Friday, 31 July 2009

Ethical issues of interviews

On the whole, I don't think most interviews that I've done so far have changed any participant's life view, but there were some reactions and reflections on their work. Three young men particularly seemed reflective.
  1. One participant talked openly and enthusiastically about his work, expressing his willingness to learn; he hoped to learn as much from me as I from him, though he talked more, which is what I needed. But he talked around all sorts of other topics away from my focus of interest. The way he talked was saying something about the perception he wanted other people to have of him, not just his perception of the project. A very outgoing man, he runs a couple of blogs, and twitters and electronically shares his technical expertise with any who want to know. He also follows up business ideas and notes their applications.
  2. Another participant was quieter, renowned for his shyness, but he chatted and thoughtfully followed up all my questions with his own ideas. He even concluded, as if he'd hardly realised it before, that his experience of the project had brought out more in him, that he was less shy than he had been and perhaps now a more confident contributor.
  3. A third participant as we talked seemed to change his perception of the role he had played, as if he hadn't realised what he'd done and what he'd learned. The conversation implied more changes in his life view, which is something that Kvale writes about.
That's where ethical issues arise. The interviewer's role may affect the participant. Kvale suggests different roles in relation to participants:
  • exploiter,
  • reformer
  • advocate
  • friend.
I could add teacher, counsellor, career adviser. Talking about relationships in a project constructs a perception of the relationships in both interviewer and interviewee. Should I do that? I can't not talk about relationships - that's the research.

The questions may change the participant's self-concept. I can't help that consequence, but must be aware of the ethics, do no harm.

Another issue Kvale draws attention to is the independence of the researcher. If a researcher identifies too closely with a group of participants, then the researcher might emphasis some findings rather than others. However, I think that's obviated when I speak to participants with different roles on a project. It's more likely to happen if I get to talk to only one person, or only one group of people playing similar roles.

These are ethical issues that didn't come to mind when I first proposed the research. They were never part of my application to the research ethics panel. Perhaps I'll raise them next time we have a seminar on ethics.

Kvale, 1996, InterViews: introduction to qualitative research interviewing

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Open 40

See the Open Unlimited photos on their flickr page

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Intellectual capital

Intellectual capital - its value is not accounted for. When in Sweden they lay people off, it's last-in, first-out, so it's the youngsters that tend to go. A recent Swedish acquaintance's company had trained a number of engineers, thousands of them for a Swedish company (Volvo?), but when redundancies came, it was the newly trained youngsters who went. This was expensive training given over several days at a high cost per day. When nearly twohundred of the newly trained personnel were made redundant, the older managers and project managers had to take over their jobs and also had to be trained, at cost to the company. That cost doesn't show up on the books. The accounts don't show that they let go highly and expensively trained engineers. That doesn't show in the accounts. Intellectual capital resides in intangibles.

Bit silly really. Perhaps it's not worth believing quantitative reports.

Prisoner's dilemma

In a well known game theory, two prisoners are separately interrogated. There’s insufficient evidence to convict them of serious misdemeanours so unless they confess they’ll get only a year’s imprisonment. But the prosecution offers a devious deal:
“Turn state evidence so we can lock up your partner for ten years and you’ll get off scot free.”
But there’s a hitch:
“If you both confess, we’ll lock you both up for six years.”
So there are four choices:
Czerniawska uses the model in her slide show of Storm Clouds Ahead, here.
The consultancy equivalent of the prisoner’s dilemma is that:
  1. neither firm A nor firm B act so everyone loses
  2. Firm A acts, firm B does not act, so firm A damages its own reputation and firm B freeloads on the action of others
  3. Firm B acts, firm A does not act, so firm B damages its own reputation and firm A freeloads on the action of others
  4. Firm A and firm B act so everyone wins
I don’t know what Czernaiwska said as she showed the slide so can only guess what she meant it to represent. Perhaps:
  • Client and consultant working together or
  • Two consultancy firms working on one client project
The point of the model is that collaboration is the best option.

However, it’s an overrated theory. To begin with the prisoners aren’t working blind. There’s nothing to stop them from conferring beforehand and agreeing to cooperate. But even if they did meet and agree to cooperate they could still stab each other after.

