Friday, 27 February 2009

Useless efforts

Working at home, but electrician was here this morning, so couldn't use computer without risking losing power.

Switch on for the afternoon to find the OU VPN won't let me on. My email box has a vague message about OUBS servers not working.

I try to find digital theses from the British Library new EThOS collection, register but find I'm still not registered, so that was a waste of effort. I try a different web address, but although I don't need to register I can' t yet work out how to find any theses.

Email includes a notification to use a new form when proposing to attend a conference, and I sent off a couple of the old ones last week - still not heard back with approval.

Cheesed off now - I think I'll go and eat worms. [1]

[1] See Worm Songs

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Papers from supervisors

Supervisors have been practically supportive and recommended I look at these papers: I've already mentioned Bechky - 14th & 17th Feb. Still to read the Newman & Robey

Bechky, B. A. (2003) 'Object Lessons: Workplace Artifacts as Representations of Occupational Jurisdiction', American Journal of Sociology, 109 (3), pp. 720-752. 1100
Newman, M. and Robey, D. (1992) 'A Social Process Model of User--Analyst Relationships', MIS Quarterly, 16 (2), pp. 249-266. 1106
O'Mahony, S. n. and Bechky, B. A. (2008) 'Boundary Organizations: Enabling Collaboration among Unexpected Allies', Administrative Science Quarterly, 53 (3), pp. 422-459. 1089

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Colleague submits

Linda has fetched her several copies from the printer's and delivered them to the research office today. The examiner is selected and she expects her viva in a month or so.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Cumulative vs discrete knowledge

Value comes from cumulative knowledge being practised. Discrete knowledge is the one-off:
“What’s x’s email address?” “It’s”
Cumulative knowledge is knowledge that allows people to build further as in “I’ll show you where to find his address and that of anyone else in that organisation”. Consultants that provide discrete knowledge deliver arguably less value than consultants that provide a new way of thinking and cumulative knowledge.

Consultants that bring a user department to a strategic way of thinking, looking for a long term vision, rather than worrying about implementation tactics provide cumulative knowledge. Contractors might initially provide specialist, discrete knowledge but when I hear contractors and users talking about a learning process then I infer that knowledge is cumulative.

Research on knowledge transfer is a strength of Prof Mark Easterby-Smith who came to talk to us recently.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Stories of supervision

In this week's Times Higher Education THES the columnist Tara Brabazon gives some supervisor tips here. I like the way she starts with a story of supervision that went wrong, gives ten tips from her experience since that date, then says how she handled a potential disaster. One thing she did was to agree extra face to face time dependent on more words rewritten. Using that calculation how many supervisors would owe more time to their students, and how would it encourage students with writing block to put something down.

One reason I blog is that it forces me to write something.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Actants or objects

Czarniawska writes about using an idea of following objects as a technique for doing field work. She says the idea is associated with actor network theory being "a narratology inspired approach". Narratologists study narrative. Narratives feature characteristics that acquire traits through actions but the "only thing that can be distinguished is anything that acts or is acted upon; Greimas called it an 'actant'" (p91)

So this object gets called an actant, but how is an actant different from a boundary object? Perhaps a boundary object is a particular type of actant in that it can be acted on by more than one character, must be acted on by more than one character. It's an object that helps sense-making.

I don't know that this is a methodology I intend to follow, but I might observe objects on the way.

Czarniawska, B. (2001) Shadowing: and other techniques for doing field work in modern societies. 815

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Nvivo coding

I was messing around on an Nvivo training course today and imported a photo as a practice. This is a rather boring photo of an office, not one I'd thought to use. But Nvivo has this little window for a description so I thought I'd fill it in. As I wrote I realised what else the photo showed me:
Notice the programme plan on the wall of this meeting room. This was a boundary object.
This is a week for finding boundary objects. The Nvivo project will include a code for boundary objects.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009


Something's bugging me. It's how to match the research questions to the answers I got to my interview questions. But my interview questions were framed round the Nahapiet & Ghoshal paper, not around my research questions.
Photo of a bug - actually a woodlouse spider
I happened to mention this niggle to my third party monitor. She asked questions about my approach, the methodology I'm using, or my research strategy for making sense of the data in order to work out where I am. She suggests I write the methodology chapter now, as a story of how I done it. She knows I'm interested in story telling and narrative analysis and suggested some reading, including looking at the methodology chapters of recent PhDs, especially from Lancaster where they stress methodology.

It was a really helpful discussion - beyond what a third party monitor's brief might be - and I'm grateful for the time and suggestions.

