Saturday, 30 January 2010

Generative writing

I need to plan and map how I'm going to get my draft thesis to my supervisors by July.
Will I?
Er how?
Murray advises moving on from generative writing. Generative writing which is one step further from free writing. It's writing without stopping, writing on a particular topic, writing for someone to read. And hurrah! Isn't that what I've been doing for this blog?

I don't know who you are reading it - only the occasional comment from readers who post, or perhaps in the OU who tell me they read it. Thank you because you being there has given me someone to generate writing for a la Rowena Murray. Last year my blog generated over 45,000 words. Now I have to generate enough writing for my thesis - around 80,000 words.

MURRAY, R. (2002) How to write a thesis, Buckingham ; Philadelphia, Open University Press.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Entrepreneurial leading out of recession

The OUBS ran a Leadership Academy Workshop today on entrepreneurs and the recession.

The OU director of research and enterprise, Malcolm Cross, introduced the morning by pointing out that SMEs are restricted in time and money and critical resources, and that HEIs are large repositories of skills.

The first session on challenges and impact of recession on small firms was presented by Alistair Anderson who’d been tasked with the academic understanding of small businesses. SMEs are the leading edge of change, so seeing how they cope with the recession and its impact might suggest how SMEs are leading us out of the recession. An FSB survey of small businesses allowed self reported performance. The bad news was that 41% thought they were doing badly and of those 25% thought things were going to get worse.

  • The major finding was the flexibility of small firm owners
  • Another finding was the high level of staff loyalty.
  • The recession had a lower impact in Scotland and the north east than in the rest of the UK.
  • Reactions were to cut prices, take out 3rd parties, offer discounts, require bigger deposits from customers.
The future requires working smarter. Small firms will be the leading edge out of the recession because of their flexibility.

The second talk on Business Link came from John O’Reilly, from East Midlands Regional Development Agency. THE RDAs’ remit is wider than business support because it includes responding to economic shocks, and there is a portfolio of over 20 products that provide support, business transformation grants, business health checks and training.
In future, strategies are about building a new economy, creating the right conditions for growth and targeting key sectors, such as digital, low carbon, advanced manufacturing, whilst continuing to monitor success.

The third speaker, Steve Kempster, addressed issues of leadership in SMEs who started by posing the question:
“How do we learn to lead?”
And is leadership a person, a process or the output?

To answer it, he suggested that people practise in a particular context bringing in a combination of skills together with their influences on attitudes, values and assumptions, and that these attitudes themselves influence context skills and practice of repeated everyday activities. Consequently leadership has a salient meaning depending on the context. An entrepreneurial context disables how we learn leadership, which is through opportunities for observation, accesses to notable others, partnership. Such opportunities are available in the employed context, but to the self employed the concept of leadership is of tainted management, so is avoided as not salient.

Steve commented that owner-managers tend to identify with their profession or trade. So if leadership is important, then it could be measured it though a shift in identity and how much leadership becomes salient through networks. Networks enable, facilitating support and couch, not telling people what to do.

The question and answer session revealed the emphasis of the three speakers to be on
  1. Flexibility
  2. Available resources
  3. Salient networks.
What did I get from it? The talk on leadership was the most inspiring and the most valuable to me. Perhaps this is because he had a systems perspective on leadership, or perhaps it's because some of what he said about values, attitudes and integrity matched some of the attitudes I'd noted in interviewees when I asked them how they'd got their teams to engage. It's not something leaders think about as they do it, and one of my interviewees had recently had such success that his organisation was analysing how he'd done what he'd done and getting him to speak to others. He wasn't quite sure, but talked about values, behaviours, attitudes and honesty. That's what lead that organisation out of potential recessionary disaster.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Reading PhD theses

Supervisor tells me to read PhDs to get examples of how to write mine. Unfortunately, it's not so easy to get PhDs to read. If you go to the Open University library, you have to ask for a particular thesis, which means you have to give the library the title and the author, and then the librarian goes and fetches it for you. You can't just browse theses. So it's a bit difficult to find useful theses when what you want is to see the content, the structure, the layout, and perhaps what the author has addressed when writing the methodology chapter. These aren't things you can search for on an electronic database, so there's no point in going on the OU catalogue system to look for a helpfully structured thesis because the catalogue can only search for content and topic of theses.

