NAHAPIET, J. & GHOSHAL, S. (1998) Social capital, intellectual capital, and the organizational advantage. Academy of Management Review, 23, 242-266.
SCHEIN, E. H. (1997) The concept of "client" from a process consultation perspective. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 10, 202.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Work plan for research project

It's a bit hard to plan two years ahead, but since I don't need to worry about coordinating financial and people resources, it's not a great problem. So here's first draft starting July 2008, with thanks to my student colleagues who shared their approaches.

Literature review
Month Activity
1- 27 Continue to read and review literature on public sector, consultants, clients and relevant method such as social network theory

Skills audit
Month Activity
1 - 22 Attend courses, seminars & conferences as appropriate
Rewrite my OUBS web page when it’s out of date
2-4 Learn any specific analysis skills such as the maths needed for social network analysis
6-10 Learn necessary software such as NVivo and software for social network analysis
1-28 Adjust plans as life gets in the way
9-10 Write a paper on the pilot case study results


Month Activity
1-4 Review and decide methodology & methods
Choose options for analysis
4 Write something about the design, method and methods
4 Get ethics approval (skill B2, B3

Data collection
Month Activity
1-4 Identify 5 or 6 case studies, one of which can be a pilot study. Five might suffice, but six will cover contingencies such as lack of access
5 Interview pilot study
3-15 Identify & interview about 6 interviewees per case study, these being the equivalent of chief exec or primary client, senior responsible owner, project manager, a consultant, a user, relevant politician. .
5-15 From interview data and documentation identify potential relationships in networks and send questionnaires to confirm relationships. There can be hundreds on a project, so think about how many to choose, how to choose them and why
6-15 Devise and sent questionnaires on relationships to identified participants
6-20 Transcribe interview data and input questionnaire data

Month Activity
7-20 Analyse earlier cases while collecting data for later cases
Meet supervisors regularly


Month Activity
15-23 Write drafts for supervisors
Continue to meet supervisors regularly
26 Proof read dissertation
28 Submit

Monday, 23 June 2008

Proposal for probation

I have my proposal ready - thanks to bright idea of supervisor #2.

It will be a qualitative study of engagement between consultants and clients in the public sector with the aim of finding how engagement adds value to a consultancy project.

Data collection will come from 5-6 case studies with around 6 interviewees per case, the unit of analysis being a project. The framework for the questions will come from Nahapiet and Ghoshal's framework for building intellectual capital from social capital.

Analysis will be using discourse analysis of interview data together with relationship analysis (SNT) gathered from interviews and questionnaires.

The contribution will be to
  • academia - the findings on engagement
  • practitioners - how relationships influence value
How does this sound?

Nahapiet, J. and Ghoshal, S. (1998) 'SOCIAL CAPITAL, INTELLECTUAL CAPITAL, AND THE ORGANIZATIONAL ADVANTAGE', Academy of Management Review, 23 (2), pp. 242-266. 842

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Acculturation and brand choice

As part of our OUBS student to student presentations, Rohini today told us about her research into acculturation of Indians in Britain, and their brand choices. She is so good at the branding aspect that she even has a brand logo for her research. It is a red and blue combination of the Taj Mahal with Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.

Acculturation is a word that I haven't heard much, but it was used over 4000 years ago in around 2300 BC when the Mesopotamians started to trade.

She is choosing a bidirectional model of acculturation, and the RAEM model. I understand it leads to the concept of situational ethnicity, where the individual could be in the separation category in certain spheres of their life and in the assimilation category in other spheres. The ethnic minority consumers may sway between host and ethnic cultures in different domains of their lives.The brands reflect a perception of who we want to be so indicates acculturation - is the dependent variable.

These sessions are interesting in expanding our business and research knowledge as well as building up support between students. Thanks go to the chap here who organises them.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Value of engagement

Trying to get my head round various ideas like engagement and how it can add value, I sketched this. There's a positive feedback cycle between social networks and engagement - the more you engage the more you widen or use your social networks. And the more you use your social networks then the more social capital you build up, which increases your intellectual capital. The theory is that increased intellectual capital adds value to the project you're working on. Does it?

Value is the qualitative aspect of adding value, as opposed to the countable value for money (VfM). VfM is what the government literature talks about a lot.

Another interesting thing about the government literature is how often it links accountability with value for money. But the accountability label is kept quiet, not scarily near the forefront of discussion, so there's less hint of blame.

What else do I need to think of?

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Social capital and social networks

Social capital and social networks are not the same thing. Social networks are relationships that create the social capital.

Social networks are not always good. Being too close and therefore unbalanced relationships may for example lead to group think. I think I read that in Scott (1996). Arguably, the advent of consultants could correct the imbalance and lead to new more balanced and therefore more productive relationships.