Nahapiet, J. and Ghoshal, S. (1998) 'Social capital, intellectual capital, and the organizational advantage', Academy of Management Review, 23 (2), pp. 242-266. 842
PS. The bug in the photo is a wood-louse spider.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Boundaries: objects & organisations

In Bechy's 2003 paper she describes "how task boundaries are maintained and challenged" in an organisation with significant and interdependent specialisation. That sounds similar to an IT project that involves users, contractors, developers and consultants. The artefacts she considers are engineering drawings and machines. In my earliest case studies the artefacts I have available include project opening and closing documents. She demonstrates the knowledge, authority and legitimacy that the artifacts (drawings) gave certain groups of workers in her research of engineers, technicians and assemblers. But I don't see the same impacts on the work places of my case studies.

O'Mahony & Bechky write on boundary objects & their use in boundary organisations. They give an example of how social movements & professional organisations collaborated to distribute the Thalidomide drug safely. The actors involved were patients, physicians, regulators, victims, manufacturers, and pharmacists, who negotiated from their interests. This plethora of actors I can compare with the plethora of actors involved in an IT project.

They conducted an ethnographic study of the practices of communities and firms. I want an ethnographic approach, but I'm looking at individuals that engage with each other and with a project. Collaboration is about organisations working together. So there's a difference.

I've more thinking yet to do

What's an artefact (artifact)? a product of human art and workmanship. It comes from the Latin for art and facere meaning to make. Synonyms include: product, object, article, thing, chef d' oeuvre, piece, brain-child. but I think an artefact is concrete.

Bechky, B. A. (2003) 'Object Lessons: Workplace Artifacts as Representations of Occupational Jurisdiction', American Journal of Sociology, 109 (3), pp. 720-752. 1100
O'Mahony, S. n. and Bechky, B. A. (2008) 'Boundary Organizations: Enabling Collaboration among Unexpected Allies', Administrative Science Quarterly, 53 (3), pp. 422-459. 1089

Monday, 16 February 2009

Boundary objects

Supervisor #2 last week talked about boundary objects, which are things that are shared between different groups of people to help make the transition of meaning between groups that don't talk or otherwise share meaning and language. Susan Leigh Star first introduced the idea in 1989. Supervisor asked me what boundary objects I'd noticed in the case studies. Someone had mentioned screen mock-ups. I have a photo of people working on a live incident where two guys are looking at screens and another has an incident form. The incident form is a boundary object and the various role players were working from it.

Someone in another team took the photo - thus creating another boundary object that helps understanding the process of dealing with a live incident.

Other boundary objects are the project opening and closing documents, which were shared between higher level managers both users and IS developers.

So boundary objects:
  • screen mock ups
  • incident log
  • photo
  • project documentation

Star, S. L. and Griesemer, J. R. (1989) 'Institutional Ecology, 'Translations' and Boundary Objects: Amateurs and Professionals in Berkeley's Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, 1907-39', Social Studies of Science (Sage), 19 (3), pp. 387-420. 1092

Saturday, 14 February 2009

EURAM rejection

I'm glum because my proposal to the EURAM doctoral colloquium has been rejected - it could be the first of many. However, the reviewers sent feedback. The rejection may be because the proposal didn't mention the IT literature from journals like Organization Science and Organization Studies (my first interest was in the consultants and then I specialised in IT consultants) which the reviewers found "surprising and problematic". But they suggested that I also look at literature on occupations and roles by authors such as Bechky.

I emailed my supervisors with the glum news, and they're being consolatory and practical, attaching papers on
  • IT by Robey
  • workplace artifacts by Bechky.
So I plod glumly onwards and onwards.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Congratulations - submission

She submitted this afternoon!

Congratulations Linda on submitting your PhD this afternoon!

Yes, there is hope for all starting or slogging on through their PhD and MRes.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

NVivo course

Have just attended first half day of Nvivo course. It's a big piece of software that takes time and space on your computer. No wonder when I first tried it, it was so slow. But the software might allow more efficient analysis of data.

Despite efficient software the thinking work is still essential, what codes to use, and then how to write it up. Supervisors yesterday were asking if I'd given a fair account of the first two case studies - well yes - but only in that it is my account and only on the data that I picked out as important. And I didn't use Nvivo on the data - that's yet to be done.

There's another day of training next week and some homework to do. The course has helped because now I understand what the nodes are about.

Isn't second year busy compared to first?! Cases to collect, transcription, courses, conferences, papers to write and the literature still to search!

