Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Research perspectives

Here's my justification for the perspective I'm taking. How does it read?

Research approaches require beliefs and perspectives of understanding how things are connected, and so the researcher’s ontological position determines what the researcher can claim to be valid evidence for the assertions the researcher makes about the world. The researcher needs to surface those assumptions about reality in order to understand the appropriate methods to acquire knowledge of the phenomenon being investigated. The best way to grasp that the researcher has an ontological position, to recognise it and its implications for the research, is to consider some different ontological perspectives (Mason, 2002: 14).

Ontology is the study of the nature of reality (Guba and Lincoln, 1989: 83), which means studying being; ontology informs the theoretical perspective for studying the nature of existence. Two ends of the ontological spectrum of ontological belief are represented by the positivist and the interpretivist perspectives. The positivist perspective has a conventional scientific belief system. Epistemologically, the approach assumes knowledge is only of significance if it is based on observation and reality.

IS research has been dominated by the realist perspective (Orlikowski and Baroudi, 1991). The realist perspective takes the stance that things exist independent of human consciousness. An advantage of a realist perspective is that it fits well with the reality of an applied discipline (Mingers and Willcocks, 2004). A disadvantage is that different people make meaning together and separately, realising different and subjective realities that realism cannot mirror or analyse; realism cannot begin to explain these human situations.

The interpretivist perspective sees people and their interpretations as primary data sources (Mason, 2002: 56). An epistemological approach within the interpretivist perspective is constructivism, which asserts that the only world we can study is “a semiotic world of meaning” with symbols such as language that people use to think and communicate (Potter, 2006: 79). Rather than recognising an objective reality, constructivism perspective believes that a person subjectively understands the world, and has mentally constructed meanings of reality. People have signs and symbols for understanding what each is doing and use rich forms of conversations that are adequate for dealing with the complexity of social relationships. Thus, the relativist ontological position of constructivism provides the warrant to consider the views of project participants, as legitimate emic constructions not biased perceptions (Guba and Lincoln, 1989: 185). The relativist position assumes different observers may have different viewpoints (Easterby-Smith M et al., 2002: 32). A variant of the realist position is critical realism, which starts with realist ontology and incorporates an interpretivist thread (Easterby-Smith M et al., 2002: 33), thus by combining realist ontology with interpretivist epistemology (Crotty, 1998: 11) provides a compromise between positivism and interpretivism.

Crotty, M. (1998) 'Introduction: The Research Process'. The Foundations of Social Research: Meaning and Perspective in the Research Process, Sage, London.
Czarniawska, B. (2001) 'Is It Possible to Be a Constructionist Consultant?', Management Learning, 32 (2), pp. 253.
Easterby-Smith M, Thorpe R and Lowe A (2002) Management Research: An Introduction. , Sage.
Guba, E. G. and Lincoln, Y. S. (1989) Fourth Generation Evaluation, Sage, Newbury Park, CA; London.
Mason, J. (2002) Qualitative Researching, (2nd ed Edn), Sage, London.
Mingers, J. and Willcocks, L. P. (Eds.) (2004) Social Theory and Philosophy for Information Systems, John Wiley.
Orlikowski, W. J. and Baroudi, J. J. (1991) 'Studying Information Technology in Organizations: Research Approaches and Assumptions', Information Systems Research, 2 (1), pp. 1-28.
Potter, S. (2006) Doing Postgraduate Research, (2nd Edn), Open University in association with SAGE Publications, Milton Keynes.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Qualitative analysis

Not much gets written on how to do qualitative analysis, though there's plenty of people who write on the topic. Doing it is hard to explain. Miles and Guberman's text is helpful for its tables and overview of a lot of techniques, but as you get further into analysis, you need to know more. This web page explains something of content analysis. Braun and Clarke explain thematic analysis. Miles and Guberman touch on template analysis but you have to read King to know more about it.

Hence, not appreciating my explanation of my qualitative data analysis, supervisor #1 has pointed me at Dey's Qualitative Analysis for a discussion on linking, and connecting coded textual data. It would have been useful to have read it earlier, in my second year!

Braun, V. and Clarke, V. (2006) 'Using Thematic Analysis in Psychology', Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3 (2), pp. 77-101.
Dey, I. (1993) Qualitative Data Analysis : A User-Friendly Guide for Social Scientists, Routledge, London.
King, N. (2004) 'Using Templates in the Thematic Analysis of Text'. In Cassell, C. and Symon, G. (Eds.), Essential Guide to Qualitative Methods in Organizational Research, Sage, London, pp. 256-270.
King, N. (2008) What Is Template Analysis?, University of Huddersfield, School of Human & Health Sciences Available from: http://www.hud.ac.uk/hhs/research/template_analysis/whatis.htm [Accessed 18 December 2010].
Miles, M. B. and Huberman, A. M. (1994) Qualitative Data Analysis : An Expanded Sourcebook, (2nd Edn), Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks.

Monday, 20 December 2010


I note that whatever you conclude, there's likely to be more that you can draw out later. Supervisors agree, and advise that over the next couple of years' research as you write papers that "you distill and distill". I hope so because I want to write a couple of papers to present at conferences after I've submitted.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Not sociologically critical

Supervisor #2 reminds me about the Masters in Research Methods, course B852, where we studied a discussion of critical realism by Ackroyd and Fleetwood. I don't remember, then I realise that they published that difficult article on a metatheory of management by Tsoukas. My notes on it indicate how difficult I found it then.

Apparently I'm taking a critical view of the social world, not being sociologically critical and the "critical" refers to an epistemological stance rather than a theoretical or political stance. So that's all right then. I've changed my methodology chapter paragraph to read:
However, this research takes a realist perspective because, although IS projects take place in real objective spaces, each individual participant constructs themselves in a particular way in relation to the project setting. An advantage of such an approach is that “it maintains reality whilst still recognizing the inherent meaningfulness of social interaction" {Mingers, 2004:99}. Hence, engagement can be explored as a real phenomenon, whilst still recognising that IT project participants may be unaware of the phenomenon.
So I think I've kept what I said before, and now managed to justify it too.

Tsoukas, H. (1994) 'What Is Management? An Outline of a Metatheory', British Journal of Management, 5 (4), pp. 289.

Critical realism pondered

I think the term 'critical' is about responding to criticisms. In IS philosophy, according to John Mingers (2004), critical realism seems to be a response to criticisms of an empirical and naturalist view of science. Mingers says that the original aims of critical realism were
"(i) to re-establish a realist view of being in the ontological domain whilst accepting the relativism of knowledge as socially and historically conditioned in the epistemological domain; and
(ii) to argue for a critical naturalism in social science."
In a context where research has been of machines, of software, of hard systems with less of a focus on people, I can see how there might be a realist approach that was closer to positivism, and I'm finding it a fine line to distinguish between positivism and realism. I had the impression that critical realism was a step further away from positivism, and a compromise between positivist and constructionist approaches. I find support in Mingers' statement
"The major advantage of a critical realist approach is that it maintains reality whilst still recognizing the inherent meaningfulness of social interaction."
I like the idea that critical realists "want to get beneath the surface to understand and explain why things are as they are, to hypothesise the structures and mechanisms that shape observable events. "(p100) because that's the way I thought I was working, so I thought I was using a critical realist approach.

Mingers, J. 2004. Real-Izing Information Systems: Critical Realism as an Underpinning Philosophy for Information Systems. Information and Organization, 14(2): 87-103. at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/B6W7M-4C47BCF-4/2/873a061fe87e6979e71a48c3fe922ddd

Critical realist or realist?