In a continued context, theory and computer models show collaboration works, which is what Robert Axelrod wrote about in his “the Evolution of Cooperation”. He represented cooperative situations using the iterated prisoner’s dilemma. In the prisoner’s dilemma the prisoners face their dilemma just the once, whereas in real life dilemmas tend to repeat so we might realise that our cooperation today might be an incentive for your cooperation tomorrow. Axelrod invited game theory experts to create computer programs to model the iterated prisoner’s dilemma to check this. The winner was tit-for–tat, which is the strategy of starting with cooperation and thereafter doing whatever the other player did on the previous move. Over time, infinity or no predetermined number of iterations, this tends this way to cooperate and therefore win-win. So it sounds like a suitable theory to model the consultant-client relationships that I’m looking at.

Unfortunately, if the prisoners know how many iterations there’ll be, say five, then on the 5th iteration, there’s not the incentive to cooperate, as you know it’s the end of the game, and so in that case, why cooperate on the fourth iteration either if you plan not to cooperate on the last? Or for that matter, why cooperation on the previous iteration – it’s called backwards induction and forces mutual defection. So the Prisoner’s Dilemma model has a number of flaws.

A possibly better model is the Stag Hunt. Rousseau proposed this game, which involves more than two collaborators with the task of chasing, hunting a stag. One person alone cannot catch the stag; it requires collaboration. However, individuals could go off and do their own thing, hunt rabbits, thereby ensuring a smaller prize.

Perhaps I should apply this model to clients and consultants on collaborative IT projects.

Monday, 27 July 2009


For all the interviews on my first couple of case studies, I did the transcription. Some of the later interviews I get transcribed. However, there're issues about transcription.

In one case study, most of the interviews took place in an otherwise empty meeting room. sound was clear - or it was to me anyhow as I didn't have anything to compare when I came to transcribe. No interruptions happened. The table available to sit at together was short, so interviewer and interviewee could sit at a corner at right angle,s and usually the participant interviewee came in and chose a seat at the end of the table with his/ her back to the door.

Another interview was in a meeting room with a big table that took up most of the room. I had a helper who sat on one site, and the participant on the other opposite the helper. Acoustics were good, but the interviews were rushed because of circumstance. Another time, there were two participants together, squeezed into a corner of a room with me and my helper. Later my helper commented that perhaps her presence might have affected what was said - interesting. Again, that interview was rushed. But the acoustics were adequate.

I've done several interviews in what I thought was a quiet office with good acoustics and no interruptions but a transcriber has commented on unclear speech. I've done interviews in quite noisy rooms with lots of other people, yet the quality was good and the transcriber reported no problems.

Listening again to the interviews with problems, it seems there might be two issues.
  1. the speaker was unclear,
  2. the transcriber might have a different accent from the speaker
Having read Kvale on transcription, I now realise that in transcribing, I'm constructing something to model the conversation that took place so I'm now annotating transcriptions where I hear something different from what the transcriber put down. Not only are there differences in what people might hear from the recording, but the body language is missing, the action of sketching diagrams as we talked is missing, and I've gone through each transcription anonymising all identifiable information.

So I've created my own construction on what was discussed before I've even started any analysis.

Kvale, 1996, InterViews: introduction to qualitative research interviewing

Sunday, 19 July 2009


I've produced:
  1. a rewritten paper on my second case study to my supervisors and
  2. a review of a really useful new book by Sturdy et al about consultants
And I've marked a couple of early computing assignments.

Next task must be to work on another case study. And to keep looking for access to IT projects in the public sector.

Friday, 17 July 2009


I'm rewriting a case study for my supervisors. I think it's the third rewrite. I've restructured it, added information, reworded information, taken on board what I think they said, listened to the recording of our last meeting to make sure I've heard what they said.

Will they be happy?

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Types of interview questions

Kvale elaborates on types of interview questions under the headings:
  1. introducing questions: e.g. "can you tell about.." "do you remember an occasion when .."
  2. follow-up questions: e.g. nod
  3. probing questions: "could you say something more about that?"
  4. specifying questions: e.g. "what did you think then?"
  5. direct questions
  6. indirect questions: e.g. "how do you think /believe other ... ?"
  7. structuring questions: e.g. "I'd now like to introduce .."
  8. silence
  9. interpreting questions: e.g. "you mean that...?"
I can plan some of these questions, like introducing, specifying and direct questions, but other types are where an interviewer has to be listening and reacting to the situation. It's quite reassuring to read these categories that someone else recognises as questions that you are likely to ask if you want to get more from an interview. Silence is interesting too. It doesn't show up much on my recordings because I've set the machine's variable control voice actuator, so that it only records when the volume is at the threshold level. But sometimes a participant needs silence while reflecting, and an interviewer mustn't interrupt, but allow that time to reflect. Anyhow, overtalking means the recording becomes difficult to hear afterwards, so silence is important.

