Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Snow bound

I stayed in the office on Monday till five o'clock, when a colleague warned us that snow was coming south, and a blizzard was on its way, so I foolishly started home early. It's only twenty miles and takes 35 minutes on a good day, and rarely as long as an hour, but half way home the traffic stopped. I parked for an hour on a roundabout waiting for it to move round, while the radio said only that there were problems in Luton. It took another hour for the radio to give any news on our road, and then I could take action and take a back route.

It took me four and a half hours to get home - I should have stayed in the office.

Information allows decision making, and consequent action.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

CETL conference

At the Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) conference on campus today and tomorrow, I notice the word engagement in a lot of places. For example:
  • MBA pathways: expectations, engagement and reality: does the MBA produce critically engaged managers?
  • designing learning activities in second life for student engagement
  • critical engagement in management and business education
  • student engagement with e-assessment.
Learning engagement is an area that people are researching. It's research that may overlap with my research that looks at the way people engage with each other on a mutual project, coming with different skills and that situation, like learning, requires elements of communication and knowledgeability. By knowledgeability I don't just mean knowledge transfer but an ability to transfer knowledge by teaching others or learning from others, an ability to learn, an ability to teach. You need communication to activate and use that knowledgeability. The combination is engagement; engagement between people on projects requires the same elements as engagement in learning.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Open and honest dialogue

Valuable relationships require "open and honest" communication, advises one of my interviewees. Such communication is needed to build up trust.

Trust was not evident last week when I had to deal with council officials on behalf of an aged auntie. I walked into a meeting with a couple of octogenarians, a friend who'd been helping and an official. The official did allow me to put my recorder on when I asked, which was just as well because I'd been given the wrong brief as to the purpose of the meeting. But the wrong brief was what everybody else had, according to the official. The official's voice got faster and louder, hurting auntie's ears. The official within five minutes of the two o'clock meeting as we attempted to clarify the purpose of the meeting told us that auntie didn't have to sign now, but she had to leave at three o'clock. We did not sign and arranged another meeting two days later. We came out feeling as if auntie was being bull-dozed into signing without having the information she needed.

At the next meeting, official had brought re-enforcements in the form of a higher line manager. When I asked if I could put the recorder on, she leaned across the table, told me no, that it wasn't appropriate to record the meeting and could she have the recording I made the other day. So we had adversarial positions immediately.

I like to think that my research participants had given me enough information to turn that meeting round, because we did turn it round. I shared information about myself, the officials gave me their contact details, then more calmly explained all the information that auntie needed to make a decision. I'd done my homework I needed to help her make that decision and could share it with the officials.

Everyone left with smiles, and information.

But I suspect the initial meeting went wrong through lack of information, through poor communication of information that both sides needed. The official hadn't known that auntie needed time to absorb information, that her brother couldn't read the papers because his eyesight is so bad, that neither of them knew what was involved and that the friend had no authority so say that auntie would sign. Relatives and friend hadn't known that the meeting was about signing, not about giving information on what the contract was about. So all went into a meeting that was planned for too short a time slot with insufficient knowledge. Here was an official who wasn't ready to work appropriately with such people, an official who hadn't understood the knowledge limitations and who had another agenda. This official didn't engender trust and although there are smiles, my elderly relatives and their friend now don't trust her for future dealings.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Telephone interviews

I have now spoken to over twenty people as part of my research but today I have a telephone interview to do, so am a bit more nervous. I've never met the interviewee and I can't see the interviewee's hands. But I'm even more worried about the technology. I've got a device for recording from the telephone and practised it yesterday on a couple of relatives. It works well. But will it be easy to transcribe?

We'll see.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Recording mistakes

I use a digital recorder when interviewing people. The department lent me one when I was doing my MRes and I liked it so much that I bought my own. It was a very reasonable price on Amazon.

However, interviews have potential for technical mistakes in recording:
  • battery goes flat
  • device is full
I now recognise the warning noises it gives me for these problems, but now I've added another; I didn't switch it on.

The recorder has two switches, one on the device and one on the microphone. I'd switched one on but the other overrode it. During the conversation, I wanted to make eye contact, so couldn't pick up the device and peer short sightedly at it to check it. I only realised as I went to switch it off. Bother!

Immediately I took extra time to think over and make notes on the meeting, switched on the recorder and spoke my thoughts. But my speaking took only six minutes and the meeting had been half an hour. What a pain!

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Transcribing interviews

I've transcribed a dozen interviews myself and used to transcribe a dozen others. I have learned to:
  • secure a good quality of sound recording but that what is good quality to me may not be good quality to another transcriber.
  • clarify inaudible answers during the interview. But one interview in a crowded restaurant was totally incomprehensible. I couldn't transcribe any, just make notes immediately after.
  • listen immediately after to check sound quality and remind myself, in case the recording gets lost
  • pose clear questions that interview subjects understand (hence the importance of the interview schedule sheet)
  • listen to what is said and how, but also during the interview to watch hands and eyes because the movements add information that the recordings don't make. Hands are interesting. e.g. pointing upwards at the vision, or two turning together from left, then from right then to the middle to "form the middle ground", or a wave that means "switch off that recorder". Some movement then give information, I've "heard" it, but there're no words.
  • pay attention to the voice, pauses, sighs - see Kvale, 2007 p137, who suggests the voice indicates whether the topic is important or may be too sensitive to pursue
  • follow an interview with second questions - difficult when my reactions are not yet sufficiently gather to create coherent second questions
  • avoid the interview becoming filled with small talk to notice the interviewer's variations of question and styles
  • become aware of the differences between oral and written language. This really shows up when you try to add punctuation. Where do I put a full stop? Is that where the speaker would have put it? Sometimes when I've used a transcriber, the full stop has change the speaker's meaning
  • notice how new interpretations of meanings may arise when working with the recordings - I'm not sure that happens much but I do notice things that I didn't have time for or wouldn't have followed up with the interviewee.
See Kvale 2007, Box 12.1 which is very useful. He suggests learning to interview by witnessing others interviewing, which I've not had the chance to do, expect in the Doctoral training Workshops - I hate those artificial situations.

Perhaps as students we could get together to talk about our interview stories. I'll ask our MRes group next time we reunite.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Qualitative data analysis

I was talking with a fellow OUBS post grad about qualitative data analysis (QDAS). As she hadn't been using Nvivo, but Decision Explorer, she wanted to know if Nvivo would be more useful to her. We talked about its linking mechanisms, annotations and memos - those are what make NVivo really useful for me.

I demonstrated some of the ways I now work after doing that Silvana di Gregorio workshop.
We received a manual at the workshop, which is very useful reference. Do the course to get the manual too. Silvana di Gregorio also writes books on QDAS as well as giving workshops.

The linking mechanisms are what make NVivo really useful for me. I annotate as I transcribe, or listen the first time to a transcription, or whenever. I use memos to link to collections of notes on facets of engagement, so I'm linking what I find in the cases with what I've found in the literature. This will help my later analysis as I write up the case studies for the dissertation.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Procrastinating again

Enthusiastic for another yummy day, I rush to my desk, switch on my computer, and the enthusiasm stalls, like in this comic.

There are many different ways of putting off writing:
  • decorate the whole house
  • watch all the Harry Potter videos in a day
  • check Facebook
  • play cards
  • go for a long thoughtful walk.
  • a swim.
  • make Christmas lists.
  • make other lists.
  • Minesweeper.
  • comb the cat
  • watch the leaves
  • Lots and lots of things to do...

Monday, 30 November 2009

Feedback to participants

Feedback to participants is a problem because:
  1. not yet understanding what the findings are
  2. not knowing what participants want or need or what interests them
  3. not knowing the format they'd find most useful
  4. time
That's all rather negative. Given time, you get to understand your findings, but feedback to participants may then not be timely so not useful for them. However, any feedback, even delayed is better than no feedback.

Silver (2005) has a short section on feedback in case studies. He advises (following Wolcott 1990, p60)
  • ask for the kind of information required for you to make a recommendation
  • identify seeming paradoxes in the pursuit of goals
  • identify alternatives to current practices and offer to assess these

Friday, 27 November 2009

Successful projects

Why do this research?