Having pondered my methodological approach, supervisors are happier with this second attempt at the chapter. I've written:
A reason this research should use a constructivist approach is that project participants construct each other’s behaviours in the context of a project and shape each other’s understanding. Examples of this approach discussed in the literature review include Schein (Schein, 1997), Bovens’ (Bovens, 2007) constructions of client models, Wenger’s communities of practice (Wenger, 1998), the importance of space and time for understanding projects (Maaninen-Olsson & Müllern, 2009). However, this research takes a critical realist research perspective because, although organisations’ IS projects take place in real objective spaces, each individual participant constructs themselves in a particular way in relation to the project setting.
Supervisor #1 says that I should say it's a realist perspective, not a critical realist perspective. I'm not sure about this because I thought there was a difference that mattered, and isn't realism close to positivism? Or does the term 'critical' apply when research seeks to identify practices or structures in order to highlight inequalities or injustices, in which case, I should remove it, because I'm not attempting to highlight such inequalities. If I remove the word, then everything else I've written still holds, but if I leave it in, then I'm open to queries about my perspective.

I'll ponder.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Draft reviewed

Supervisors and I met to discuss my first full draft.

Apparently I'd written enough in my last two chapters for them to be able to tell me what my conclusions are. As they seem to be happy chappies, I'm happy. I'm surprised by their reaction because although I knew that I'd
  • written enough,
  • shown I'd done enough for a PhD,
  • got a contribution,
  • made a good start at integrating theoretical concepts and developing the model of engagement throughout the draft,
my usual experience of supervision is to feel good when I hand something in, and deflated after we meet. This time I feel something closer to elation than deflation. Yes, there's work to do yet, but I have a feasible submission date and we're talking examiners.

Minor problem now is my urge to work every moment available at it over the next three weeks and we've got b* Christmas in the way! Bah humbug!

For non-English culture readers - "Bah humbug!" is a reference to Dickens Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. Listen to it here, or read it here.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Ode to research

Supervisors, not impressed by my six minute presentation of my research in a pecha kucha, warned me last month that I should be able to summarise my thesis in a minute and a OUBS academic recently FaceBooked that you should be able to summarise your thesis in a limerick. I haven't had the time to try this yet, and my son has beaten me to it. He writes:
There was once a lady called Liz,
Who studied how people do biz.
With consultant's engagement,
...And client en-rage-ment,
It got everyone into a tiz.

Her persuasive persuading persuaded,
Case studies of projects created.
But when time came to publish,
Supervisors said, 'Rubbish!
'Your methodology's completely outdated!' (no they didn't!)

'Begin with some Adler & Kwon,
'They really are second to none.
And though you think 'finished!',
Your work's not diminished.
In fact you've only begun.'

So she read and she drafted and wrote,
And filled up the house with her notes.
On what kind of ontology
Made up her philosophy,
Until one day, her doctor said: 'Don't.'

'You've damaged your wrist!
'So I must insist
'That you sit still and not write or drive.
'Just give it a rest! You've now done your best.
'And you're beginning to break out in hives.' (No, I'm not)
There's more to add, but that'll do for now.

This is what I get for asking him to read my draft chapters. There was an old joke about teachers
If you promise not to believe everything your child says happens at school, I'll promise not to believe everything he says happens at home
So I hope you'll take what is written above as poetic licence.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Full draft done

I have sent my supervisors all the chapters, with humble apologies for lack of articulateness on the conclusions, but reporting that I'd got someone else to read at least some of it to check for the cryptic clippedness that supervisor#1 dislikes in my style. My style has so changed, and I didn't realise until one reader said he'd had problems where I'd used 'combinations' as a noun. I had to go back to the theory I was using to check those authors also used the word as a noun, not as combining or combined. It is now so clear to me, but I've read that particular paper many times.

Supervisor #1 has come back all cheerful and praising that I've got it done to the time we'd agreed (took me three 60 hour weeks) and says not to worry about the conclusion as it usually takes a few iterations. Now I have to wait three weeks for their feedback.

Am I on the last 385 yards of this marathon?

Monday, 29 November 2010

Qualitative resources

Here is a a whole list of resources for a research student to use to get to grips with methodological approaches. The list includes a link to a video of Alan Bryman talking about conducting mixed methods research; it has helped me get a better idea of how people use the word 'paradigm' in the context of methodology.

I've now made the arguments that I want to make in my methodology chapter, though I daresay my supervisors will have plenty of critical comments to make. They can only be helpful to sorting out my confusion of terms. I shall submit a full draft of the thesis to them in a few hours, and then must wait three weeks to get their feedback.

But hey! a full draft!

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Ridiculous confusion

All I have to write is a couple of paragraphs about different ends of the belief spectrum of enquiry (ye wha'?!). Belief system - how you believe reality. It's about what you believe is real, what your assumptions are. It seems reasonable to surface those assumptions, because they influence what you believe you know, and therefore how you go about researching, and I need to explain why I researched it the way I researched it, to justify it.

Except, the belief spectrum of enquiry is full of paradigms, perspectives and isms.
  • Positivism
  • Realism
  • Constructivism
And on top of those there's post-positivism (don't ask me if there's a negativism), critical realism and constructionism. I don't know the difference between constructivism and constructionism. I had thought my approach was constructionist, but now I'm confused and it might be that my ontology is constructionist and my methodology hermeneutically dialectic, though I thought this research was taking a critical realist research perspective because, although the organisation’s IS projects took place in real objective spaces, each individual participant constructed themselves in a particular way in relation to the project or programme setting. Which is they constructed themselves, so aren’t I working to a constructionist philosophy?
Now I have all these different terms to work with:
  • approach
  • ontology
  • methodology
  • perspective
  • philosophy
This bit of my methodology chapter is never going to get writ.

Guba, E. G., & Lincoln, Y. S. (2005). Paradigmatic controversies, contradictions and emerging confluences. In N. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), The Sage handbook of qualitative research (3 ed., Vol. 3). Thousand Oaks ;London: Sage Publications.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Philosophical stance

Like a horse at a big jump, I'm stalled. For over a day, I have not written the ten paragraphs I want to write about my research philosophical stance, in my methodology chapter but have considered
  • realism
  • constructivism (what's the difference between constructionism and constructivism?)
  • positivism
I had argued myself into believing I was taking a constructionist approach because I was seeing my informants as constructing themselves in the context of an IT project, that they constructed their relationships and how they engaged with each other. But now I think I'm taking a critical realist research perspective because although the organisation's IS project development took place in real objective space, each individual participant constructed them selves in a particular way in relations to the project or programme setting. That is critical realist, isn't it?

Monday, 22 November 2010

Editing and writing and editing

The second draft of the methodology chapter is under way as I restructure it because it was not meeting supervisor's approval. Supervisor #1 wants something written on other approaches as well as the one I've chosen - but so many academics have already writtenon these, and much better than me so why write an essay on comparing research methods?

I'm off to compare other PhD theses methods and methodology chapters.

As I research qualitative approaches, I discover that 'quality' is next to 'qualm' in the dictionary. Quality ' the degree of excellence' is next to qualm, a 'momentary faint or sick feeling'. I have qualms about my writing, about the excellence in my writing, about the logic of my arguments. I don't feel good.

Friday, 19 November 2010

OUBS blogs

Some OU Business School new blogs are available from
I am also supposed to be blogging there at Winding Up, as I said I'd post my final progress on the OUBS web site. But I said I'd post only once every couple of weeks. It's funny but I find that the more I have to write on my thesis, the less time or interest I have in writing my blogs.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Free consulting

Here is a review of research that looks at the value of consulting. It really looks, and measures it, a positivist approach I think. And so unusual that it is noted in the FT, by an economist.

The pdf paper is downloadable from Bloom's web site here.