Kvale, 1996, InterViews: introduction to qualitative research interviewing

Wednesday, 15 July 2009


There is so much on interviewing that Kvale has written a whole book on it. Although it might have been useful to read earlier, reading it now with a little more experience of research interviewing means that it makes more sense to me. For example, chapter 7 has a table that matches research questions to interview questions. I have problems matching mine because I've let the social capital framework interfere. The social capital framework guides the interview questions. What I want is to relate the research questions and the social capital framework. So my interview structure is based round:
  1. background (to project and to participant)
  2. relationships
  3. knowledge (or learning)
  4. value
The background is important as a start to make sure I've got the context. The questions may sometimes elicit structural dimensions of social capital.
Relationships matter. That is the crux of my interest- how do the relationships create value? So the interview questions here concern social capital in the relationship and structural dimensions. But they don't elicit information about knowledge. I ask what's helped and hindered relationships. And specifically what challenges to relationships have there been and how have they been overcome. Another interview question address specificity by asking for an anecdote or story. the question sometimes falls on blank faces. perhaps I should reword it.
Knowledge I ask about learning - what have people learned from each other? And how do they use that knowledge. I can't see how these questions address engagement though.
Sometimes in asking about learning I get an answer that suggests qualitative value in the learning process through building shared meanings, which is part of the cognitive dimension of social capital, and probably the most valuable non-financial and immeasurable gain from the relationship. But the valuable relationships need not be client and consultant, but developer and user, perhaps, mediated by the outsider, i.e. the consultant. So the value is a value chain! A valuable learning comes from a valuable relationships mediated and catalyzed by a consultant intervention. I've drawn a diagram of it, starting from the left with the people creating the relationship and moving to the right where the outputs are learning and a new IT system.

So I've got somewhere in my thoughts but not arrived at what I set out to do - depict in a table the relationship between my research questions and my interview questions.

The diagram must also include the value added impact on the IT system being developed. It's the human element, the soft side that matters. Engagement is soft. Perhaps I should draw rich pictures for each case study, following Checkland's soft systems methodology.

And I don't have many why interview questions - it's my job (Kvale, p131) but one I did use once was quite revealing, when someone said "It's changed", and I asked "Why do you think it's changed?" The participant wondered if they were doing something different, and it was something do with using consultants.

Kvale, 1996, InterViews: introduction to qualitative research interviewing

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Fortieth anniversary

At the staff development day, we had a wonderful celebration birthday for the fortieth anniversary of the opening of the Open University. Then I realised that I had in my car, a sticker from the 25th anniversary (I've had the car a long time).

Monday, 13 July 2009

Presentation success

Our student to student presentations gained rewards. One of us the other day that as a result of the presentation he'd done for us a week or so earlier, he'd rewritten major parts of his presentation and cut out a lot. As a result, at the conference where he presented, he won an award for best presenter and £250.

He deserves it. He's the one who started off these sessions two years ago.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Staff development day

Open University region 02 associate lecturers had the annual get together for a staff training day. It started with a talk from our regional director, Celia Cohen, who had the job of giving us the bad news of how our funding is being cut. The long-term outlook is bleak because of cut backs on funding on students with equivalent or lower qualifications (ELQ) than they are studying for and other probable public expenditure cuts. Although student numbers are rising, in the long-term we still must reduce costs. So we'll remove courses that don't make a contribution, have too few students, are too complex, or are expensive to run.

In our faculty groups we then had to come up with good ideas to help the situation. Usually we get told something about the state of the faculty, and which courses are being withdrawn or rewritten.

So it was a bit of a bleak day compared to previous years.

Still, there were some good sessions, like the one on using Elluminate, and we finished with strawberries and cream, and a big 40th birthday cake for the OU.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Supplier Value Awards Programme 2009 | Home Office

Many big customers will have a lot of suppliers to provide a variety of services: cleaning, construction, security, IT, postal delivery. The public sector uses many suppliers, so supplier relationship management (SRM) must be as important to public sector organisations as customer relationship management (CRM) is to business. I wonder why there are few business courses that include a module on SRM, or management of third party professionals. MBA courses seem aimed at people who are going to become consultants, rather than people who are going to use consultants. I'm not aware and am trying to work out where SRM fits into an MBA. CRM is usually marketing, but SRM?