The OU has this wonderful repository of research, Open Research Online, but that doesn't reveal theses. You'd think that the Open University would have got round to putting its PhD theses on line, like Cranfield does.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Government distractions

A recent report from senior civil servants argues that too much legislation with too little thought has been foisted on us over the last twenty years or so.

That concurs with a couple of comments less senior public servants have said to me recently when I ask what hinders their work. One said that there was too much going on, and another commented on such frequent change that it was difficult to complete projects.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Customer Engagement Seminar

What's the difference between the engagement that I'm researching and customer engagement (CE)? I think that the model I'm using is fuller than that used for CE. Why?

The British Computer Society held a seminar on Customer Engagement with speakers from TripleIC. The speakers - and they were good - held our attention by talking about tools and surveys, and telling stories. The main speaker, David Butler, started off fine by defining CE as:
  • listening and responding to human discourse
  • combining human value with quantitative data to tell you how to run your business
He elaborated on the first point of having conversations by telling stories of communication, and of overhearing candid and profane language.

But when he and his colleague Alistair Russell, emphasised their two tools, I began to wonder if their concept of engagement was the same as mine. The tools are:
  1. Advocate - a survey tool. Advocate calculates an advocacy score from your customer responses.
  2. The Lambert Protocol - a tool that plots variables against each other. The Lambert Protocol (created by Tom Lambert) measures domains (understanding of needs, delight, loyalty) and stakeholders (top team, employees, customers). Why choose understanding, delight and loyalty for customer engagement?
Such tools assume that engagement is made up of these domains, and I don't know that they do, nor did the speakers justify the choices. Saks chose vigor, dedication and absorption for employee engagement - is that different from customer engagement? And if so, then why? What can customer and employee engagement have in common?

The subsequent slides brought our attention to the various technical tools now available for networking electronically with customers and markets.

It was when our excellently organised speakers got people talking together in groups of around eight, that the sceptism became more obvious because these tools are one-way measurements, not instruments that allow a mutual relationship and a sharing of knowledge. Peter Wood expressed it thus. He'd joined Ocado's Facebook group for users where Ocado asked for customer feedback on the service, but having given feedback, nothing more was heard - Ocado had no more to say. That's not engagement. Peter was rolling his hands one over the other as he explained that he wanted reciprocation for his efforts.

So, Ocado could through tools like a Facebook group have the sort of measurements that the above tools would provide. But that's customer marketing, not engagement.

Engagement has to go on and on, hence Peter's rolling of hands. You have to work at engagement, and continue working at it. Engaged relationships require mutual contributions and sharing of ideas not measurements.

SAKS, A. M. (2006) Antecedents and consequences of employee engagement. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 21, 600-619.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Own incompetence

Have I been pulling the wool over my supervisors' and funders' eyes for three years? I may have the data and know the literature, but how do I get anything of interest from there.
How do you analyse colours when you’re colour blind, or don’t have words to distinguish shades?

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Representative qualitative research

I was thinking about how to judge the goodness of my qualitative research - see chapter 10 of Miles and Huberman.

Are my informants representative? They are to some extent self-selected in that their organisation's management accepted my approach asking to research them. The management then suggested which IT project or programme to study. In that sense, the informants didn't volunteer, though the organisation did. So informants and organisations may not be representative.

But representative of what? They are representative case studies of successful IT projects, not failures. That's clear because:
  1. the organisations made the cases available - I'd assume they'd not make failures so available
  2. several of the cases have been submitted for awards
  3. the pride is in the words and terms that the informants use
Informants tended to be articulate and elite in management, but outliers were available for interviews at very short notice, such as a clerk, a techie chap and a data input person. So does that mean I've got something representative - both management elite and operational grade informants?

Miles & Huberman in Miles, M. B. and A. M. Huberman (1994). Qualitative Data Analysis : An Expanded Sourcebook. Thousand Oaks, Sage Publications.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Ridiculous UKBA

I asked my post grad Chinese colleague if she'd got her visa back. Yes!

it's only extended until the end of January.

Her viva is in February - so soon she'll have to apply to extend it again . They've taken months and months to renew it - what was the point? It's ridiculous.

If the people at UKBA are so overworked that they don't have the time to process it, why do they want more turn-over?

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Influences on engagement

This doodled influence diagram might help me work out where I'm going, what my research is showing.

Planning gestation

I've got nine months left of funding to produce this baby.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Reflecting on analysis

Drawing pictures helps to discover and analyse my thoughts on a situation.