Slowing progress

There's been a hiccup in work. I've damaged my left wrist & can't use both hands to type. Bother! Wouldn't it be nice if I could hand write all my thesis and give it to someone else to type.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Stuck in cross-case analysis

I've got to rewrite chapters 2 and 6 - well edit them. They are the literature review and the cross-case analysis.

The literature review edit is fairly straight forward and supervisor has helped by reading it thoroughly and giving me over sixty comments in writing. Is that critical or helpful? I think it's helpful supervision because I know the problem and what I have to do to solve it.

The cross-case analysis on the other hand has been difficult for months, and despite listening to my supervisors for an hour and listening again on the recording, I don't know how to tackle it. Until I have the cross-case analysis in my head, I cannot write it down, so in the meantime supervisors can't comment constructively - just say that they don't understand the abstractness of my writing in chapter 6, and beat me up.

Supervisor #2 suggested I was filtering out stuff and to brainstorm, but brainstorming is a group technique, not a really a one-PhD woman job. However he did also suggest I use a technique called EIAG which stands for
  • Experience
  • Identify
  • Analyse
  • Generalise
The idea is that I know/see/feel and find the experiences from my research and then identify them. The next two steps seem easy enough but I'm still stuck on the experience bit. For instance, at supervision, I pointed out the cycles and feedbacks on the engagement model that I've developed, but I haven't actually written these loops down anywhere and explained them, because I filter them out and yet they are important - because lose the loops and you lose engagement and also lose the evidence that engagement is continual. It was filtering out this idea from writing yet bringing it up in talking that made my supervisor think of EIAG.

Now what do I do? Stuck again in cross-case analysis

I'll go and edit the literature review.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010


I have NVivo, and am very happy with using it. It's a tool, and I'd no more worry about using it than about using a pencil or a spreadsheet. It has its limitations, but because it allows me to keep track of a mass of data, it saves me time and allows powerful analysis, keeping everything in one place.

Finding training on how to analysis qualitative data is more difficult than learning how to use software. There are training courses on QDAS that tell you what it does, but Gregorio tells you how to use it and how to do qualitative analysis - there's a difference.

Qualitative Research Design for Software Users Silvana Di Gregorio (Author), Judith Davidson (Author) 2009 978-0335225217 at Amazon

Friday, 5 November 2010

Same place

Nearly two weeks ago I blogged that I had only this and that to complete. But I've still got only this and that to complete.

I've been working on this darned methodology chapter all week, yet I don't think I've produced anything worth showing anybody yet because it's still so higgledy-piggledy. I still have the conclusion to write, having concluded that I was nowhere near writing it, despite my hopes two weeks ago.

I seem to be in the same place. Why?

Fellow Post-Grad student has the same question. Six months ago FPG had the whole thesis planned and was going to finish in September. I wouldn't say that I'm competitive but I see no reasons why I should be lagging behind her, and so if she could expect to finish in September, then so could I. Neither of us are lazybones - we put the hours in. But FPGS hasn't submitted yet, and doesn't understand any more than I do why six months ago it wasn't obvious that we weren't going to submit yet.

At the last supervision, a supervisor commented that progress seemed slow. Yes - it seems slow to me too, but I don't need to be criticised for slow progress. Hey! It is progress. So with that slow progress in mind, this week another FPGS grilled a long memoried academic here on when a post grad last completed within the three funded years. The answer after much thought and wriggling was never in memory. So to be where we are, FPG and I are making progress, and it might not be that slow. It's just not as fast as we expected or planned.

So perhaps I'm not quite in the same place as two weeks ago, but just a fraction further.

Monday, 1 November 2010


Plagiarism is
"if you submit an assignment that contains work that is not your own, without indicating this to the marker (acknowledging your sources), you are committing ‘plagiarism’ and this is an offence". See OU plagiarism policy statement.
To my horror, I found I'd plagiarised something in my literature review. I had a sentence that said something like "X urges y to a b and c", but I couldn't identify which of X's papers I was citing. I went over all of them and couldn't see what I was on about. In the end I googled the phrase, and discovered someone else had exactly the same words about X, including the urging. How on earth had I found this phrase before and had copied it word for word into what I was writing? It was fortunate that I was checking my sources so carefully. Suppose the examiner had recognised the quote that I hadn't! Aghast!

Monday, 25 October 2010


Writing the final bit I think. I think I'm writing the final bit.

And that's how it goes, writing and rewriting it a different way, with a bit more detail, and a few more connections. Connect the literature review to the methodology, connect the methodology to the case studies. The last couple of weeks have been exhausting and exciting as I make the connections.

But the polishing remains. To do:
  • write the conclusion better (after my supervisors see and give me feedback)
  • sort out the jigsaw that is the methodology chapter
  • write the introduction.

When I finish

When I finish, I'll get out to the new big wild field and have to market myself for work. Here's advice on marketing yourself from a new OUBS blogger, Terry.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Double the work or double the fun

Today's PhD comic is just where I'm at, after my supervisor commented two weeks ago that progress seemed to be slow. So:
  • I'm thick, or
  • I'm wading through research sludge, or
  • I'm doing the wrong things, or
  • I'm not doing enough things.
I am doing enough PhD work. Like fellow PhD blogger, Minh, here, I think and talk about my PhD so I'm well not happy to progress slowly. I want to submit this year.

So what do I do? Double the hours? Do double the wrong things?

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Shell shocked

I always come out of supervisions feeling slightly shell shocked and unable to do anything for 24 hours. It is slight consolation that supervisor had the same feelings when she was doing her PhD.
However, my Facebook friends console me.

Informatics Friend: Once you recover, do you find the content was useful and usable?

Me: I do something different as a consequence, so the content is used. But these discussions are so mind challenging that it takes time to use the content.

IF: Being stimulated is good :-)

Psychologist Friend: Know what you mean.

Me: In summer I wrote 5 case studies, and sups said don't structure the thesis with these 5 chapters, rewrite them as four chapters, analysing across cases by addressing four developing ideas. I gave them those 4 chapters last week, but they don't like it done cross-case like that and they want a different structure - more like the first effort.

IF: Which I hope you've got saved somewhere.

Successful OUBS Phd Friend: That is so annoying. Don't they realise you haven't got endless time to indulge their whims!

Me: And the final comment was, "you don't seem to be making much progress". So I don't think I'll be able to submit before Christmas

IF: Which do you think is the better structure? Would there be any value in just outlining it and trying to get some quick reactions rather than going through the pain of writing several chapters to have them 'not liked' again?

I know all this is ahead of me, but I guess there is something in this around who actually owns your thesis and the structure of it - and whether you are happy with changing/conflicting advice.

Good luck!

Me: Outlining is what we discussed, now I have to implement it. I can see where they're coming from, but until I'd written it this way, they, none of us could have seen that it wasn't going to work. Now, it's clear that it doesn't read well that way, so I have to write it another way, and just slightly different from what I did in summer. The slight difference also means that it will integrate more with the methodology, and lead to the conclusion. I see them every four or five weeks, which gives me 3-4 weeks to get stuff to them, then they're very good at reading and commenting. Their changing/conflicting advice is because they're moving on in their understanding of my research as I write it - and I do write and give them stuff, which is why I'm upset by the comment about my progress as if I weren't working.

IF: If they could have said something like - it must feel as if you are not making much progress, but actually it is because of all the work you have done that the way ahead is becoming clearer...

I guess they were wanting to encourage and empathise but it came out all wrong - lessons in this for all of us who try to mentor, tutor or teach!

Are you able to edit your previous work rather than having a major re-write - and are there other chapters you can work on in parallel to draw out that integration?

