Thursday, 31 July 2008


I've had feedback from the ethics chap. He points out that
  1. my supervisors have to endorse the ethics application
  2. the research question might need to be "rather more focused and explicit"
So oh yeuch! Supervisors aren't around for weeks, (see the PhD comic on elusive supervisors) and ethics applications take perhaps a month to get through, and I hoped to know enough about what I was doing by September to start on a pilot project.

And yeah! I'm writing something now so that I can get this darned research question focused and explicit.

Back to the writing desk!

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Ethics approval

I thought I'd apply now for ethics approval for my research. It gives me something concrete and simple to do and getting the approval may take ages, but asking may also get me some advice on the project.

So I've done the form, an example covering letter and emailed it for advice.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Working hypotheses

In order to achieve effective project performance it is important that:
  • clients and consultants engage with each other
  • clients know what they want from the project
  • clients know the terms of engagement even if the outcomes are uncertain
  • consultants transfer knowledge to clients (depends on the project tho)
  • engagement is a process
  • engagement allows transfer of knowledge
  • knowledge transfer is good
  • knowledge transfer increases project value
  • increased project value is necessary for a more effective project
  • knowledge transfer is a requirement for an effective project (but may not be if this is for example, a one-off decision)
  • knowledge is an undefined form of intellectual capital (it could depend on scope or type of communication or length of time required) {Czerniawska, 2002 #894})

Czerniawska, F. (2002) The intelligent client: managing your management consultant, Hodder & Stoughton. 894

Monday, 28 July 2008

The question of engagement

Too many questions.

Is engagement important?
  • Is it worth researching?
  • Is it about collaboration?
  • What don't I understand about projects or academics don't understand? It's something to do with interacting, its quality.
  • What don't we understand?
  • What does my research intend to help to understand better? The literature review will help understanding but to focus it I need a purchase on the issue of collaboration, participation or engagement.

The question was how do public sector organisations engage with consultants in order to contribute to an effective consultancy project.
It has sub questions suggested by the framework in the figure .framework
Sub questions include:
  • How can the phenomenon of engagement be conceptualised? But that would be from perspectives of people, not relationships of how it happens.
  • How does engagement contribute to an effective project?
  • How does engagement influence relationships?
  • Which relationships work well?
  • How does the quality of relationships contribute to an effective project?
  • How does engagement vary over the life cycle of a project?
  • How does engagement help in adding value to a project?
String the questions together - rewrite them.

Argue the relevance of engagement - why research it?

I want to understand engagement whether people call it engagement or not. If I ask people what they think engagement is, then I find out what people think is the phenomenon, but what I want is to know how they do it. Find out about peoples' relationships rather than views, who influences whom.

More questions

  • Where is it particularly important and difficult to get engagement and what is it like when it happens?
  • What are the difficulties?
  • Who do you interact with at different stages?
Draft an interview guide for a pilot in September.

Friday, 25 July 2008

Too much to read

I have many interesting books,
  • (Czerniawska on the intelligent client,
  • Czarniawska on narratives,
  • Scott on network analysis)
and many relevant papers
  • (on engagement,
  • intellectual capital,
  • social networks
  • projects)
to read and to review and to glean from them something useful, and then to write on something coherent. I don't think I can do it fast enough, nor remember enough to bring it together, let alone produce some argument.

Thursday, 24 July 2008


Searching the literature for engagement, but it is elusive in the form that I understand it. I think that when the NAO and OGC literature says that senior managers should engage with consultants or suppliers, it means in the sense of committing to a project, building up a relationship that is positive and being involved. However the dictionary and thesaurus suggest engagement in terms of conflict, like engaging with the enemy, and the academic literature seems to be about engaging with tasks and processes rather than with people, and the IT academic literature is about participation, which isn't quite the same.


Monday, 21 July 2008

NVivo difficulties

I'm trying to find out how to use this NVivo to record and code my thoughts on the literature review. It should be a good tool. After all, a literature review is a qualitative analysis, isn't it? But I can't work out the best way to use externals, create memos, link to the Word documents I already have written for reviews.