Much has been written on IT project failure. My research is of successful case studies so may identify how people did something right, thus allowing us to learn from successful experiences. That's a cheering change.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Findings: how people work well

Good relationships add value. Business relationships where you work informally but in a business like fashion are helping projects to achieve their aims. How?
  • People work together
  • People agree their language.
  • People perform.
  • The right environment affords the right relationships.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Validating qualitative data

A senior PG colleague is completing his analysis. He's coded his work in Nvivo, but needs to validate his model. He printed and cut out loads of words from his texts and asked others to categorise them physically and manually. Now his wall is covered categories and codes.

He is pleased to find that others' categorisations match his work - that validates what he's done.

Kvale on analysis of interviews

Six steps to analysis:
  1. Subjects describe how they work with and relate to each other.
  2. Subjects discover new relationships, new meanings – yes I noticed this in my first case studies
  3. Interviewer condenses and interprets meaning back – do I do that? Sometimes. If I had more time, I’d ask more. Sometimes I interrupt too much – lose what the subject was going to say. Sometimes I note something they’ve said then come back to it when they’ve finished talking. That follow-up may elucidate but may lead into another area.
  4. The transcribed interview is interpreted by the interviewer. It’s structured through transcription. I use a computer program (Nvivo) for contextual analysis. Kvale says there are five main approaches to the analysis of meaning: condensation, categorization, narrative structuring, interpretation and ad hoc methods. Which should I use?
  5. Kvale suggests as a 5th step a re-interview but I doubt I have time for this, nor do my participants. The other thing that worries me about re-interviews stems from my experience on the MRes when the Friday before the Monday I was due to submit, I received a letter from a participant asking me not to use anything that participants had said. I’d sent out the full unedited transcript with a query on a financial fact, like “was it £50k or £150K?” Participant took fright, I think. I had to check the whole 15,000 words over the weekend, editing out anything and everything that could possibly be attributed to that participant. So now I’m a bit leery about giving transcripts back to subjects to comment.
  6. Kvale suggests possibly extending the continuum of descriptions and interpretation to include action, by subjects beginning to act on new insights they have gained during the interview. I doubt that’s immediately possible but perhaps the reports I feedback to my helpful participants organisations will provide insights for them to act upon, though I did have the impression that some participants found the interviews caused them to reflect on their work.

Kvale, S. (1996). InterViews : an introduction to qualitative research interviewing. Thousand Oaks, CA ; London, Sage. Chapter 11 of {Kvale, 1996 #1198}

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Eighty percent of success is showing up

Eighty percent of success is showing up
That's what a Recently Successful Doctoral Student said to me when talking about research, citing Woody Allen. So I looked it up and found this blog, Persistence Unlimited that quotes Woody Allen. Showing up is what gets you going. I've shown up at:
  • doctoral training workshops, even when they seemed a waste of time. They gave pointers to research issues I was likely to face.
  • the Professional and Academic Communication in English (PACE) sessions, which trained me reading and writing for social science and business.
  • OUBS seminars
  • an NVivo workshop
  • a BAM conference
  • a systematic review of the literature workshop
  • participative videoing workshops
  • OU clubs - how do they help? I've met people who've heard me mention some of the issues OU post grads face and put me in touch with people who can help sort those issues.
  • Teaching and learning conferences like the CETL conference this December
  • Associate lecturer development days
  • Landscapes of practice workshop with Etienne Wenger
  • an Elluminate tutorial
  • meetings of the Institute of Chartered Managers
  • events run by the Institute of Business Consultants
  • AIM workshop
  • seminar with Derek Pugh on writing
  • career development workshop
  • a BAM template analysis course
  • OUBS round table sessions once a year
  • presentions to fellow OUBS post grads
  • EPSRC introductory seven-week taught course on Mathematics for the Science of Complex Systems.
Recently Successful Doctoral Student used to come into the office often during her masters course and discussed assignments with colleagues. Being sat near them in first and second year of the doctorate, they'd supported each other, coming in, talking, but in the third year they sat in separate rooms and floors to be with their supervisor's section, with no fellow post grad to talk to. She missed that stimulus: "Talk to people", she advised.

The practice of moving third year students to different places has now changed. Third year students sit together. We can see each other when we come in and arrange to talk when we stop working. That's how we learn, said Lave and Wenger: we talk to learn. I can't talk to learn about my research at home; I have to show up and talk with post grads in the same situation.

Does that mean I'm 80% on my way to success? Watch this blog. My funding stops in September and I'd like to submit by then.

Lave, J. & Wenger, E. 1991. Situated learning: legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press #1131.

Remembering supervision

Just had a meeting with supervisors. I record our meetings.

Two colleagues joined me for coffee as the supervisory meeting finished.
"Did you record it?"
"Do you always record them?"
It's so useful to record the meetings, so I can concentrate on the conversation, not attempt to take notes of what might not turn out to be the important points, and so I can go back over the discussion later making notes and remembering things to do. The recording stimulates thoughts that I can later follow up, but in the face-to-face situation there's not the time to follow up everything. This habit was particularly useful after our September meeting. I took the recording away with me on holiday and sat on the train listening to it, making notes that stimulated new ideas for a theoretical framework.

I don't know any other PG that records the meetings, but I recommend doing so.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Access to cases in public organisations

"getting acquiescence to interviewees is perhaps the easiest task in case study research" {Stake, 2005:65}
Such acquiescence is not easy for researching consultant-client relationships. Both parties are shy - skittish. Getting into central government is even more difficult because of the sensitivity and secrecy - hardly surprising given the criticism central government departments can face, like "x department spent so much on consultants or £m wasted on failed government IT. It's about politics here on the BBC. And selling papers here.

Such criticism may not be deserved - government servants face so much accountability and their top people do not want to be hauled up in front of a select committee to explain a public failure. Neither do their suppliers. Is it only the specialist IT media that report the less political good news here?

Maybe they suspect the motives of researchers looking for bad news, and don't believe they are looking to see how they do what they do together. On top of that, they are busy, just plain working with little spare time to explain what they do to outsiders - wouldn't they have to account for their time anyhow?

As a researcher I'm a guest. Despite the research area being a matter of public interest, I have no scholarly right to know {Stake, 2005}, but am a guest in their spaces. My manners must be good and I have no intention of exploiting or embarrassing anybody.

STAKE, R. E. (2005) Qualitative case studies. IN DENZIN, N. K. & LINCOLN, Y. S. (Eds.) The sage handbook of qualitative research. London, Sage Publications.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Dangerous paths in writing

A recent Academy of Management paper on writing, {Pratt, 2009 }, includes advice that my supervisors have already given me, especially dangerous paths:
  1. telling about data not showing it
  2. showing too much data and not interpreting it
  3. using deductive 'short hand'
  4. quantifying qualitative data
  5. inappropriately mixing inductive and deductive strategies
Having the feedback from my supervisors is so much better than reading about what I’m supposed to be doing, even in an excellent paper like this.

To find better paths he advises:
  1. make sure your methods section includes 'the basics' (like discuss why this research is needed)
  2. show data - in a smart fashion
  3. think about using organizing figures
  4. think about telling a story
  5. consider 'modeling' someone whose style you like who consistently publishes qualitative work (who might I pick?)
Not sure I can do this writing right yet, but I keep practising.

PRATT, M. G. (2009) For the lack of a boilerplate: Tips on writing up (and reviewing) qualitative research. Academy of Management Journal, 52, 856-862.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Hooking your supervisors

What must I do to finish my PhD?
  • project manage
  • balance time and money
  • cope with life
  • manage the data I have
  • learn skills
Supervisors help by guiding, approving (e.g. conferences), and mainly advising on writing (I think). There are books available, like Rowena Murray's. Your university supports you by providing details of processes and what you and your supervisors can expect in a PhD Student Handbook. A Google search reveals lots of handbooks from lots of universities. A Google search "difficulties with supervisors" reveals plenty of advice. Advice to supervisors can also be helpful to students; I like this page at Oxford.