Me: Oh yes, IF- that's the way it could have been said. It's a major edit rather than a major rewrite because I've written it all before, and filed discards in a discard folder. What will take time is editing the drawings that I use to show the thread through the thesis. So it's like
  • in spring I had skeins of wool and didn't know what I was going to knit,
  • by summer I'd started on a pullover,
  • but in autumn, now I realise it should be a cardigan, and the sleeves are too short, so I have the right colours and know what who has to fit, but need to unpick, redesign and knit more.
PF: Yes, you need to look at the positives and try not to worry about the negative. You have made progress - you've started knitting and now you have a better idea of the final garment

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Master of Research degree

New research students start this week, the PhD students and the MRes students. I was asked to speak to the year's cohort of seven MRes students to give them a retrospective assessment of the MRes experience and its worth to the PhD.
  1. It's worth it. After one year, you have a degree, whether or not you go on to a PhD in the OU, elsewhere or never again if you realise research is not for you. If you go on to a PhD, you start at a run, which means you can take six months to hone other interesting skills in other areas.
  2. MRes students may feel like second class citizens; they are not. You have to join in and remind people that you exist and want to learn.
  3. Take each step at a time and enjoy the process rather than worry about the big thesis at the end of the year. I told them three stories from my MRes year. The first was about writing essays and what an awfully low mark I got on my first assignment, and how I learned better. The second story was of my supervisor's encouragement in June. The third story was about the Friday before the thesis was due in, when I'd already printed three copies, and received a letter one of my participants withdrawing permission for me to use anything she'd said. Aagh! The first question the director and my supervisor asked when I ran for help was: "Did you get ethics approval?" Yes - the MRes doctoral training workshops had trained us on ethics. The point is that a research process is about planning, and constantly adapting to cope with problems.
Several academics who run the MRes course presented and I listened to it all, including what would be covered in their advanced qualitative module, which I couldn't do because my faculty requires the MRes students to do a business module. What was interesting is that the advanced qualitative module includes details of interviewing, analysing transcribing and analysing interview data and the use of qualitative analysis software - all stuff that I have needed and used, teaching myself by reading or getting on other workshops. Had I realised its value, I might have asked to join as an unofficial participant on the advanced qualitative research module in my first year PhD. Some people did that to gain the advanced quantitative skills, and now I'd advise a first year OUBS PhD student who intended to research qualitatively to negotiate access to that module.

There are only five OUBS MRes students and only two of them were at this morning's general session. Tomorrow we OUBS students meet the new OUBS PhD students, and on Thursday we meet the OUBS MRes students. The two I met were surprised to realise they have a desk waiting for them, with a cupboard, a pedestal, a phone and a brand new PC. We get well supported here so I hope they all turn up to use the support.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010


I gave my supervisor several chapters today. To my surprise, she commented on them being 'chapters'.
"but you told me to write chapter 4 two months ago, and the others just followed on"
I printed them out for her since we were both in the office and handed them to her in an A4 ring binder, which pleased her (and me) because it begins to look like a real thesis at last.

However, she and supervisor #2 could still say to analyse it a different way and set me back months. A fellow post grad had her supervisors do that. FPG'd prepared qualitative work, but when some number crept in, the supervisors suggested some statistical analysis as well, which set the work back two months. Then they realised that there wasn't enough data to get statistically significant results - well duh! Why couldn't they all have realised that a bit earlier instead of messing around?

Nevertheless, it's a week of progress because Sanjukta is through her viva and another OUBS research student will be submitting this week.


Monday, 27 September 2010

Sanjukta's success

Sanjukta is through her viva with minor corrections. Hurrah and congratulations to her. Her subject was acquisitions and mergers, her title being the Market for Corporate Control and European Utilities.

We celebrated quietly with cake and tea.


Sunday, 26 September 2010

Engaging progress monitoring reports

She's very clever, supervisor #1. I've been asking supervisors' advice about potential examiners for nearly a year, and in my March progress monitoring report I wrote that this had to be considered. Whereupon, being as I had now raised this issue, supervisor #1 delegated me the task of logging potential candidate examiners for my supervisors to consider, and recorded it on the PMR.

The interesting thing is that the PMR acted as a material boundary object for supervisors and student to share a discussion that otherwise had been going nowhere, meaning that there is an advantage to doing the PMR, provided that all the participants share its creation and negotiate its contents.

I still can't see who uses its output though. I think it's just a bureacratic safety net.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Progress Monitoring Reports

It's time for PMR - the six-monthly chore when we have to complete our Progress Monitoring Report. So it's timely that in today's Higher Times Education Supplement Tara Brabazon writes here:
Motivated students and experienced supervisors build a successful doctorate. Any obstruction that separates students and supervisors slows academic progress. This is not a radical statement. It is obvious. If students attend meetings with administrators rather than academic specialists, or submit forms about their progress rather than progressing their scholarship, then their time is reduced for research.
Yes - waste of my time. My fellow third year was worrying about it:
"I have to update my training record and it's taking me ages."
"So why do you have to do it for the PMR?" I asked.
"Because there's a question on the PMR" she reads it out "Is your training record up to date?"
"Oh that! I just put 'yes'."
I got cynical about the PMR's worth the time the office forgot to send them out and a student had to ask for them. If only a student notices them missing, who are they for? If you go to the effort of creating something, and maintaining it but no-one or nothing else ever uses it then it is worthless, an inefficient use of time. Don't do it.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

End of three years

At the end of September my three-year scholarship ends. The end of my scholarship means the end of my funding, so no more conferences, outside workshops, transcription, or travel will be paid. I need to finish unpaid, unwaged, unfunded.

Fellow students are fretting, excitedly and worriedly arranging to submit.
  • My fellow third year has registered her intention to submit in the next three months.
  • A fourth year student has submitted and awaits her viva next week.
  • Another fourth year student has just taken her thesis to the printers.
  • Another fourth year has gone part-time.
At the end of four years you get deregistered and if you haven't submitted or gone part time, that's it. Done. Cut off. NO degree. Nothing. And a waste of four years with nothing to show for it, but if you go part time before the cut off date, then you have several more years as a registered part-time student. That costs over a sixteen hundred pounds, so not the route you want to take if you think you'll submit in only a few more weeks.

At this end stage, when things are getting desperate, you have to manage your supervisors' expectations. If they think you're going independent and you will submit anyhow, then they support you - that's my observation of my senior students' experience. But if you bow to their experience and wisdom and hesitation, then you're going to take longer. Supervisors who've given you other tasks that delay you, land you with problems so make sure the supervisors know the regulations too.

I finish unfunded, but I shall finish well before 30 September 2011.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Presenting a pecha kucha

In a pecha kucha I presented all my three years research this morning. My fellow students came, watched, listened, and then asked questions.

A pecha kucha (pronunciation here) is presented in twenty slides of twenty seconds, i.e. 400 seconds so six minutes 40 seconds. You have to set the slides to move on automatically. This provides a discipline of
  • not too much on the slide, and
  • knowing exactly what you want to say and saying it in no more than 20 seconds.
I benefited from having to limit my research to the important points, demonstrating a thread through it from the initial problem, to a conclusion that showed I'd answered the research questions.

The consequent questions made it clear to me that I should change one of my research questions, because I was answering something else. My colleague students also drew my attention to some usefully relevant literature. Thank you to them.

I recommend any third year PhD student present a pecha kucha of research so far.
  1. Problem
  2. Literature
  3. Research questions
  4. Theoretical framework
  5. Methodology
  6. Five case studies
  7. Preconditions of engagement
  8. Environment & participants
  9. Knowledgeability
  10. Emerging behaviours
  11. Sharing
  12. Sense making
  13. Adapting
  14. Connecting behaviours
  15. Actions for sharing/ sense making /adapting
  16. Self reinforcing behaviour
  17. Client-consultant interactions
  18. Value
  19. Template for creating engagement
  20. Conclusions
If you want to see the timed show, contact me here.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Thesis structure

Thesis contents
4. Case studies description 4,500 words
5. Case studies discussion 15,000 words
6. Case studies emerging behaviour 9,000 words
7. Findings 10,000 words

And it will be done! I'm polishing chapter 7 (or rewriting it entirely), and have still to write the chapters in block capitals.