Checkland's soft system analysis requires the drawing of a rich picture as the first stage of the analysis of a messy situation. For those who immediately say, "but I can't draw", it's the quality of the analysis that matters , not the quality of the artistry, which you don't have to show anyone anyhow. The pictures draw attention to features that you otherwise don't notice. Interviewees that use visual metaphors help me to draw such a picture. For example, they talk about
  • the middle ground
  • positions drawn
  • adversaries
which gives a picture of a battlefield, and you have the start of a story you want to write.

Draw first, then check. If you check your picture includes:
  1. facts
  2. structure
  3. process
  4. climate
  5. queries
you probably have done a lot of thought and analysis.
  1. Facts include little charts of numbers, or graphs or percentages.
  2. Structure can be of accountability, or hierarchy or informal structure, and again can be little charts - who needs drawing skill for those?
  3. Process is the way that things get done.
  4. Climate is the interesting one - not weather climate but the atmosphere in a work situation because it reveals issues and problem situations. I once had an interviewee that referred to someone being in the firing line, so my sketch had a blindfolded person facing a row of guns. Maybe the process create the climate or maybe new processes can change the climate - you can't tell until you notice them.
  5. Queries is a kind of catch-all because it's the bits where you don't yet know something, but at least you know you don't know, so I tag them when I'm coding in Nvivo, in the hope that I can go back to a participant and ask for the missing information.
How do I do use these sketches for writing? I can take the features and pull stories from them, especially from the climate sketches. But by checking that I have something against each of those five headings, they're most useful for analysis.

I can't blog my pictures - initial analysis isn't sequential enough to write about. I draw the pictures by hand, sometimes left handed so I get both sides of my brain to tackle the problem, and a computer doesn't afford that kind of work.

Drawing pictures is about analysis, not about writing.

Checkland, P. (1981). Systems Thinking, Systems Practice.
Checkland, P. (1999). Systems Thinking, Systems Practice : With, Soft Systems Methodology ; a 30 Year Retrospective. Chichester, Wiley
Checkland, P. and J. Scholes (1990). Soft Systems Methodology in Action. Chichester, Wiley
Checkland's work is also referred to in Miles & Huberman in Miles, M. B. and A. M. Huberman (1994). Qualitative Data Analysis : An Expanded Sourcebook. Thousand Oaks, Sage Publications.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Writing up

"Are you writing up now?"
is a typical question asked of a third year PhD student. The term "writing up" implies the research is done, collected, analysed and the student now knows the findings and needs only communicate them in writing.

But I don't know what the findings are until I write them. I don't know what I think until I write it. Writing itself is a form of analysing and finding what the findings are. I am therefore grateful to Laurel Richardson for pointing out:
"Writing is a way of 'knowing' - a method of discovery and analysis. By writing in different ways, we discover new aspects of our topic and our relationship to it.".
She argues that the "writing up" approach where you don't write until you know what you want to say is a static writing model that
  1. "coheres with mechanistic scientism and quantitative research" and
  2. is a " sociohistorical invention that reifies the static social world imagined by our nineteenth century fore parents".
There are some difficult long words in there - I had to read it twice - but it sounds wonderful when you read it aloud.

Writing about qualitative research is a method of discovery so must itself be research and therefore fun. Like research is fun, writing is fun.

Oh er! Until I wrote down my thoughts on Richardson's paper, I hadn't ever realised that writing is fun, let alone found an argument for it. thus does writing release discovery.

Richardson, L. 2005. Writing: a method of inquiry. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research, Vol. 1370: 923-949. London: Sage Publications

Wednesday, 6 January 2010


This is the cold view from my nine-windowed study corner. It's pretty, but I'm pretty cold.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Writing for a journal

A fellow post-grad blogger has written a useful collection of advice on writing for a journal. See

Monday, 4 January 2010


facebooked a post grad colleague today. I'm shivering at home in the study in the sitting room corner, where the temperature started at 13 degrees this morning, and took to lunchtime to reach 19. But it's as well I didn't go into the office. According to those who did go in, the heating wasn't on, and it was freezing there. You can't work cold over a computer.

And some bright lecturer teased my coldness facebooking me:
"phew, lucky that the speed of your fingers typing your thesis is scorching the keyboard and warming the room up then... :-)"
I wish!