I wonder what hidden agendas supervisors have
  • to cover their backs if something goes wrong
  • not give too much help (but see PhD Comics early Nov 2009)
  • join you in writing papers in the longer term relationship
At a recent seminar on managing your supervisor, the advice was to shape your relationship with your supervisors, find a hook to engage them. Initially the metaphor appealled, but then I thought of nasty fish hooks like in the anti smoking ads here, and pirate hooks and hooking kicks in tae kwon do. Boxing uses hooks here. So I'm looking for a different metaphor. Anyone got one?

MURRAY, R. (2002) How to write a thesis, Buckingham ; Philadelphia, Open University Press.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Lateral literature

At coffee, colleague complained that she's having to go back and revisit literature, not only in her original area but laterally. So am I.

Last week, talking to a participant about successful collaborative IT projects, he commented on the importance of power. You can't have collaborative projects with unequal power, he said. "Aw", I think, "Ping!" - yes of course, obvious really.

I haven't thought about power for a couple of years. See here. Participant tells me about Andrew Cox at Birmingham and his work that links power and the supply chain {Cox, 2001}, a branch of literature I have not looked at at all - I hadn't thought supply chains were relevant, but in the context of public sector procurement IT systems, there's a relationship with the supplier and supply chain. See the NAO and OGC literature on procurement for example...

So I need to look up some of literature on the supply chain and power.

My grateful thanks to that participant.

COX, A., IRELAND, P., LONSDALE, C., SANDERSON, J. & WATSON, G. (2001) Supply chains, markets & power.
NAO (2005) Sustainable procurement in central government. HMSO.
NAO (2004) Improving procurement: Progress by the office of government commerce in improving departments’ capability to procure cost effectively, , . . IN REPORT BY THE COMPTROLLER AND AUDITOR GENERAL (Ed.). HMSO.
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. HMSO.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Advanced technology program

Advanced technology (ATP) enhances collaboration:
"brought strange bedfellows together." See the ATP site.
It's an old technology that's been around for decades. It's component based software development (CBSD) that involves reusing existing components, creating mock-ups and taking them back to the user to see and accept. So you get an iterative approach to IS development, working regularly with the user, rather than the strict waterfall method {Royce, 1970 }. It avoids failure of user acceptance testing at the end of the process.

What puzzles me is why government departments don't all use such approaches already.

ROYCE, W. W. (1970) Managing the development of large software systems. Proceedings, IEEE WESCON.

Sunday, 8 November 2009


If power is an important element for collaboration (as someone has argued to me), then how does it fit in with engagement?

You can't have collaboration with unequal power. And how does power fit in with social capital?

The power-influence matrix is one that consultants use to analyse their key stakeholders, though I find little evidence that clients are aware of this, or do it themselves. Who consultants make the effort to engage with and how, depends on the results of their analysis of power-influence. Therefore power and influence must come into any model of engagement. But is power a facet of communication or of knowledgeability, or is it some separate dimension?

Power could be in:
  • contacts and connections (could be strong social capital)
  • dominant norms or cultures (including physical, and norms are included in the relational dimension of social capital in Nahapiet & Ghoshal's model)
  • informal networks (social capital again)
  • control and information
Etzioni 1975 writes on power, as do Pugh et al 1989. They say power comes in one of the following forms:
  • coercive (physical) power
  • remunerative or utilitarian (material)
  • normative or identitive (symbolic) like the way someone dresses I suppose. See {Kaarst-Brown, 1999 #91}
An old OU MBA unit (B800) diagrammed overlapping forms of visible power: position, expert power, personal power and dependence.

  • Expert power comes with knowledge and skills, and is, I believe, part of engagement
  • Position power influences who has to be engaged in relationships.
  • Dependence power could be held by lower levels in the management chain who also have expertise.
  • Personal power comes with people, like someone I heard called "a friendly sort of bloke".
Power is negotiated, isn't it? So are all these types of power negotiated somehow? Something doesn't quite fit in the context of client-consultant relationships. I remember Sturdy (1997) wrote about the insecurity of the consultant so how does that insecurity work with power? Can't consultants make managers feel insecure too ? {Ernst, 2002}.

These cogitations imply I've got more work to do to answer my own questions.

ETZIONI, A. (1975) A comparative analysis of complex organizations. IN PUGH, D. S., HICKSON, D. J. AND HININGS, C. R (Ed.) Writers on organizations. 2 ed. New York,
Harmondsworth, Penguin Modern Management,
The Free Press.
KAARST-BROWN, M. L. (1999) Five symbolic roles of the external consultant: Integrating change, power and symbolism. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 12, 540-561.
STURDY, A. (1997) The consultancy process - an insecure business? Journal of Management Studies, 34.
ERNST, B. & KIESER, A. (2002) Consultants as agents of anxiety and providers of managerial control. Academy of Management Proceedings. Academy of Management.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

On intellectual craftsmanship

Some months ago, I read of this classic by C. Wright Mills, called "The Sociological Imagination". Though it didn't seem relevant to my research, but whatever I was reading recommended its appendix "On Intellectual Craftmanship".

It's terrific! Why didn't I read it earlier! These few pages seemed to be aimed at the apprentice researcher, which is what a post-grad is. Wright Mills starts by commented that:
"Only by conversations in which experienced thinkers exchange information about their actual ways of working can a useful sense of method and theory be imparted to the beginning student."
Yes - I need those conversations. He reports on how he does what he does. Guess what? Despite being written as long ago as 1959, he recommends keeping a daily journal about
"personal experiences and professional activities, studies under way and studies planned."
Advantages of such a journal include:
  • relating experience to work in progress
  • serving as a check on repetitious work
  • capturing 'fringe-thoughts'
  • "keeping your inner world away" to draw out implications from events or ideas
  • building the habit of writing
  • developing powers of expression
Well, isn't this what a research journal is, or what I'm trying to do with this blog?

This appendix comes in six sections.

Part 2 explains how to use the file of writing for intellectual production through maintaining and rearranging it. He gives examples from his own work.

Part 3 is about empirical projects.

Part 4 suggests seven techniques for getting ideas, for "stimulating the sociological imagination".
  1. re-arrange the files
  2. play with the phrases and words
  3. classify your notions
  4. consider extremes - think of the opposite
  5. invert your sense of proportion
  6. "get a comparative grip on the materials" - that's what my supervisor recommended last month - compare public sector case studies with case studies in other sectors.
  7. arrange materials for presentation, identifying and sorting the main themes. Cross-classify them.
Part 5 explains how you might write in clear and simple languages, even on complex subjects. He advises clarifying your answers to three questions:
"(1) how difficult and complex after all is my subject?
(2) when I write, what status am I claiming for myself?
(3) for whom am I trying to write?"
Part 6 advises that you order what you've found out, that "thinking is a struggle for order"

Part 7 advises trying to understand "men and women as historical and social actors".

Part 8 is on keeping "your moral and political autonomy". Thus:
"the sociological imagination has its chance to make a difference in the quality of human life in our time"
This is an inspiring appendix to read and reread.


Friday, 6 November 2009

Stake on constructivism

Constructivism: the belief that knowledge is made up largely of social interpretation rather than awareness of external reality.

I have to nourish the belief that knowledge is constructed - that's the term Stake uses on page 99 'nourish'. It's an odd metaphor of food and nutrition - why do I have to nourish beliefs? Will beliefs starve without it? my research approach will wither and die without that belief. Why? Because my research approach is founded on the belief that people create and construct engagement between them. Engagement is not a given reality that everyone agrees on. the word itself has various meanings;
  • engage - in a fight. See soldier who engaged with a gunman
  • engage - take someone on in a contractual and legal arrangement - even a marriage is such an arrangement, hence a couple gets engaged.
  • engage - a relationship that's positive and helpful, which is where I want to look
Without understanding and accepting these various understandings my research cannot progress. Therefore my research is founded on constructivism.

Stake, R. E. (1995). Art of case study research, Sage.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Real life

I've been speaking to people who know about consultants and consultancy from working with consultants, from providing consultancy, people who don't spout academic words at me with strings of adjectives connected with 'furthermore', 'however' and 'in addition'. People outside academia don't have to prove everything or show which ideas are grounded in the literature with citations in order to avoid plagarism. They're pragmatic and get on with life, managing what has to be managed. They satisfice, i.e they make do with what's available.