Saturday, 4 September 2010


I've written something about findings - I'm a tad excited about this (in a British sense - like I'm really excited but understating it). Findings has to be the last chapter, so now I can write all the proceeding chapters because now I know what I'm aiming at concluding with.

And it's not exciting. It's not at all exciting, because what I find is like everyone else has been saying for years, and all I've done is collect the information in this particular format and use this particular model that's my own, to model the same as everyone else.

And I bet when my supervisors read it, I'll be deflated again.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Systems conference

The UK Systems Society have the annual conference at this time of year, and being interested in systems thinking and its application to business, I took the opportunity to go this year - my funded studentship finishes this month, :( so if I want to do something that costs, this is the last month to claim it. It was worth it because I met and talked with lots of interesting and knowledgeable people about systems, got to know of aspects of systems I'd not heard of before (like Connant-Ashby) and used systems thinking that I'm familiar with.

Systems thinking is a niche with few practitioners, a few small journals with low Research Asssesment ratings and little academic recognition. John Martin from the systems department of the Open University suggested that systems thinking is used in other non-specifically systems and published in other journals, but we don't have the evidence. So systems thinking isn't obvious in the academic literature, but may be applied in practice because we had a number of practitioners at the conference, and a couple of practitioner speakers: John Seddon of Vanguard consulting, and Hoverstadt.

Hoverstadt works in the sort of public sector areas that are relevant to my research, so we had an interesting conversation. His book, The Fractal Organisation, is one that I've been recently reading. He writes clearly, and explains the viable systems model much better than Stafford Beer does. He tutors one of the OU systems courses, and is running a systems workshop on VSM at the OU this month. I'm going to squeeze that in to my last month's funding too.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Friday's findings

Writing up what I should have written before going away to the AOM conference, and struggling to create a coherent paper that:
  1. moves my research forward
  2. I can send to my supervisors soon
I need to explain how the emerging behaviour arose from the pre-conditions, and how the emerging behaviour created value. And I can't remember what I thought two weeks ago. :(

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Positive bias

The type of case studies I have show a positive bias. People and organisations that are interested enough to agree to be case studies tend to engage with each other on their IT projects, and to perceive their projects and their relationships with their consultants and suppliers as successful. Those that don't engage, or don't perceive their projects or consultant-client relationships as successful, have not participated.

Squaring the circle

I'm delighted to receive feedback from a research participant to whom I sent a case study write up. She hadn't seen something the way I had and welcomed my feedback, telling me what she could have done, things I hadn't thought through, and thus useful feedback, because I'll incorporate it.

One reason that research participant hadn't seen things that way was because she was the sole primary client, rather than sharing the client role on a project board, so she had no one to bounce ideas off. In another case study, where a contact client saw something one way, and the consultant who was the project manager saw things in a different way, the consultant was able to share his observations with others, and thus bounced ideas off a fellow consultant on the project board. He in turn worked with someone else on the project board to get done what had to be done.

Of course one of the things when you write up a case study is worrying that perhaps you'll show a research participant in a bad light, so I worry in that second case study that perhaps I'm showing the contact client as worrying too much about detail, but then I don't know that perhaps he was right and in fact the people on the project board didn't have enough information to make informed decisions. On the other hand, it is the job of project board members to have the vision, and the contact client's job was to know the detail, so there's no criticism of anyone.

Indeed, what I've got is the variety of perspectives that I set out to get. And the variety shows me that when some participants can't make the connections that afford engagement, engagement via two other connections can square the circle to get the job done.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Engagement - answer to Mollen and Wilson

I try to "pin down the much discussed but elusive concept of engagement" in the context of public sector IT projects, (elusive indeed) whereas Mollen and Wilson attempt this in an online context. Mollen and Wilson analyse engagement's relationship to constructs of telepresence, flow, commitment, but my approach doesn't use these constructs (although commitment seems analogous).

Mollen and Wilson attempt a definition; I don't. I tried - see here. But they attempt a definition of on-line engagement, which is not what I'm looking at. Why do we have to use the same word for something that's not quite the same behaviour!

Mollen and Wilson write "engagement is a volitional commitment by the customer" but that definition applies only to their on-line context and implies a one-way commitment to a brand - there's nothing in there about commitment by the supplier. They write that the customer commitment is "to an active relationship over time" but don't say who the other parties to the relationship are. How can you have relationship with a thing? Aren't relationships between people?

I checked the references section, and although I recognise some references, such as the 2006 paper by Petre, Minocha & Roberts, none of the other references match what I'm using, because she is looking at marketing, advertising and on-line engagement whereas I am looking at engagement in the public sector, on IT projects where there's IT development and interactional behaviour.

With this sketch I think I can see some similarities. They are:
  1. the web site context, ie telepresence is the materiality and the website provides the context in which to work and interact
  2. consumer experience is the knowledge available. consumers, like participants in an IT project some with knowledge and experience to contribute to the interaction.
But it's one sided, and if my research were of how clients got consultants to engage on a project, then it would be equally one sided because there'd be no mention of how clients engaged with people, clients with clients, clients with consultants.

I've looked at concepts analogous to engagement as participation, motivation, commitment, involvement, collaboration, using engagement literature that includes Huxham, Schaffer, , Saks, Marcum, Schaufeli, Axelrod, Barki, Huxham, Hartwick. And this literature does not coincide with Mollen's work at all.

Mollen is now developing an engagement scale, (Schaufeli has developed a questionnaire to measure work engagement (blogged here), but Mollen doesn't mention Schaufeli's work), which suggests that she's looking for a way to measure customer engagement. I am looking for
  1. how people engage
  2. the value that rises from engagement, - so a way to measure that value would be persuasive in influencing public sector clients who do not see the worth of investing time and effort to engage with suppliers. For the public sector IT context a metric for engaged behaviour is of less use than a metric for the value arising from engagement.
The literature that Mollen uses from the e-learning fields is more interest to me than that from the advertising field because in an IT development, there is learning, so the e-learning literature on engagement might have something transferable. The suppliers and the consultants learn how the business works, and the business clients learn from the suppliers' behaviours and material outcomes (e.g. reports, or new software). However, Mollen is using the electronic learning literature rather the learning literature per se.

Anne Mollen's preconditions are similar:
  • participants (customers but not suppliers)
  • knowledge (experience)
  • environment (web, on-line)
but the emerging behaviour is different. I find
  • sharing - not possible if participants are single individuals, and if the supplier is not involved as well
  • sense-making - maybe
  • adapting - customer behaviour
I conclude that Mollen's theory of engagement is insufficient to help understand how clients and consultants/suppliers engage on IT projects, and secondly, her work doesn't indicate what value arises to whom in a way that I can transfer to the IT project context. (She refers to "optimal consumer attitudes and behaviours").

However, what I'm working on is broader and may be helpful to on-line advertisers who are happy to take a more holistic view of engagement.

The interesting concept that both our approaches must share is volition.