And there isn't an NVivo course till September, which is one I can't go on because it's the day after the BAM conference. So I have to wait longer to get the training, and carry on self-training - no problem because I've taught myself lots of technical programs for years.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Systematic review again

However, the more I learn about the systematic review, the more I realise that I did manage to do somethings systematically. For instance
  1. I did have a review board, although it wasn't official. I had my supervisors on there and the two consultants that I contacted over winter. Their comments have been so useful because they lead me on to looking at value and how consultants contribute value to a project.
  2. I have kept a record of all my searches, on what databases and with which strings.
So the search was a bit systematic. Now how do I review systematically.

The systematic review came up in the mini-viva, and I expressed my enthusiasm for the approach. Dave Denyer didn't come this year and do a workshop for us, but perhaps it'll get organised next year.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008


The mini-viva happened. It was okay. They didn't rubbish my research question, nor tell me my literature review was pants, nor that the scope was impossibly big. But they did query what I meant by social constructionism and told me that I was defining it in terms of itself. Now I come to think of it, attempting to define something is being positivist, isn't it? So the concept of social constructionism must be constructed.

They also pointed out that I'd mentioned power, but all but dismissed it, when it is very important in engaging with people. They're right. But I thought and wrote about power months ago, then decided it wasn't important enough to make a big thing of it in the viva.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Systematic review

The Cranfield Master of Research dissertations are not empirical research but systematic reviews of the literature, and as such are great examples of how to go about a systematic review. Consequently I'm low that I didn't tackle my literature review this way at the start of this academic year.

Now though I am imagining all the things that won't come together, the important literature I won't find and how to write it up coherently.

Friday, 11 July 2008

New! from Cranfield

Just released!

A PhD on accountability in the public sector from a Cranfield student came out last year. I've just started to look at it, and the student's preceding MRes, which was a systematic review of the literature. It all looks incredibly relevant.

You can search Cranfield stuff here. Search authors for Lupson.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Wrong language

"As I wrote in my original proposal (and to get me into this monkey house)..."
Thus wrote one of my colleagues in his un-proof read proposal!

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Learning & systems

Fellow PhD student in OU systems department is writing about learning conversations. I've been to his presentation, and thoroughly enjoyed his diagrams and pictures, though it sounds like an attempt to change the world, because he's talking about Habermas and Popper, philosophy of science and ontological worlds.

I don't really understand yet how he is going to put this into research practice.

Monday, 7 July 2008

Template analysis course

British Academy of Management (BAM) ran a workshop on analysing qualitative data, using template analysis.

The workshop leader, Nigel King, compared template analysis with narrative analysis and content analysis, suggesting they are all forms of thematic analysis. The blurb for the workshop says:
Template analysis is a particular style of thematic analysis that can be used with any form of qualitative textual data. It seeks to strike a balance between the entirely bottom-up approach of Grounded Theory and the more structured, top-down approach of techniques such as Matrix Analysis.
It emphasises the use of hierarchical coding, such that themes are divided into sub-themes, usually with between three and five levels of coding. Template analysis works particularly well in studies where the perspectives of different groups need to be compared and contrasted, and is well-suited to many qualitative projects in organisational and management research.
The workshop covered:
  • overview & introduction & preliminary coding
  • clustering themes & developing an initial template
  • modifying your template & using it in interpreting the data
  • quality issues & writing up
Analysing data in groups was helpful because discussion queried and refined codes so I got more from it than just looking at Nigel King's web site on template analysis, though it's a contentful site that I recommend. The case study allowed us to develop an initial template from two interviews, which we then used on a third interview so we could see how we would want to modify the template.

The quality issues engendered a discussion on working alone or in groups, as well as indicating something of how we would create an audit trail.

If you're using qualitative analysis, this course is worth going on whether or not you're going to use templates.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Qualitative analysis

I've just realised that I could use NVivo, could have been using NVivo, to extract and analyse data from my literature review.

did no-one point that out before?
  • Because supervisors don't need to know much about software and aren't going to point their students at it.
  • Because there isn't training in using software, but training that is either about the product (e.g. Word, NVivo, Endnote) or about the process, and not how to integrate the two.
The best integration the OU has provided in the last two years was through the Professional Academic Communication in English sessions (PACE) when one of the lecturers explained how she'd used Endnote to keep notes and print them off or insert them in Word.