Academia is not allowed to satisfice, but must cover all arguments in logical (and lengthy) detail.

Academia and real life are different worlds.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Foreign academics

Now I realise why Jorge Cham couldn't get into the UK last week - it's something to do with the new system for handling immigrants. But it's ridiculous and embarassing when invited academics can't do lecture tours. The petition at protests the new regulations.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Frustrating day

Yesterday Estates came and pulled the plug on my computer. For Health and Safety reasons, they were meant to provide me with an extension cable and close the socket hatch that was open beneath the foot of my desk. I'd left my computer on while I photocopied something; they arrived, and pulled all the plugs out. I walked in, found two men under my desk. I thought:
"Oh! My computer's off."
and wandered off to do something else. When I got it working again, I was relieved to find my two most important databases, Endnote and Nvivo, were still okay. But this morning when I switched on, it had lost all my personal settings:
  • no signature file,
  • no Firefox add-ons,
  • no history,
  • no bookmarks,
  • no network directories and
  • no printers.
So sending an email meant manually adding contact details, printing wasn't immediately possible.

Thank goodness for the OUBS cheerful techie, who not only sorted it around lunch time muttering imprecations on Estate's head as this is not the first time they've done this, but also commented that he could make my machine work much more quickly and when was I going to be out so that he could clean it up?

I'm out tomorrow - and forgot to get my train ticket for the meeting. I left the office early to get it. So having planned to proof read a transcript and code another, I've only proof read about 5 minutes of a transcript. Frustrating.

New Vice Chancellor

Our new VC, Martin Bean, came for an informal first meeting with the OUBS people today. He described himself as 'Chief Cheerleader' - a rather nice title. What impressed me was that he seemed to know that the students get this personal relationship with a tutor (associate lecturer) on each course they study. He seemed impressed by the quality of the course material that the full time lecturers write, and he answered our questions fully, apparently honestly, and as if after only a month in the job, he had done a lot of homework. Indeed, I believe he has; he says he has visited all of the 14 regions, and now understands the difficulties of British roads, as well as attending a residential school, and I know he's been to a degree ceremony in cognito.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Critical realism

I'm trying to understand the philosophical options that underpin my research. Two that may be relevant are
  • critical realism
  • social constructivism
Critical realism seems to be how things are in the world and the world is real, but there's still a distinction between the world of nature and the world of social. It's a natural world you can experiment with, analyse and measure; a social world has people who make up or construct concepts between them so the social world can't be controlled.

What's social constructivism in comparison?

Sunday, 1 November 2009

UK student visas

The BBC today has news about problems with the immigration points system and letting students in.

There's a radio programme Donal MacIntyre on the subject this evening on radio 5 at 19.30 and an email address to contact the programme:

Something funny is happening; the PhD cartoonist, Jorge Cham, said he nearly got thrown out last week when he came to the UK to give a series of lectures. See his three cartoons:
Perhaps it's this points system that is delaying the Home Office returning the passport of one of our Chinese students.

Friday, 30 October 2009

Interview questions again

Sometimes people agree to give me half an hour of their time, for which I'm grateful, but it's not long. So I need to be efficient in eliciting information that tells me how they engage with people on an IT project, and how that relationship brings value. From a prompt sheet of 20 questions my minimum questions must cover:
  1. What's your expertise?
  2. What is/were the relationships like?
  3. What has helped or hindered relationships?
  4. What did you learn?
  5. How is that (engaged) relationship valuable?
  6. Where do the most value adding interactions happen?
My senior PG at the next desk tells me you get more skilled with practice. Good - give me practice!

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Constructivism in information systems

Mingers writes and edits on social theory and philosophy in information systems. For example, on shaping of technology (SST) and the social construction of technology (SCOT) (sounds like a take-off of Berger & Luckmans 'Social construction of reality'). They criticise "the predominance of technological determinism" (page 332).

In Minger's book, Probert reviews Theodor Adono's work because it "assists the critical researcher in devising apposite research strategies". Probert comments:
"in Adono's view the subject does not make the world up (this is often termed 'constructivism')"
Constructivism is how a person understands the world, has made it up, has constructed it. It's a metaphor of building. These parts fit together, something cements them so that together they build something. Again in Mingers, Howcroft et al consider terminology indicating that constructivism includes strands:
  • actor-network approach
  • social constructivist approach
  • social shaping approach
  • systems approach.
But each strand causes debates. For example, they mention weak versus strong constructivism. I'd not read of the contrast before - so there's more for me to read up.

Mingers work is fascinating, enjoyable and relevant to IS in general. However, the research I'm doing is more about people, management and business than technology - it' s just that people and management are situated in a technology context - I'm not sure that technology influences the client-consultant relationship and therefore the literature on social theory and philosophy technology is not sufficiently relevant to my research.

Berger, P. L. and T. Luckmann (1971). The social construction of reality : a treatise in the sociology of knowledge. Harmondsworth, Penguin.
Mingers, J. and L. P. Willcocks, Eds. (2004). Social Theory and Philosophy for Information Systems. John Wiley Series in Information Systems, John Wiley.
"The phrase 'social theory and philosophy for information systems' invites an examination of following terms: social, theory, philosophy, information, systems, information systems, philosophy for information..." (more)


On a high at the moment because I've been talking to people, or rather listening to them tell me what really happens, how they engage with each other. That would give me more of a high than sitting at a desk reading the academic literature. I read a phrase out loud to a Non-Academic Colleague:
"Developing new ways of dealing with materiality in organizational research is critical if we are to understand contemporary forms of organizing that are increasingly constituted by multiple, emergent, shifting, and interdependent technologies. "
Snore Zzz, was the response. It may be a very important sentence, but so many adjectives left my NAC confused and bored.

I enjoy watching, observing and finding out how how people do what they do. And the literature helps me make sense of what I see.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

PhD comics

It's worrying when a genuine academic, even if an amusing one, isn't allowed into the UK, which is what seems to be facing Jorge Cham who does the cartoons of PhD students' problems, Piled Higher and Deeper has had trouble with the UK Borders Agency. See his cartoon at, which indicates he's on the point of being thrown out before he can do his lecture tour.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Time off

It's half term so I'm nipping out this afternoon to watch the newly released film of the Fantastic Mr Fox. It's had some good reviews so I shall enjoy the treat with some young relatives.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Real progress

Progress seems slow, but after plodding through some writing this weekend, I'm producing something useful.

The framework for engagement that I'm developing appears to work on one of my case studies, and is better at addressing my research questions than the social capital framework I've been using for months. It's rather exciting!

Friday, 23 October 2009

Slow progress

I've little to show for the last week:
  • thinking about this theoretical framework;
  • coding a case study against it;
  • finding academic literature (like Orlikowski) to support aspects of the framework;
  • written little;
  • answered some emails;
  • read some papers
Why do some emails take so long? Hours even! Important emails have to be worded carefully, punctuated correctly, have the right attachments included together with dates, times, contact details. I have to print them off so I can see them properly, see the typo that just can't make itself seen on the screen.

So from a week's work I have:
  • two emails
  • some slightly altered paragraphs in the framework
  • a recoded case study
  • a few new files in my Endnote database
I'll need to speed up if I'm to finish within the funding. Does everybody go so slowly?

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Draft thesis

Following Rowena Murray's advice again, I attempted short answers to each of these eight questions on my thesis. They summarise the thesis as it is in October 2009

Who are the intended readers?
• Supervisors
• Examiners
• Participants
• Public sector employees and mangers
• Consultants

What did you do?
  • interviewed public servants and sometimes their consultants and contractors on IT projects.
  • read any available project documentation and relevant documentation on the organisation.

Why did you do it?
because public servants provide important services that we need done and I want to know how they use external consultants to get a good job done, how they work with those consultants to add value to an IT project. IT Projects are particularly interesting because of the extension of e-government and the extent and complexity of IT projects.

What happened?
I found out about some IT cases in a variety of organisations including a council, an island, and central government. I spoke to 20 people, recording 17 interviews. Some interviews were ad hoc with individuals, but most interviews related to a particular project.