Scott, J. (1996) 'A Toolkit for Social Network Analysis', Acta Sociologica (Taylor & Francis Ltd), 39 (2), pp. 211-216. 843

Monday, 16 June 2008

Social network analysis

What is social network analysis?

A social network is a structure of people or organisations linked in some way. It can be depicted as a graph of nodes and connections. Wikipedia gives an example here. And this sketch looks like a network of clients and consultants and others.

Social network analysis explores interactions reported by the people at the nodes and mapping relationships. Graph theory can help analysis. York (California) University has a site that explains lots of IS models including social network theory here. But I'm hoping to have fun messing about with computer models like this game of networks. It may be that the course on maths for research that I went on last autumn will be useful after all.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Theorising engagement

Supervisor #2 has come up with an idea that nicely relates to the way I am thinking about relationships. He suggests that rather than using Actor-Network theory that I consider social network theory. He's come across this paper by Nahapiet & Ghoshal that describes how the structures of social networks can improve social capital and the structure of those networks can also lead to increased intellectual capital {Nahapiet, 1998}. There are three dimensions to creating intellectual capital through social capital:
  1. structural dimension: who is connected to whom, i.e. network ties, network configuration, appropriable organisation
  2. cognitive dimension: to what extent are there shared concepts between people, i.e. shared codes & language, shared narratives
  3. relational dimension: what are the established norms of how people behave, i.e trust, norms, obligations, identification.
Each dimension contributes in different combinations. The combinations and exchange of intellectual capital are:
  • access to parties for combining/exchanging intellectual capital
  • anticipation of value through combining /exchanging intellectual capital
  • motivation to combine /exchange intellectual capital
  • combination capability
These combinations and exchanges create new intellectual capital.

Sounds cool!

Nahapiet, J. and Ghoshal, S. (1998) 'SOCIAL CAPITAL, INTELLECTUAL CAPITAL, AND THE ORGANIZATIONAL ADVANTAGE', Academy of Management Review, 23 (2), pp. 242-266. 842

Friday, 13 June 2008

Reflexivity and research

Is reflexivity like recursion?

You have to go in on yourself to find what the assumptions are, but that assumes an understanding of what assumptions are.

We had a speaker, Ann Cunliffe, from Hull, give a lunch time seminar on the topic. It's a social constructionist approach that questions our notions of reality.
"an unsettling of the basic assumptions, discourse and practices used in describing reality"
{Pollner, 1991}
But, questioning reality means that I question the tools that I have to question with. So let alone not write authoritative accounts, the idea of reflexivity meaning that theories and explanations must be tentative undermines any confidence I have left in my research and analysis.

Pollner, M. (1991) 'LEFT OF ETHNOMETHODOLOGY: THE RISE AND DECLINE OF RADICAL REFLEXIVITY', American Sociological Review, 56 (3), pp. 370-380. 845

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Poster competition

Yesterday the OU research students had a competition to assess the best posters on research. Six of us in the OUBS submitted something, and two of us won, which was nice. One was a blood and gore depiction of the ethics of advertising - the author demonstrated his advertising skill, and deserved to win. The other on acculturation and branding struck the judges because of the impact of its branding logo that immediately indicated what the research was about.

The training had suggested that less is more, to keep it simple, but a lot of those that won seemed to have heaps of small writing, and even included references, which to me is more what you want in a report than in a poster. One particularly striking poster didn't win, which was a shame. Perhaps, it had the same problem that mine had; insufficient methodological detail.

One of the judges afterwards gave me individual feedback. I needed to indicate my hypothesis and show that I'd done a preliminary case study with some quotes from it. She said it was all in my head, but not on my poster. So I'd better redesign it for the OUBS research week at the end of June.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Project management skills

I'd remarked to my supervisors that a project manager doesn't need technical skills, but they have queried it.

Gray says that a project manager needs "only rudimentary technical skills" {Gray, 2008} but goes on to remark that he/she also needs orchestrating skills to get people to make the right decisions at the right time. I want to find some public sector literature that remarks on the skills that a project manager needs. There is probably something on the OGC site and probably something in PRINCE2. The OGC site on project manager gives responsibilities, skills and attributes. It also has a concise diagram of where the PM fits in.

Gray, C. F. and Larson, E. W. (2008) Project management: the managerial process, (4 Edn), McGraw-Hill, NY. 798

Friday, 6 June 2008

Fun fiddling

  • A Third Year Student here researches festivals.
  • Festivals include musicians
  • Musicians play violins.
  • So TYS is learning the violin.

She came in with her violin and the other two students already in noticed it, so she played a little. Then three more of us arrived and listened, so she got a clap. No-one else was in to be bothered. Friday is quiet in the OU.

We have an open plan office so we can be sociable. But we have to be careful not to be too noisy too often because we'll distract each other from work. It's a good atmosphere.