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Finishing PhD - about to submit

Delighted to watch my senior, a fourth year post grad about to submit her dissertation. She's given notice of submission, she's worked out how to use Word for big documents, formatted it according to the rules and says she's going to submit next week. Hurrah!
Presentation of the thesis

Your thesis should be typed or produced on a word processor and printed on a printer which produces letter quality print. Dot matrix printing is not acceptable. The text must be double spaced. Your thesis should be presented on good quality A4 paper. You may use both sides of the paper. The pages should be numbered consecutively.

The margins must be wide enough to allow for subsequent binding. The minimum requirement is:

· inside margin 40mm

· top and outside margins 15mm

· bottom margin 20mm.

There should be a contents page and, where appropriate, a table of illustrations and/or a list of any items not bound with the thesis (e.g. maps, plans, etc).

We'll miss her. She has quiet and sensible advice, as well as being a role model.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Open plan, open sharing

Passing my OUBS student colleague he stopped me to ask about the QAA meeting today. One of the other students at that meeting doesn't come in too much but works at home on his laptop. He doesn't like it that he has to work in an open plan office in the new Jenny Lee building. But someone else says that now they know who is in, they don't mind saying hello in passing, whereas before, to knock on a closed door had to be done deliberately.

My OUBS colleague wouldn't have known about the QAA meeting if we hadn't been in an open plan office and regularly share bits of information in an unplanned and informal fashion. This sharing has built up the OUBS student community. At the QAA meeting three out of the ten students there came from the full time OUBS community.

I read of research that showed that if strangers were put together knowing that they would have to work together in the future, then they were likely to exchange personal information, whereas if they didn't think they would ever meet again, they shared less. Sharing personal information helped reduce uncertainty. So the OUBS students share information on an informal and unplanned basis and then when we have a need, we have each other to ask.

Berger & Bradac, 1982, Language and social knowledge, page 16

Monday, 9 February 2009

Elected research

One of our PhD students has just got elected councillor in a borough of London - how exciting! Her manifesto says similar things to what her PhD page says - a nice balance. Good luck to her.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Scoping the literature

Before starting a systematic review you have to scope the field. The areas of interest to me include:
  • consultancy
  • public sector
  • engagement
Then I have to check the literature, not in the whole of the field but in the overlaps (I think). I worked through literature on engagement last summer and have found it quite useful because there's so little written on engagement, but on similar concepts such as participation or cooperation or involvement or collaboration, none of which are quite the same as engagement.

I suspect the tricky bit will be writing about the overlaps. If there's little literature on engagement then there'll be even less on engagement and social capital, let alone engagement AND social capital AND consultancy AND information technology.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Snowed in

It's a use-the-VPN-and-Outlook-Web-Access day. I have to work at home. I can't get up the hill to get out of the town.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Systematic supervisors

Yesterday's session on a systematic review of the literature must be useful to more than just the PhD students. Our erst-while director of studies uses the approach - says it saves him much time. I hear of supervisors who send students off to look at a whole area of literature that is not relevant to the study, and am grateful that my supervisors do not make those demands on me, but insist that I not be distracted and keep on track.

After yesterday, I think that had I had done that session right at the start of the PhD, or even of the MRes, then I would be very likely to finish on time.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Systematic review workshop

Nine of us OUBS PhD students have spent an engrossing and exciting day working on how to review literature. Dave Denyer from Cranfield led the day. He comes across as a practitioner, not just someone who says "you should do it this systematic way", but someone who does review systematically.

The approach
  • stimulates thoughts
  • stimulates creativity
  • is systematic
  • distinguishes between literature review as a scoping exercise and a literature review of the relevant literature
It gives you a structure, a logic and an audit for tackling the literature. Dave left us with files, overheads and templates for mapping, documenting and analysing.

One student was so impressed that half way through the day was cross that we hadn't had the training a year ago, and suggested this session should be compulsory for first year PhD students, it is so worth doing. Two of our third years came along considering it worth repeating for revision.

Monday, 2 February 2009


I wonder just how often public organisations use contractors as opposed to consultants.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Social capital theory & IT

I found this paper (pdf) on IT and social capital but I was too late to get to the workshop where it was presented. Randolph and Petter write on the role of social capital inIT project management, arguing that who the project manager knows is important, so they introduce the theory of social capital, suggesting implications and possible future research. I wonder if they know anyone already researching this.

Randolph, A. B. and Petter, S. (2008) 'Is It What You Know or Who You Know? The Role of Social Capital in Information Technology Project Management', 3rd International Research Workshop on Information Technology Project Management (IRWITPM), Paris, France2008.

Exciting research

I've recently spoken to someone about a similar area of research in IT projects and programmes. Being a practitioner in the field meant being able to see the difference that the research was making. It's great to find someone excited about research and its practical applications.