The consultants actively sought to engage with relevant clients. If there was a problem with a client, then consultants engaged either with each other or with other clients to find a way round problems to achieve the project aim, with or without the problem client.

What do the results mean in theory?
Engagement has been for this research perceived as a dyadic relationship that when it occurs can add value to an IT project by furthering its aims more effectively.

Engagement when it lacks can be evaded by bridging the circle, using other relationships to get a job done. But that means that engagement depends on pre-existing social capital.

Easier engagement makes for easier transfer of knowledge.

What do the results mean in practice?
To a project bring people that have some pre-existing structural relationship with others, so that they can build new relationships on that and it makes for easier engagement.

A variety of people come with a variety of skills and some need social skills in order to engage and transfer knowledge so ensure each group of skills includes someone who is willing and able to share knowledge.

What’s the key benefit for readers?

• Fun to read
• Shared knowledge help them plan and manager their IT projects
• Err - I'm still thinking

What’s unresolved?
• The expense of maintaining social capital.
• How it gets started in the first place
• What else is unresolved is how engagement influences systems development. More evidence is needed – but mighty interesting.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Case selection

To investigate the phenomenon of engagement I need a collection of instrumental case studies. It would be nice to have a formal sample, because I might expect that such samples would represent some population of cases {Stake, 2005 #1371}. But the sample size I have is "too small to warrant random selection". So I have a purposive sample instead, a variety that represents different types of organisation, different IT projects and different types of third parties (consultants, suppliers, contractors). So I've chosen cases that seem to offer opportunities to learn and because these cases are accessible.

The other thing my cases seem to have in common is something successful about them - the participants are proud of their work.

STAKE, R. E. (2005) Qualitative case studies. IN DENZIN, N. K. & LINCOLN, Y. S. (Eds.) The Sage handbook of qualitative research. London, Sage Publications.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Transaction costs again

Why don't I want to use economic and risk management theories for this research? Specifically why don't I want to use transaction costs?

Moran and Ghoshal start their1996 paper by describing two campers facing a tiger. One reaches for his running shoes despite not being able to outrun a tiger, but he points out that he only needs to outrun his colleague. That attitude indicates the type of relationship they have, and it doesn't involve trust, working together, getting things done together. It is not collaborative. Moran and Ghoshal point out that the attitude depends on two assumptions:
  • human nature behaviour is opportunistic
  • efficiency

What are transaction costs? Economists define them as the costs of administration of contracts and relationships between firms, and Fukuyama, {1996} says networks are a means of trust generation and networks can save on transaction costs

Armbrüster, T. (2006). The economics and sociology of management consulting. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
Ghoshal, S. and P. Moran (1996). "BAD FOR PRACTICE: A CRITIQUE OF THE TRANSACTION COST THEORY." Academy of Management Review 21(1): 13-47.
Moran, P. and S. Ghoshal VALUE CREATION BY FIRMS. Academy of Management Best Papers Proceedings, Academy of Management.
Fukuyama, F. (1996). Trust : the social virtues and the creation of prosperity. London, Penguin.
MCKENNA, C. D. (2006) The World's Newest Profession: Management Consulting in the Twentieth Century, Cambridge University Press.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Intrinsic and instrumental case studies

Intrinsic and instrumental interest in cases matters according to what you are researching
  • Intrinsic - because you want to understand this particular case better
  • Instrumental - I examine the case to provide insight into an issue. The issue I'm interested in is engagement in relationships therefore my cases are instrumental. Hence, I can study a number of cases jointly. so I have ..
  • Multiple or collective case studies because I'm investigating the phenomenon of engagement and how it can add value or help to deliver value. "It's instrumental study extended to several cases" says Stake.
"It would be interesting to know the details of what IT system the organisation was implementing"
commented a supervisor on a paper I wrote on a case study. But in reply, I must point out that this is not an intrinsic case study, but an instrumental case, one of a collection of cases to investigate the phenomenon of engagement and as such, whilst it would indeed be interesting to know technical details, that information does not explain the phenomenon and so those details are not relevant. Furthermore, if including such details makes it easier to identify the participating organisation, it is better to leave them out.

STAKE, R. E. (2005) Qualitative case studies. IN DENZIN, N. K. & LINCOLN, Y. S. (Eds.) The Sage handbook of qualitative research. London, Sage Publications.
in DENZIN, N. K. & LINCOLN, Y. S. (Eds.) (2005) The Sage handbook of qualitative research, Thousand Oaks ; London, Sage Publications.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Getting somewhere

Post supervision:
  1. Supervisors are happy (ish)
  2. my framework could make a significant contribution
  3. Supervisor # 1 is (again) looking for a case study through work contacts
  4. As usual both supervisors are available together, even if they have to come in especially, which is what they might have done today - I appreciate that effort.
  5. They gave me direction to work out how to finish my literature review with this proposed framework for analysis of the case studies, then "This suggests the framework is useful to test..."
The happiish bit is because of the paucity of rich case studies, hence supervisor #1 wants to widen outside the public sector. Without the data, I can't finish on time with a good thesis. The options are:
  1. Finish but I may find the examiner passes the thesis only with major revisions or
  2. Wait until case study materialises so I finish late
Both scenarios mean an unfunded delay.

For a rich case study, I need an IT project where I can speak to several people: users, project manager, contractors, developers and consultant. I have one otherwise good case study where I couldn't speak to the consultant; an examiner might argue that without the consultant's perspective I can't say enough about engagement.

So it's back to the word processor to work out how to write my arguments. And the drawing board to think who I can approach for case studies, in or out of the public sector.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Between submission and viva

Our Chinese student who has recently submitted her thesis can't go home. The Home Office has her passport, has had it since April, and not returned it. Although student and the research office and all the Open University officials have contacted the Home Office, still she doesn't have her visa and passport back. She can't go home and get back into the UK for her viva without it, but neither can she work here because she hasn't got a work visa. It's such a shame because these free months are the time when she should be able to go home for a break. But if she can't get back in to take the viva, then she won't get her PhD after her years of hard work.

It's sad and frustrating.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Why the public sector?

What motivates me to do research on the public sector is
“the conviction that government is given crucial work that society very much needs to have performed well”
(from a book review by Kelman in Academy of Management Review, 2008 April, page 564)

It's important that researchers look at public sector work to find how public sector workers do well what they do well. Such research should disseminate good practice, which is then of value to all of us, both as receivers of public services and as tax payers.

Czerniawska writing on independence says here
"in the public sector, organisations tend to be more concerned about the tied/independent distinction, driven by a combination of wanting to ensure fair and open competition and by a desire for oversight and governance."
It's the oversight and governance aspects that draw me to the public sector.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Fitting engagement

I've got a model that fits engagement in with social capital.

I've struggled for three weeks with the theory for this framework, but all came together when I got the diagram working about a week ago. Then the rest slotted into place, requiring only that I connect the ideas by using words to explain and support my argument.

It's thanks to a few comments from supervisor #2, and constant reading of any possibly relevant literature that my ideas begin to pull together. I need to present them to my fellow students to see what they think before I expose myself to big cheese academics because what I've got is either really good, or it's pants.

I'm well chuffed.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Projects and social capital

Nahapiet & Ghoshal’s (1998) model assumes the existence of social capital; the fed back intellectual capital is apparently the only input to sustain social capital. Nahapiet & Ghoshal point out,
“much of this capital is embedded within networks of mutual acquaintance and recognition”
so interaction is essential for the development and maintenance of social capital but that development takes time. Something needs to create the social capital in the first place.

In a project context, which by its nature is temporary and time bounded, the various project members may well come without pre-existing relationships, and hence, without social capital as a means to create and exchange intellectual capital. Without initial social capital, Nahapiet & Ghoshal’s model cannot start to apply.

Project members must create initial social capital. How do they get started? That's where they need to engage with each other.

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

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Where’s the value arise from engagement?

Value arises from the outcomes of engagement, which are what Wenger and Axelrod rabbit on about, being free flowing communication and consequent emergent knowledgeability through exchange of social capital and intellectual capital.