Here are slides that discuss the training issue, from the 2006 ESRC research methods festival. And here's a paper from Silvana di Gregorio on using NVivo to analyse literature for the review. And here's a discussion on qualitative data analysis.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Argument for research question

I started by noting that
  1. the consultancy market has been growing, and
  2. that the public sector increasingly uses consultants.
  3. In order to get from value for money from using them, the NAO recommends that senior management engage with consultants.
  4. However, how engagement is happens, is not clear.
  5. So, research might elucidate how engagement works and how it adds value to a project.
That makes my research question:
How does public sector engagement with external consultants contribute value to projects.

My argument links engagement to value, which in turn allows accountability, which was where I started over a year ago.

Social capital helps increase intellectual capital, which is what consultants deal in someone says, so finding how engagement increases social capital will also help show how consultants add value to intellectual capital.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Robin Wilson

One of the joys of being on campus, or living near, is that you can get to good lectures. Inaugural lectures tend to be good. And Robin Wilson is particularly worth listening to. He is:
  • now Professor of Pure Maths at the OU,
  • as well as Gresham Professor of Geometry at Gresham College
  • a fellow in maths at Keble College.
He's written over thirty books on:
  • graph theory
  • sudoku
  • philately
  • Gilbert & Sullivan operas
  • the mathematical activities of Lewis Carroll
Yesterday he delivered his inaugural lecture on Communicating Mathematics: a historical and person journey. His lecture explored the context of communicating maths over the last 4000 years.

What is unusual in these days of PowerPoint, is that he doesn't use it! He uses handwritten transparencies, on two overhead projects. This means that the transparencies aren't photocopied in black and white, so you can see the different colours he uses to differentiate between lines, which makes reading the lines easier. And the two OHP means he can leave up one transparency while he discusses another.

Apart from the unusual presentation, whatever topic he takes, he makes interesting. This time he split his lecture into two parts: one on oral communication of maths, one on written communication. At the point where he moved from the first to the second, he demonstrated the use of maths in music. His wife and his colleague came onto the stage, then Robin and his wife played recorders to accompany the harpsichord, so they could demonstrate the pattern in the musical piece he was showing on the screen. How many lecturers play music to their audience?

I recommend watching. You can see it here.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008


Universities have three legs to the career stool:
  1. admin or management
  2. research
  3. teaching
We heard three of our academics discussing the issues surrounding these strands.

The researcher recommended the need for mentors and some structure of support. She's loved the job, always has, but fell into it by accident.

The teacher quoted Pinchto intrapreneuring - do it then ask - I think he said. Teaching is less quantified in its assessment than research. aim to be on committees but teaching is less well paid than outside work, and you can't avoid the students.

The administrator explained something of a university management structure. The job involves management roles like keeping resources coming in. Managing makes a dent in your publication rate but these roles mean that you are in the centre of things because you ave collective responsibility for the management of the school so you have to have issues, dilemmas and different perspectives on performance.
The downsides of management: demanding, difficult to put boundaries, collective responsibility, takes discretionary time and mental energy.

Conclusion: management gives you the chance to experience real management and use that experience in the maelstrom (Edgar Allan Poe), which can be valuable. It is a stimulating experience which is avoidable, but needed if your career aspirations are to lead a university.

OUBS research week - publishing

Dave Wilson talked to us about writing and publishing in international academic journals, both in a general context, and from a PhD.

The first depressing thing he said was that publishing in highly ranked journals improved the perceived quality of a business school, which gave rise to pressure to publish in top journals, which would want high quality business schools to write for them. It sounds cyclical - at least that's how I sketched it. He referred to Barley (2006) who wrote about "transgressive papers" (slightly misquoted) that get normalised by a process that stifles innovation. Citation clubs exist to boost their own publication rates (Cynic). The lesson is that you should cite.
  • submit to special issues
  • write with others to demonstrate you can work in a team
  • write for A and B rated journals
  • have a theoretical or methodological or empirical core message
  • address the "so what?" question "This work is important because .."
  • be able to describe your PhD in 4-5 sentences
  • match the subject to the journal
  • don't try to rush it! (this was so depressing because you may not publish till four years after your PhD)
  • use your conclusion of your first draft as an introduction to your second draft
  • if you get a "revise and resubmit" response, that's a reason for champagne-opening!
The greatest buzz is when you get cited!