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.