New value is created through:
  • More capability and improved productivity (Axelrod et al., 2004),
  • People aligned around a common purpose & people grasping issues (Axelrod, 2001),
  • A recognition of peoples' issues & concerns (Axelrod, 2001).
  • Engagement sparks creativity and produces ownership It also builds trust and creates common languages (Axelrod, 2001) and
  • Better understanding (McCormick, 1999) in (Axelrod, 2001).
  • Engagement increases commitment and gives a greater feeling of community {McCormick, 1999 #1256)
There's a lot of Axelrod. I'd like to see something else, and something more academic. Axelrod tends to be more practitioner than academic literature. The McCormick paper is interesting and relevant but it's a PhD thesis that I haven't yet got my hands on.

AXELROD, R. H. (2001) Why Change Management Needs Changing. Reflections, 2, 46-57.
AXELROD, R. H., AXELROD, E., BEEDON, J. & JACOBS, C. D. (2004) You don't have to do it alone: how to involve others to get things done, San Francisco, CA, Berrett-Koehler.
MCCORMICK, T. M. (1999) The impact of large-scale participative interventions on participants.
SAKS, A. M. (2006) Antecedents and consequences of employee engagement. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 21, 600-619.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

What is engagement?

Engagement’s more of a phenomenon than something definable, because it’s constructed by the various people who understand they are engaged.

If I asked you if you were engaged with your work, even a positive response from you would differ from a positive response from someone else. It’s socially constructed.

Engagement has several facets, including for example:
  • Commitment/ participation /involvement /collaboration /cooperation / Negotiation
  • Learning/Interest
  • Vigour/Dedication/Absorption
  • A mode of belonging/ Being included
  • Coming to the office
  • Round tables
  • Mutuality
  • Belief that people matter/ Create communities /Connect people /democracy
  • Specific expertise / More capability
  • Improved productivity
  • Cross-project communication/Communication /Creates common languages/Information flows freely/Dialogue
Some of these facets may be the same so I'll categorise them in some way.

But what's the academic literature that I need?

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

What’s the difference between social capital and trust?

Trust is “a key facet of social capital” {Nahapiet, 1998} that you can use to build up social capital. So is there any difference?

Assuming trust promotes useful knowledge {Levin, 2004 } - hence the value added bit - then you'd share knowledge with people you trust, but it's something that feeds into social capital, an aspect of social capital.

Pinto et al {2008} say trust facilitates positive relationships on projects. That's adding value too, but it's facilitating an aspect of social capital - it isn't social capital. But you couldn't have social capital without trust. Trust provides a competitive advantage to the consultant (Block, 2000) so would help a consultant to build social capital in a new project.

Trust cements critical stakeholder relationships {Pinto, 2008}, which is what a consultant must be looking at - the various stakeholders. Pinto et al's study views it as valuable to manage interorganisational relationships to improve trust, so it's a kind of lubricant {Costa, 2009} - an oil (which is what some of my interviewees suggested).

Fukuyama relates trust to culture, 1996}; networks are a means of trust generation and networks can save on transaction costs. That's really interesting because it suggests that the networks of social capital generate trust, but trust also generates social capital - there's a positive feedback loop.

Wenger's new book 2009 Digital Habitats "learning together depends on the qualities of trust and mutual engagement that member develop with each other" (p8) so he doesn't say trust is a facet of engagement but trust and engagement together lead to learning. And how does that differ from social capital?

Fukuyama, F. (1996). Trust : the social virtues and the creation of prosperity. London, Penguin.
Levin, D. Z. & Cross, R. 2004. The Strength of Weak Ties You Can Trust: The Mediating Role of Trust in Effective Knowledge Transfer. Management Science, 50(11): 1477-1490.
McCormick, T. i. r. i. c. o. M. 1999. The impact of large-scale participative interventions on participants.
Nahapiet, J. & Ghoshal, S. 1998. Social capital, intellectual capital, and the organizational advantage. Academy of Management Review, 23(2): 242-266.
Pinto, J. K., Slevin, D. P., & English, B. 2008. Trust in projects: An empirical assessment of owner/contractor relationships. International Journal of Project Management, In Press, Corrected Proof.

Monday, 5 October 2009

What is capital?

Capital is a concept from finance, meaning something of value that you can collect and use to exchange for other resources or services. I suppose it comes from a Latin word, like "caput" and means head. Capital is wealth or stock, so I can't see how it came from 'head' unless it were a tax on each person's head.

Capital provides power because it’s something that others want and it lets you do things that you couldn't do otherwise. And social capital is a financial metaphor.

That's my opinion, but what academic has said these sort of things so I can work from the academic literature?

Sunday, 4 October 2009

How has your study changed since you wrote your proposal?

How has your study changed since you wrote your proposal? That's another of Rowena Murray's writing prompts.

The main change in my study is the stress on social capital theory rather than on social networking theory. Consequently the method is also different (not the methodology) because with SNT, there's a possibility of counting, measuring and quantifying dyadic relationships but SNT doesn't take into account the quality of the relationship - the how.

Secondly, using SNT, I'd need access to more people within a group or organisation in order to collect and verify data whereas with social capital theory I can talk to any one person to get their impressions and I can work with those impressions. It's a bonus if I can get more than one person on the same project to talk to me, but not as crucial as it would be if I were using SNT.

So the methodology of using case studies and the philosophy behind that still stands, but I can also add one-off interviews about projects as well as aiming for case studies of projects where I can speak to more people. - very useful web site for all theories that might be applied to IS research
Murray, R. (2002). How to write a thesis. Buckingham ; Philadelphia, Open University Press.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Questions I currently have

The questions I currently have about my study are:
  • how to link the various facets of the dimensions of engagement that I've identified to the social capital dimensions that Nahapiet & Ghoshal identify.
  • if this structure for the theoretical framework is okay, then I have to write why it's okay, which has something to do with outcomes of engagement. Good outcomes create and maintain social capital.
  • which facets overlap and how do I write them so that the reader (especially my supervisors) understand what I mean?
  • how to explain the value that accrues from engagement so that practitioners understand its value and want to engage in order to use that value in their IT projects.

Murray, R. (2002). How to write a thesis. Buckingham ; Philadelphia, Open University Press. See Murray's prompts, page 88
Nahapiet, J. and S. Ghoshal (1998). "Social capital, intellectual capital, and the organizational advantage." Academy of Management Review 23(2): 242-266.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Putting framework together

I've got a bit of imagination working, which means I am putting something new together for the theoretical framework. I'm rather excited by what has come out of days of thinking, doodling, jotting of words, and drawing of lines to connect ideas. It was a painful process, but then a bit would drop into place and then another bit. I think I've got something I can work with, and which is new.

What will my supervisors think? Have I wasted my time?

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Faffing about moving desks and floors

It's the beginning of a new academic year and new MRes and first year PhD students are registering today, and will need their desks from Monday. So all the third year students are moving upstairs to sit near their seniors who are now in fourth year and writing up as fast as they can. The second years have moved downstairs. That leaves the new MRes students in the same room as the first year PhD students.

In the practitioner consulting literature, a strategy {Block, 2000 } for getting people to engage with each other is have a physical structure that supports community. Our new arrangement will support year groups as communities. But we're all split up so casual conversation or observation of what senior students are doing will no longer be possible.

The desks were moved two days ago, but the computers only moved yesterday, and not immediately connected, so the first half of the day was spent getting phones and computers connected. On top of that, my desk was high, and colleague's desk was low. He's tall; I'm short. He needs his desk high to reduce his back ache; I want mine low so that my chair is low and my feet touch the ground. So we had to get the removal men to swap our desks round.

By the time all that was done, it was time for coffee. Coffee time is an opportunity for us all to get together, compare notes on progress or refuse to talk about work. Next week, we'll have to get the new students' emails /extension numbers and let them know when people are about to have a coffee or lunch break. That might help newcomers to engage usefully with the senior students and get some value from their experience.

Block, P. (2000). Flawless Consulting: a guide to getting your expertise used, Jossey-Bass/Fpeiffer.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Another submission

Congratulations from all of us on submitting your thesis

Ting's done some interesting work on supply chain management in China, and has some special case studies. This last year has been hard work to pull it all together. The cut off date was today, 30th September. Ting is exhausted.