Mollen, A. 2010. Engagement, Telepresence and Interactivity in Online Consumer Experience: Reconciling Scholastic and Managerial Perspectives. Journal of business research, 63(9-10): 919-925.
Saks, A. M. (2006) 'Antecedents and consequences of employee engagement', Journal of Managerial Psychology, 21 (7), pp. 600-619. 938
Schaufeli, W. B., Bakker, A. B. and Salanova, M. (2006) 'The Measurement of Work Engagement With a Short Questionnaire: A Cross-National Study', Educational & Psychological Measurement, 66 (4), pp. 701-716. 835
MARCUM, J. W. (1999) Out With Motivation, in With Engagement. National Productivity Review (Wiley), 18, 43-46.
HUXHAM, C. (1993) Pursuing Collaborative Advantage. The Journal of the Operational Research Society, 44, 599-611.
NAO (2006) Good governance: Measuring Success Through Collaborative Working Relationships. National Audit Office.
SCHAFFER, R. H. (2002) High Impact Consulting, Jossey-Bass.
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, Berrett-Koehler.
BARKI, H. & HARTWICK, J. (1989) Rethinking the Concept of User Involvement. MIS Quarterly, 13, 53-63.
HARTWICK, J. & BARKI, H. (1994) Explaining the Role of User Participation in Information System Use. Management Science, 40, 440-465.

Academic blogging

The AOM conference included a session on using blogging as a tool for bridging research, teaching and practice, with speakers who'd used blogs in these various ways.
  • Brayden G King
  • Teppo Felin
  • David Levy
  • Karim R Lakhani
  • Maxim Sytch
Maxim spoke first of how his university (Michigan) had worked for a year with the Washington Post hosting a blog site for the MBA class. The students had tasks to post and to comment on posts, not unlike what our OU students have been doing since 1996, but these were public postings, and members of the public could also join in. The blog became journals of participation, with 26 questions set by the academics and over 200 participants. Reading all that sounds a lot of work for the academics to mark and assess, but students, like our OU students had to cut and paste their own contributions into their assignments.

Karim, at Harvard started his blog as a doctoral project for his work on the open source software community and also twitters with his students. He made a boo-boo on his Phd blog, commenting that an important paper was not seminal, and incurring comments. Consequently, he has now deleted that blog, and advises not blogging when you're a doctoral student because potential employers could see what stupid things you've written! I'm going to carry on this blog, so I can if I've improved, and so that I can get feedback and encouragement from my readers.

David Levy writes http://climateinc.org/ on sustainability issues, and has invited bloggers. To get exposure he trawled related blogs and left comments that linked to his blog. That sounds like trolling, and a bit rude, but it depends on what sort of comments he left. Sensible comments I would welcome, but leaving comments like "Great blog - see mine at xx" I would call trolling, and delete. So David's advice on getting exposure generated some debate.

Teppo Felin writes at orgtheory.wordpress.com and why blog? Because
  • it's fun
  • to exchange ideas
  • for access to invisible colleagues
  • for feedback
Yes! I blog for those reasons too. He gave us a couple more slides of advice on blogging.
Why not blog?
  • You can look like at idiot
  • Worries - what if no one reads it
  • Tenure and career issues
  • Waste of time?
Successful blogs have
  • content
  • mix
  • "voice"
  • emergent
  • guest bloggers
Daniel Beunza from London School of Economics writes on socializing finance - what a wonderful idea! He writes on the sociology of finance, and has done ethnological studies of financial institutions.

It was a great session because so interesting, and encouraging to bloggers, of which there were several in the room. Consequently, people are emailing contacts and web sites for each other's blogs. Look also on the AOM OMT blog.

Here are some other bloggers to know about:
CV Harquail writes
These four bloggers are great examples/ role models. While obviously nobody can be Bob Sutton, he's got the biggest blog going and hosts a terrific conversation. Terri exemplifies a senior scholar putting her theory into real life situations, and Michael shows folks how to be timely, topical, theory-relevant, and to-the-point all at once. Brett's blog and online activity is exemplary-- he is theory based (rarely about a current news topic) and very approachable.

I'll blog more about blogs another day, after I've had time to explore them.

LOVE - passion and compassion

Do you remember, if you know, in the UK in 1995 a head teacher was murdered, stabbed to death outside his school, as he attempted to protect one of his pupils from another 15-year old? He left a widow with four children to bring up on her own. The story was in the papers again a few months ago, when the culprit finished his prison sentence and was free to stay in England, despite being born in Italy because he had lived in England since he was five. The culprit argued that it would be against his human rights to return him to Italy because he didn't speak Italian. How sad that his single mother did not give him the gift of bilingualism, his school did not provide him with Italian lessons, and even in prison he could not learn the language of his home country.

A similar scenario played out in Montreal in 1993 when a 14-year-old lad stabbed a man to death, but his widow, not burdened with four children, saw the lad as much a victim as her husband, because he'd come from a single mother, and a difficult background. This widow set up an organisation for such youngsters, called Leave out Violence (LOVE). It aims to raise awareness about youth violence and make youth part of the solution. LOVE is also a media arts programme that teaches youth the skills to become part of the media, skills like writing, photography and video. They become reporters on youth culture and feature in exhibits, radio shows, events and their own newspaper. They can continue onto leadership training, learning more about producing media, and how to be leaders in their schools.

This LOVE organisation has a compassionate approach, so much more hopeful than the UK media outcry about the released non-Italian speaking culprit - but good news makes no news.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Canadian itinerants - passion and compassion

L'Itineraire is a Montreal news magazine whose mandate is to create opportunities for the homeless to make a living through producing and selling the magazine, and not through begging on the streets. It is a magazine rather like the Big Issue in the UK, so that the sellers earn money from each magazine they sell, and can begin to put their lives back together. See also http://www.street-papers.org/

The Groupe L’Itinéraire is an organisation that cares for the homeless and excluded of Montreal. L'Itineraire also provides a cafe, Cafe L’Itineraire, where people can buy a good meal. A group from the academy of management conference went and also bought meals, so we know the quality is nourishing. We paid CAD15 each for a meal but the homeless pay only four dollars, or less if they have no money.

Richard Turgeon, Director of Strategic Development, spoke to us of Groupe L’Itinéraire’s efforts and how it approaches its mission of compassion and support in the Montreal community.

L’Itinéraire’s goal is to educate the public about homelessness and the people who used to be homeless who are now making a living. In doing so, the organization helps to improve the lives of homeless people who are coping with and overcoming alcoholism, drug abuse, and mental disorders.

Richard and his colleagues demonstrated passion for this work, combined with compassion for these people, its clients.

Monday, 9 August 2010


Listening to Irene Skovgaard Smith on consultants in the processes of objectification, she is writing a paper on the materiality that consultants use in their work. She argues that management consultants' services are viewed as intangible, but that the tangible aspects of their service are overlooked. However, key aspects of consultants' work revolve around producing physical objects that materialise the organisation.

In her talk, she described some objects that consultants used (e.g. brown paper, flip charts) and pointed out that in their sessions with clients they held the pen, were the "pen holders". From what she said, it seems to me that she's seen the physical representation of marketing a service, which is old theory (seven Ps of marketing from Booms & Bitner). The problem for her work, she points out, is that the new trend is to talk about materiality, so how does she position her research and where is she going to publish?

It's relevant to my research and it would help me to be able to cite her, when she's published.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Touring Montreal

Montreal is a nice city for walking round and lots going on. We started the day by slipping in for a quick visit to the Adler art exhibition, where the theme related to business. We got asked to draw self portraits and describe how they related to leadership. Having accidentally wandered into a workshop (Friday) on the relationship between the tango and leadership, it was easy to draw two dancers leading and following.

The conference organised a trip round Montreal businesses,
  • a cafe for the homeless and the business that organises the equivalent of the UK's Big Issue magazine, where we ate brunch - 4$ for the itinerant, but we can pay more
  • an organisation called 'LOVE' (Leave Out ViolencE) that helps kids move away from violence, hassling and bullying, where we photographed ourselves and wrote something relevant on the portraits for a collage
  • Studio Breathe - a sustainable approach in a place that provides yoga and martial arts, where we practised yoga and got to taste Canadian wine.
With practical conference activities like this, business is fun.

