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:

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
  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