The Home Office has recognised the importance of suppliers and now awards the best, hoping to encourage all. It appears to have a pragmatic approach to its suppliers. One of the criterion (from the FAQs here) for the award is:
value for money delivered through cost savings or enhanced delivery
The italics are mine because value for money is important but value for the Home Office is more than just the cheapest option - value is in the quality of the service and relationships between supplier and client and other collaborating organisations, though of course the money matters because it's our taxes that pay for services.

So it was a pleasure and a privilege to be present when the SVAP awards were announced yesterday. The winners deserve their accolades. the competition was strong - just look at the nominees in each category to see what suppliers were up against. And all praise due too to the Home Office for such positive encouragement to its suppliers.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

View of landscape after

I've honed my twittering skills, realising what twitter tags are. That's practical.

The learning is through reflection on what I do in my roles as Associate Lecturer or research student, arriving from earlier practices in teaching and computing.

The workshop on Landscapes of Practice has drawn my attention to the different practices of the different people on IT projects, the different practices in public and in private sector. They exist, but they're not always explicit. Boundaries aren't always visible, and you wonder what's stopping you, but you can't see what's stopping you.

There're boundaries between research students and supervisors. My supervisor was at the Landscape of workshop, where his group did a brilliant sketch on the different landscapes of teachers, parents and school children. At one point, as parent, he turned to his acting teenage daughter and said, "I'm always available." She exploded with complaints about him being available at 9.30 on a Sunday morning when she was recovering from a night out till after midnight. The funny thing is, that he's used that line to me, about him and fellow supervisor: "We're always available, at least electronically." There's an equally possible sketch about the different landscapes of research students and supervisors, the sort of thing that PhD comic is always getting at. As the PhD student participates at the periphery of the academic researcher's landscape, how does the supervisor enable the student to identify, and move centre of the landscape. That is the supervisor's job, isn't it?

Whose job is it to help the different people in a public sector IT project to cross the boundaries? Is crossing the boundaries how people transfer knowledge?

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Landscape of Practices

One of the participants has set up an archive of the twitters here from the Landscape of Practices workshop.

There were two strands to work on: keepers of themes, and groups to discuss a particular problem, such as interprofessional communication, or parent-teacher-student boundaries. The OU Practice Based Learning Centre has a blog on the four keepers here and on ten working groups here.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Landscapes of practice workshop

About fifty people here. My eeePC is playing up - won't recognise my password sometimes. People are twittering. See the tag #oulop09. e.g.
#oulop09 Etienne Wenger talking about 'identity as curriculum'
We've had to explain twittering to some people who don't yet practise that.
Feel there is fundamental misunderstanding in the room ca. wikis, blogs & twitter - questions being asked are irrelevant to me! #oulop09
kind of just get frustrated when folk dont understand that practices are diff in web 2.0 space - thats kind of the point #oulop09
We have a blog (private) at Wordpress, and we're creating a wiki. Did you know that 'wiki' comes from a Hawaiian word meaning fast?

The morning seems a bit disorganised. We don't know quite what we're doing. This video's Etienne telling us what the first activity is supposed to be.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Landscapes of practice

I am attending a workshop tomorrow on Landscapes of Practice. It's being led by Etienne Wenger, he who wrote on Communities of Practice, and Legitimate Peripheral Participation. It's mentioned on the OU Platform, which warns me, to bring technical equipment. I'm packing eeePC, FlipVideo, digital recorder and camera. I've done my homework: mapped my professional landscape, and made notes on landscapes, professional practitioners and explaining my job to others.

What's it got to do with my research? I came on Etienne Wenger's work through reading the literature on engagement, which lead me to literature on collaboration, and hence to communities of practice. Of all the uses of the word 'engagement' I like Wenger's best - it means the way I understand engagement between different groups of people to mean.

Also, I think my research is about different practices of different groups, and how they overcome challenges of communicating between each other. To begin with there is the public sector meeting the private sector world of consultants, and perhaps of IT contractors. Each world brings its own culture, values and language. Then there are the professional groups that meet: IT professionals, whether programmers, analysts, testers or IT project managers with/ without PRINCE experience, and management professionals, and business professionals, whether librarians, social carers, teachers, policemen, employment advisors, immigration officials - all the businesses that you find in the public sector.

So this workshop must be worth my time out on Friday and Saturday.

WENGER, E. (1998) Communities of practice: learning, meaning, and identity, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
J. Lave, E. Wenger. Situated learning : legitimate peripheral participation /