Saturday, 7 August 2010


Too late I realise that today at this AOM conference, there is a workshop on materiality, a component I believe of engagement, and Orlikowski who writes so much on materiality, is there. But the session needed applying for months ago, some homework, and a code for registration (which I couldn't get work for another session any now) and registration by last week. So I'll choose something else.

There is so much choice, and wasn't easily done on the web. At least I now have a telephone-directory-sized reference manual to check sessions and days.

Conference overwhelming

Overwhelming, that's what this conference is. There are almost
  • too many people - over 8000
  • too many meetings - over 200
  • too much choice of fantastic professional development workshops - more than 300
No wonder new comers feel overwhelmed at this conference. People have come from all over the world, from 79 different countries, and only half of them from the USA, so this AOM conference does have an international feel.

Some great options. Yesterday I was trying to get into an overfull session on maps and other alternative visual representations but somehow got mixed up in the wrong group and found I was doing the tango for leadership. That was great, but the potential to miss so much causes frustration.

Engaging dancing

The Axelrods' talk was the more important session for me here, and has been enlightening on how engagement allows sense making. As an added bonus, I met other phd students researching engagement. I hope to keep in touch with them and continue to compare notes.

There is so much going on it is easy to miss something good (like the session on materiality) or end up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Today I was going to a session on visualisation, but it was full to overflowing. I heard someone say something about an alternative room and followed them to find ourselves in a huge ball room, where I discovered I'd joined another session, one on dancing the tango. The tango is a metaphor for leadership because it requires subtle understanding of the changes of moves, and quick reactions and Montreal is the northern hemisphere's centre for tango. If you live in Montreal, then go here.

The organisers aimed to demonstrate that social dance can be used to develop organizational leadership skills. It does “take two to tango”: a leader and a follower.
"The dance is a metaphor for work performance and a “successful” dance or partnering is like the achievement of organizational objectives by a manager with an engaged workforce. Social dance provides a powerful and “sticky” medium to bring these principles to life."
The organisers wrote that the Argentine Tango "embodies skills necessary to lead organizations. Above all, it requires the ability to dynamically adapt to rapidly changing environments. Both today’s business leaders and tangueros (tango dancers) must be able to “think on their feet” and respond effectively to the unexpected actions of others, including those with whom they interact most closely. Skilled organizational leaders, like dancers, more easily navigate the complexities of their business environment by establishing deep and fluid communication with their followers."

I began to feel as I moved with my partner that I understood what they meant - if I lived in Montreal I might join a tango class.
El tango no está en los pies. Está en el corazón. [Tango is not in the feet. It is in the heart.] Larry Caroll, Tango Corazon
It's a daring approach.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Tiny keyboard

I haven't had a laptop since 1993, finding it better to upgrade my desktop, but for travelling I have this tiny eeePC. The disadvantage is how difficult it is to type on its minute keyboard and mistakes, typos abound.


Am in Montreal for Academy of Management conference that starts on Friday. It's an enormous event with thousands of delegates, very American influenced. Each day has half a dozen activities timed for each of three or four sessions in one of four different venues. I'm going to spend today finding out where these venues are.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Engagement - an intermediate variable

Supervisor sent me a paper about engagement in a different context, where engagement is seen as an intermediate variable for on-line web advertising. Wilson notes that
"engagement is a volitional commitment by the customer to an active relationship over time"
and supervisor now realises we need to discuss volition.

Anne Mollen wrote her Cranfield MRes on engagement as an intermediate variable for on-line marketing. I read it some years ago, and discarded the ideas then after a short discussion with the then supervisor #1, because her systematic review showed that she was situating her research in e-learning and advertising literature, rather than in organisational development and change. I recommend reading the paper because she writes well, and because her Master of Research dissertation is an exemplar of a systematic review. Find it here at Cranfield research theses.

Mollen, A. 2010. Engagement, Telepresence and Interactivity in Online Consumer Experience: Reconciling Scholastic and Managerial Perspectives. Journal of business research, 63(9-10): 919-925.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Editing non-fiction

Effective writing requires effective editing, and I see that Oxford Continuing Education is running a course on editing non-fiction. It's a three day course this October - November, and maddeningly I can't make the middle day. :( But perhaps you would want to know and can go so I thought I'd mention it.

It's called Effective Writing 1: editing non-fiction, and here's the link. The brochure says it aims to teach students "how to turn drab and listless writing into material that is correct, effective and eye-catching". The timing is right if you're in third/fourth year PhD and writing up.

I've done other OUCE weekend courses, starting with their excellentintensive language weekends some years ago and last year a maths day soI know that they've had some wonderful tutors.

Last year I tried to sign up for their course on Resounding Results of Resourceful Researchers , but they were overbooked. See here. That's probably a useful course for first year and MRes students, and the OUCE description makes their course sound rather different and tempting, but the OU library covers searching and literature reviews here. And the OU costs me nothing. But I'd still like to do the OUCE RRRR. Anyone else going to do it?

Friday, 23 July 2010

NLP how?

Over the last few months I've spent several long weekends on a neuro linguistic programming (NLP) training course and am pleased to have successfully received the certificate today.

This NLP course was practical training about the structure of subjective experience, training I would have used when interviewing my case study participants because I would have used slightly different follow up questions. The most difficult question to answer is 'how?' which is capability and one of five logical levels of structuring behaviour. My research question is 'how' question, and I'm finding it really difficult to get the answers out of interview data. Perhaps with NLP practice I might have asked more eliciting questions.

Too bad - that's learning. And I do have a new certificate :)

Monday, 19 July 2010


To change business, people need to think.
Adaptability seems to be in words like
  • learn,
  • change
  • know
  • make
  • think
  • take
but these words are modified by words like:
  • need
  • want
  • able
  • try
  • might
  • probably
I picked up all the phrases I'd coded as being about adaptability, then picked out the verbs from the phrases and fed them into Wordle. Doodling with the data might be creative. Maybe I'll get new understanding.

Sunday, 18 July 2010


Sharing is about people working together.

(Thanks again to www.wordle.net).

Making sense

People want a way to understand things.

Back to analysing the data to find my final findings - was this any use? I picked out all the phrases I'd coded against sharing, against sense-making, against adaptability. I split them into lists and checked them for verbs. Here's what the sense-making list looks like when you put it into wordle.net.

It summarises making sense as people wanting to understand things by being honest and learning and working.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Appreciative Inquiry

You can get some good practical stuff off the practitioner sites on line, like this pdf file about appreciative inquiry from the Asian Development Bank knowledge solutions page here.

I'd thought of appreciative inquiry as like action research, and not something I was doing, but according to this paper I am because appreciative inquiry "studies the positive attributes of organizations" and that's what I'm studying - exemplar case studies of organisations where their projects or programmes were perceived as successfully completed. I like the idea of learning from what succeeds instead of from failure (so depressing that you want to hide away and forget it). I had access to my case studies because the participants were so pleased and proud of what they'd done that they wanted to be appreciated. Isn't that what appreciative inquiry is about?

I don't know, so I guess I'll have to check the academic literature too.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010


Supervisors advise me to restructure my case studies, which I understand because I can't have five chapters, one for each case study, at 8,000-10,000 - it doesn't fit in with a balanced thesis. To structure it I should write round the framework I have built from the literature and the case studies and answer four questions:
  1. Which conditions were important for producing qualities of engagement
  2. What else made it possible for people to produce these qualities?
  3. Which qualities of engagement emerged over time?
  4. What kind of value resulted and how?
I should answer the first and third questions together because they address the components of engagement, what preconditions or steering factors were there initially and what emerged. The second and third questions address how these components/conditions/factors connected.