I've been reading a paper on stakeholders, which is discussed in depth here. Stakeholder attributes are identified as:
  • power
  • urgency
  • legitimacy
The authors then categorise them in a Venn diagram of the three overlapping attributes giving eight areas to the Venn diagram according to their attributes:
  • LATENT STAKEHOLDERS with only one attribute: dormant, discretionary and demanding stakeholders
  • EXPECTANT STAKEHOLDERS with two attributes: dangerous, dominant and dependent stakeholders
  • DEFINITIVE STAKEHOLDERS with a combination of all three attributes
  • Non-stakeholders
What interests me is that I suspect consultants analyse their clients like this, not using Schein's typology, but identifying stakeholder attributes and then consciously managing their clients.

Are public sector clients aware they are being managed?


Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Wedges under can lids

Yesterday's work was a struggle to fit together the theoretical framework from Napahiet & Ghoshal along with the literature on engagement. Eventually, I came up with a framework based on the engagement literature, and think I'm getting somewhere, though it still needs more work. I feel as if I've shoved a wedge under a can lid, and with just a little more effort will be able to open it, but sometimes those wedges fall out and you have to start again.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Extending Schein's client typology

Schein has this categorisation of clients:
  • contact,
  • intermediate,
  • primary,
  • unwitting,
  • indirect and
  • ultimate clients.
Contact clients are individuals who first contact the consultant. Intermediate clients are individuals or groups who get involved through meetings and other activities. Primary clients are those who own and manage the problem and may pay the bill. Ultimate clients are those whose welfare other clients and the consultant must consider. Unwitting clients are those related to the primary client but are unaware that they will be impacted. Indirect clients are those who are aware that they will be affected by consultancy interventions but either the consultancy or other clients do not know about them.

However, some researchers (like Sturdy) suggest that this model can be extended to include other clients, like ignored clients - those the consultant knows about, but discounts. "Proscribed clients" is the term that Sturdy uses, being people who are excluded from a change process through political manoeuvering.

Interesting. I wonder how much the public sector does this. And surely proscribed clients would be difficult to identify through research, because of the politics that proscribes them.

STURDY, A., CLARK, T., FINCHAM, R. & HANDLEY, K. (2009) Between innovation and legitimation - boundaries and knowledge flow in management consultancy. Organization.
STURDY, A., HANDLEY, K., FINCHAM, R. & CLARK, T. (2009) Management consultancy : boundaries and knowledge in action, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Shoe horn engagement

You know what a shoe horn is? It's a tool for helping you fit into a shoe that's just a bit too tight.

For the last two weeks, I've been trying to shoe horn the phenomenon of engagement into Nahapiet and Ghoshal's framework of three dimensions of social capital. And it doesn't quite fit, or it's too tight. Their framework includes trust, and that seems to be an aspect of engagement. It's aspects of the relational dimension that seem most relevant.

But I can't quite work out how to adapt their diagram to include engagement. Somehow social capital drives and includes engagement, and that helps the combination and exchange of intellectual capital, so increases value. That's my hypothesis anyhow.

But perhaps I shouldn't be trying to use a shoe horn, because if a shoe doesn't fit, then it hurts.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Drivers and outcomes of engagement

I have a list of drivers of engagement and a list of outcomes of engagement, and sometimes they're the same. Or the way the authors write makes it difficult to distinguish between drivers and outcomes. I think drivers include:
  • Trust, Commitment (Block, NAO 2006),
  • Learning {Marcum}, Involvement {Marcum, Wenger}, Interest {Marcum}, Participation {Marcum, Axelrod, 2004},
  • Dialogue {McMaster},
  • Vigour, Dedication & Absorption {Schaufeli},
  • Belonging, Being included, Negotiation Relations of mutuality Coming to the office {Wenger},
  • Round tables {Block}
  • Belief that people matter, Encourage collaboration, Foster participation, Create communities , Connect people, Embrace democracy {Axelrod, 2002}
I think I can combine these drivers with outcomes into a couple of dimensions:
  • emergent knowledgeability
  • communication
Then these various drivers and outcomes might make sense.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Where am I positioning my research in the literature?

Someone asked me:
Where are you positioning this research in the literature?
I stuttered. So he suggested:
In HR? or in organisational behaviour?
Feeling really thick, I can't answer this question, but have in my mind a memory of a Venn diagram I had had on my wall, but removed. Perhaps it was just the wording of the question that threw me, but if the examiner asks me at the viva, I'll have to think of diagrams and answer with those in my mind. The answer would have been about scoping the literature,

There's advice here: on positioning yourself in relation to the existing literature. If you can tell the examiner where your work fits in, then you get the PhD.

Monday, 21 September 2009


The Institute of Business Consulting has launched this best practice about:
"the behaviours buyers of consultancy should expect and receive from consultants in order to create sustainable and mutually beneficial relationships"
Do buyers of consultancy expect any particular behaviours, and if so what? You'd have thought this nothing new, because Fiona Czerniawska published enough advice for the intelligent client in her 2002 book. She advised clients on how to select a consulting firm, and how to manage consultants to maximise value. Unlike a lot of the practitioner literature, Czerniawska addresses her book to the client, not to the consultant. This is a book to help the client get value from consultants, not to help consultants to get more work. She emphasises relationships and factors that have an impact. For example, she writes about trust and the fact that it must be mutual "Trust can never be unilateral", so like the IBC, she is concerned with mutuality.

Yet Castle, speaking at the IBC, says clients still have two overriding concerns:
"Who is in control of the relationship, and how can we be sure we are getting best value?
That's what I'm researching.

CZERNIAWSKA, F. (2002) Value-based consulting, Palgrave Macmillan.


I like this web site at I put a paper I'm writing on my theoretical framework into it and got this picture:

which is about right with all the important words representing concepts and phenomena that I've struggling with.

So it's a fun web site, and so I've tried it on one of my case studies and on this blog. The case study picture showed me that I was indeed writing about projects, programmes, government and clients, though the picture for this blog was less focused. So the site helps me to check that I am writing about what I think I'm writing about. Interesting. Try it.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

What story am I telling?

I choose a quote to illustrate something and my supervisor asks me who said it. Or I don't choose enough quotes and my supervisor asks for more, so as to get an idea of the personality. But no-one checks that I haven't made up the quotes, or that the story I'm telling is what actually happened. Apart from my supervisors observing the process I'm following, because names and organisations are confidential, no-one knows who or where I got the data from.

So why couldn't I make up a story?

To some extent, I am making up a story. I take someone else's words in a document, or from an interview. I transcribe the interview words, losing the hand gestures, and the facial expressions, and the emphasis. I put in punctuation; punctuation doesn't exist when you talk - you just talk. So straight away, I'm creating a story slightly different from the original that was intended by the interviewee - it's a story that is my interpretation of what I think I heard the interviewee say. Then I wrap the interview quotes up with my own words in the paper I write. Then my supervisor reads it and interprets it in a different way from what I meant - gets a different story or even no story from it.

And so it goes on - it's the sociological equivalent of the old IT cartoon about the user requirements where the systems analyst understood a piece of wood had to hang from a tree branch, the designer wanted to hang the wood with three pieces of room, and the programmer sawed the tree trunk in half, propped it up, and hung the wood from two ropes on opposite branches. All the user wanted was a tyre to swing on. The discrepancies between expectations are analysed here.

So the story I'm telling could be as varied as there are people involved in telling it and listening or reading it. That's constructionism.

Thursday, 17 September 2009


On using case studies in my methodology chapter I'll have to comment on generalisation. Mason {2002} says it's not easy, that you have to know what your argument is and its relationship to the production of theory - and that's what I'm struggling with - relating real practical engagement to the engagement literature and social capital theory. I have to support each claim I make with the relevant linking material, Mason says.

