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.