That's the idea. I'm just not quite sure what I'm doing.

Saturday, 10 July 2010


The OUBS has been recruiting tutors for its new MBA foundation course, and requires tutors that not only have business knowledge but also recent experience of coaching managers, so the coaching industry is growing, growing so rapidly that Henley now offers an MSc in coaching and behavioural change. It's an MSc course that includes a module on neuro linguistic programming.

Whilst on an NLP course recently, I've met, worked and conversed with people who are following this coaching MSc. They tell me there are all sorts of coaches including life coaches, leadership coaches, executive coaches and even gestalt coaches. Because of the coach's need to know the limits of his/her abilities, the Henley students have to write assignments on differences between coaching, counselling and therapy and I don't know how well they have to assess their alliances with their coachees and how effective the coachee consequently becomes. How do you assess the effectiveness of coaching?

On last week's (8th July) The Bottom Line, discussed working with people you don't like. One of the guests, John Atkin, chief operating officer of Syngenta, denied ever working with people he didn't like, and another suggested using coaches for senior workers to do 360 evaluations - a long process to tell the boss "actually you're not behaving very nicely". But will coaching always produce the outcome you want?

Coachees' self-efficacy is the topic of a paper to be presented at the up-coming Academy of Management conference. The presenters (Baron, Morin & Morin) find that coachees who worked with a coach who overestimated the working alliance, experienced less growth in self-efficacy than coachees who work with a coach who either accurately estimated or underestimated the working alliance. It seems to me that finding suggests
  • coaches have moral and ethical responsibility for their behaviour
  • organisations that use coaches must be aware of the conditions under which coaching works

Wednesday, 7 July 2010


Supervisors now have all five rewritten case studies and we meet next Monday. That's a lot to read, even though they have the same ten sections five times:
  1. Background
  2. Programme description
  3. Interviewees
  4. Key parties
  5. Programme outcome
  6. Case discussion
  7. Review of case
  8. Value from engagement
  9. Appendix
  10. References
Figures include:
  • key parties
  • participants
  • governance structure sometimes
  • states of engagement
  • template for engagement that I developed from the literature
  • framework against the template for each case
Tables include lists of interviewees, sources and of actions people took to engage (NAO, 2006). The cases should be comparable and the writing should take the reader through description to analysis and findings.

NAO. 2006. Central government's use of consultants: Building client and consultant commitment. In National Audit Office (Ed.), Vol. I: HMSO #109

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Weekend writing

I haven't posted for a week, but I've been writing. I've rewritten all my case studies, and three of them I've sent to supervisors. Who've cancelled next Wednesday's supervision meeting. :(
So I'll have time to send them the last two before the rearranged meeting. :)

Rewriting each case study takes a long morning, with the computer off, a pencil in hand, scribbling over the last printed copy. Sometimes, when working at home I can stare down the garden, if the hop plant isn't dribbling over my window blocking the view.

I find as I write that some words leave me wondering, as if they're not quite right, not quite saying what I want them to say. Focusing on those niggles helps sort them out. Perhaps rewording or reordering helps, or finding a reference to support a point. In one case study, my interviewees knew their management theory and talked about it, so I'm looking up the relevant literature, and the less obviously relevant literature to turn the argument the way I want it. Looking up literature takes time, and means switching my computer back on. I try to delay that because the computer distracts me to email, or here blogging, so my time is less productive. The productive time leads to more than just rewriting, but to analysis too.

To check literature, I search my Endnote database to see I've already read and what notes I've added and occasionally I search this blog to find where I'd remarked on some literature or commented on analysis a year ago or more. I surprise myself that I'd thought that and find the blog more useful than I'd realised.

Now, no more blogging. Rewrite.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Cool opportunities

My fellow blogger, Minh, gave me some useful feedback on the blog I wrote for The Bottom Line last week, and asked,
How do you end up getting these cool publication opportunities?
I guess I'm lucky to be in the right place at the right time, and you make your own luck to be there by talking to the right people. I'd been on a media training course that I'd found out about through a routine circular email that went round the OU Business School. Later I'd discussed the experience with Les Budd, who usually does The Bottom Line blogs, and it went on from there.

They are cool opportunities, aren't they? Visiting the BBC, and watching a programme being recorded, listening to the experiences of people who do business is more interesting than getting some erudite paper into a learned journal that no-one reads, but that looks good on your CV, and gets you academic jobs because it'll improve the university research ratings.

Unfortunately, I haven't published anything erudite and learned and I don't know what sort of job I'll be doing when I finish my dissertation.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

OU teaching awards

I've just attended the Open University Teaching Awards ceremony, where they award the nominated best tutors (associate lecturers) and others of this year. Its atmosphere is as good as at a degree ceremony, but more intimate as there were only around a score of awards. We have around 8000 tutors.

The vice chancellor, Martin Bean, was cheerfully presenting the awards, announced by Josie Taylor, professor of learning technologies. He always looks round to see who's in the audience, and welcomed one of the deans, Chris Earl, from the maths, computing and technology faculty, but our OUBS dean wasn't there. I think the VC is trying to encourage the deans to attend such events.

One incident amused us. Two FELS tutors came on the stage. Now FELS is the faculty that deals with foreign languages, so you can understand that it would have tutors in Europe, and that languages are taught using Elluminate and other e-learning technologies. One of these tutors took the opportunity to speak to the audience, explaining that this was the first time she'd met her colleagues face-to-face, despite working together since 2004, and could someone in the higher echelons please arrange for the ALs to get together more often.

Higher echelons! She's standing right next to the top echelon of the university ladder.

Martin Bean looked right, left, up, down and behind the curtain. (See him on Berrill Stadium if you're internal staff). At this point, Josie Taylor gently ushered the tutor off the stage, commenting,
"If you don't ask, you don't get!"
Yet, a few moments later, another tutor arrives on stage for her award, and also announces she wants to say something. She's a science tutor, and explains that in her faculty the ALs do get to meet, in fact had met only a couple of weeks ago, and that the FELS ALS need to ask for such a meeting and Martin Bean takes this chance to add,
"Ask your dean."

Friday, 18 June 2010


This week has been a distraction from writing my research findings, but I shall spend the weekend marking computing assignments that my students sent in a week ago.

A colleague has just facebooked that she's submitted her thesis today! I like that posting.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Video blog

The other day's drafting problem was because I was writing just a few words, enough to say in one minute, on a topic that would come up in this week's BBC business programme, The Bottom Line. I knew what two topics were required, one of which I know lots about and one I know very little about. Of course, when you know a lot, then you get stuck as to how to cut it down. And I got stuck.
"Thesis, anti-thesis, synthesis"
was the brief. The best idea is to write the conclusion, then go back, and the drafts on the floor were variations of thesis and anti-thesis. The second topic was easier (but also my thanks to a PG colleague who's writing her PhD on it), and then I learned them by heart. That's easy enough. The difficult bit is saying them to camera, in Broadcasting House, not here on campus, but in a darkened room, with lights in your eyes, surrounded by real professionals.

The professionals are so professional. For example, Evan Davis also had to speak to camera, but unlike me, he hadn't prepared a script. While I was speaking, he thought about the topics and what his guests had just said, then he said his piece, starting with a great metaphor, the sort where you go, "why didn't I think of that!"

To see, hear or read the blogs, go to the open2.net web site here.

So watch the Bottom Line on World News at the weekend, or listen to it here on BBC Radio 4 on Friday. Great guests, great presenter, great programme.