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?

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!