The points to make must include:
  • Qualitative research must produce explanations that have wide resonance and are generalisable even though case studies provide a compact unit of research {Payne, 2005 }
  • Case studies should be interesting
  • Case studies should maximise what can be learnt from that particular case
  • Acknowledgement that limited generalisation is possible or appropriate to qualitative research
I need to find how Stake distinguishes between types of case study. From the web, I gather it's:
  1. The intrinsic case study where ‘ this case is of interest… in all its particularity and ordinariness’ , ‘let the case reveal its story’
  2. The instrumental case study in which a case is examined mainly to provide insight into an issue or for refinement of a theory.
  3. The collective case study – number of cases studied in order to investigate some general phenomenon.
I want instrumental case studies to gain insight to the phenomenon of engagement. Collective case studies would be nice if I could get them. I'm not using intrinsic case studies, so don't need to go into details of what the project or programmes are - and that helps to keep confidentiality and anonymity.

Mason, J. (2002). Qualitative researching. London, Sage.
Payne, G. and M. Williams (2005). "Generalization in Qualitative Research." Sociology 39(2): 295-314.
Stake, R. E. (1995) The Art of case study research, Sage. or in
Stake, R. (1994) Case studies, in Denzin, N. and Lincoln, Y.S. Handbook of Qualitative Research, London, Sage

Ethical issues

My dissertation points on ethical issues must include:
  • Dignity, welfare, do no harm
  • Care taken to do no harm. Participants and organisations confidentiality respected.
  • Data accurately collected and reported
  • Permission to conduct research in the manner adopted was gained from the OU ethics committee
  • Interviewees and organisations were informed of the nature of the research and given the right to anonymity, offered the chance to withdraw or discontinue participation, given written details of how their details would be stored and used and asked to indicate their agreement
  • At the interview stage, interviewees were sent or given a copy of the information sheet and an informed consent form. The form was discussed and collected at the beginning of the interview. The form gave the option of separately giving or refusing permission for the recording of interview. The interviewees were given anonymity in the thesis and in the NVivo files by the use of pseudonyms.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009


A supervision meeting was planned today, with both supervisors, which is normal - usually they are both. But one can't make the planned meeting in the morning so I met one at the planned time and the other in the afternoon.

It just goes to remind me how useful it is that they strive to meet together.

Would communities of practice improve IT projects?

Communities of practice share knowledge.
  • Knowledge is both tacit and explicit. Why is that? Who said it? It's probably Nonaka and I can use his material to explain and give examples.
  • Knowledge is social, not just one person's knowledge and I could find examples from the case studies I have
  • Dynamic knowledge - i.e. knowledge changes with experience, including the project life cycle, so knowledge needs updating throughout a project.
  • Keeping the social structures after a project finishes. But teams break up when a project finishes, so you lose, or loosen the knowledge. How can you keep those structures? Perhaps through communities of practice, perhaps through maintaining the social capital, keeping the networks going.

NONAKA, I. (1994) A Dynamic Theory of Organizational Knowledge Creation. Organization Science, 5, 14-37.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Pilot study

I didn't have a pilot case study, but I did practise interviewing someone about her experience of using consultants in a public sector environment. I recorded it to check I could hack the technology. I also piloted my interview questions.
Pilot participants
Three pilot participants who had worked in a managerial capacity were recruited through personal contacts. Two were fellow students and the third was a personal contact. The pilot participants were:
  • Eddie: an ex hospital administrator
  • Robert: a manager of a vineyard
  • Bert: an IT technical consultant
These gave as far as possible in a small sample a spread of technical and managerial relationships as well as providing the change to assess engagement in various situations, though the aim of the pilot interviewees was only to test the flow of the questions, and the length of the interview.
Pilot interview locations
Two interviewees were interviewed in meeting rooms in the OU where they worked, and one in his home. The meeting rooms were best n terms of recording quality and comfort because participants and researcher were on home ground, which helped in building rapport.
Assessment of the pilot interview process
The participants confirmed the questions helped/encouraged them to talk. The researcher found the questions elicited relevant information about their experiences with other workers with whom they may have engaged. The timing was about right at just under 60 minutes except for the least talkative interviewee Bert, where the interview was only around 20 minutes.
Issues identified by the researcher about the interview process
  1. The interview schedule was designed to give a “fairly defined” though not rigid /prescriptive structure to help participants to continue talking. A review of the interviews suggested the structure did encourage in-depth and rich description.
  2. There is danger of varying the questions wording each time – losing precise wording – does that matter? Or is it better to keep rapport by varying the wording to respond to what the interviewee has said?
  3. Asking leading questions versus confirming questions
  4. It is tempting to move to the next question when the interviewee is not very talkative.
  5. The breakup of the four sections helped the interviewer. For participants those sections also formed an agenda for the discussions so that they knew what to expect.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Type of case study

Stake identifies different kinds of case study:
  • intrinsic
  • instrumental
I think there are others, but this information systems research site mentions just two.

Recommended by third party monitor, when I was talking about needing to provide more information than I wanted on a case study - that wasn't relevant and argument for not providing it because the kind of case study I needed for what I'm researching and what I'm interested in.

STAKE, R. E. 1995 The Art of case study research, Sage.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Engagement & value

What kinds of engagement improve value?

My colleague asked me what I mean by value. Value on a project is
  • finishing it near time,
  • near budget,
  • achieving all or most of the original objectives.
Engagement adds value if it improves those outcomes or helps them.

I assume that when people do engage, that effective engagement increases the effectiveness of projects. But some engagement isn't necessary. It's the wrong kind of value adding activity. It's inappropriate. Appropriate engagement strategies are most valuable.

Friday, 4 September 2009


I wrote up a straight forward case study, just describing it with almost no analysis, apart from describing what I found against the three dimensions of social capital that Nahapiet & Ghoshal suggest. One supervisor has looked at its first section and commented:
"a good clear description of the project .. now I feel all orientated to read the rest of the case study!"
Hurray! May be I'm getting better at writing. So I've taken the structure I've used for that case study and have rewritten a description of the first case study in a similar way. It's only 2500 words compared to the last attempt which was 10,000 words. I'll read it again, and then send it to them.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Data collected

Director has just come in - back from her break. First question she asks of course is if I'd had a good holiday. As I mutter something about it being quiet and I had written something, she asks if I'd collected all my data. Ha! think I, third year looms so she thinks I should have collected all my data and it's ready to code and analyse. What an ideal!

Indeed, I'm going to use the data I've already got , but I'm also going to have to use the ad-hoc data that doesn't fit into the planned design using case studies because I can't get access to big IT projects, I can't get to talk to lots of people on one project. But I have got some access to some projects and I have talked to individuals. I might get the chance to talk to other individuals in sufficient depth to know how engagement happens between clients and consultants.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

First of month - ready to change gear

Thirteen months of funding are left to me. I move in October into the third year of the PhD, my fourth year here in the OUBS. Third party monitor says you move up a gear - third year, third gear.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Consultants and knowledge transfer

"Do you/are you going to include knowledge transfer as a part of value creation?"
someone asked me. But consultants are less purveyors of knowledge than knowledge brokers. They facilitate transfer of knowledge between client parties rather than from themselves to the client. Andrew Sturdy at Warwick knows this. He and his colleagues on an ESRC project spent months doing the sort of research I'd love to do. It was reported here in 2007.

So my thesis will have to explain something about knowledge transfer and knowledge exchange.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Field work equipment

For the full interviews:
  • digital voice recorder
  • informed consent form
  • interview schedule
  • information sheet
For observation
  • Field diary to record activities of research, impressions, procedures, location, office layout, interview experiences
  • Camera to capture images of working environments. There's been little opportunity to use it though, due to restrictions on premises, or personal privacy issues, or I just haven't asked permission.

Thursday, 27 August 2009


Different dissertations have different ways of tackling the methodology chapter. Cranfield dissertations have definite chapters that cover the why, the philosophy, the forms of knowing. Such chapters may or may not include the method, the how the question was researched, as well as the why the question was researched this way. I suspect other countries have other ways of approaching this chapter. I have a sample of only one - a dissertation from Denmark, where the methodology chapter is written in quite a different way.

The methodology for a qualitative approach has to be as rigorously made as for a quantitative approach.

What I'd like to find are other dissertations from the UK, preferably qualitative dissertations so I can how the argument is made for the research approach.