Thursday, 25 February 2010

Neuro-linguistic programming

Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) advocates people have logical levels that they work at:
  • environment
  • behaviour
  • capability
  • beliefs
  • identity
I'm not sure what the logic is and they seem not levels to me but more systemically interlinked. I wonder how they relate to engagement and if the personal intersects with the organisational level. So I have attempted to match the levels to what I see on IT projects.

Environment (where, when, with what?) is an office, usually, but can be a cafe, the car park, a bookshop, the pub or even a local hospital. It's usually week days.
Behaviour (what?) is listening, talking, writing, reading, but do they watch each other?
Capability (how?). The capabilities of my interviewees include management skills, project management, software development, testing, strategy development
Beliefs ( why?). People have values like believing that they are providing something for the nation or investing their efforts in something important for the government, and thus for the nation.
Identity (who?). Some people have expressed their identity, as in "I'm public servant" but more of them say what they do, or what their role is than who they are.

If these are system levels, then intervening at one level should cause change at another, so I suspect consultancy companies train their staff in NLP techniques.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Case studies summaries

I now have some usable cases, all of them concerning IT projects or programmes in the public sector. Two case studies are central government, two on an island, one local government, one a non-department public body (i.e funded from public money, like in these lists), three are projects, two are programmes of projects, two use a single consultant for only a few months and one is really complex. I have enough to analyse.

I've already written each case study against the framework, so can show how the presence of those elements of engagement combine to form conditions from which value emerges in the form of:
  • new knowledge
  • new social and intellectual capital
  • saving money
  • easier project completion because of avoiding pitfalls, or getting out of the pit when fallen into
  • reduced pain of implementation, due to engagement with each other

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Engagement works out

Although so many public sector IT projects notoriously fail, costing the tax payer millions and billions, some quietly succeed. Reasons for success may be the opposite of failures, as listed by the National Audit Office {NAO, 2006 }:
  • good project management
  • aligning IT with business objectives
  • having senior management commitment
How do you get that commitment? and how do you know when you've got it? What is commitment? The terms 'commitment' and 'engagement' are often used together, but engagement is woolly - what is it? and how do people do engagement on successful projects?

I think that engagement is open and honest communication, where people contribute their knowledge, expertise, skills, and key parties participate. Such participation requires shared aims, time, place and documents. People need to be clear about aims, but also need to discuss repeatedly in order to understand each others aims.

Small teams help, but that is not always feasible. Making it easy to communicate helps more and ways to ease communication require space to talk formally, informally face-to-face and electronically {Arino, 2001 #1464}. Sharepoint is one way, but relaxed face-to-face is avowed the best way of getting to know each other and to build up trust before getting into formal and perhaps difficult conversations.

For instance, before an IT supplier went in to see a client about task b, another client warned him: "he's not too happy about his [task a]". That water-cooler moment allowed a problem to be nipped in the bud. Talk. Keep talking. Talk whenever and wherever you can.

NAO (2006) Delivering successful it-enabled business change. IN NATIONAL AUDIT OFFICE (Ed.). HMSO.
ARINO, A., DE LA TORRE, J. & RING, P. S. (2001) Relational quality: Managing trust in corporate alliances. California Management Review, 44, 109-131.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Consultant or supplier?

The following are sometimes distinguishable but their activities overlap:
  • supplier
  • consultant
  • contractor
A consultant provides advice and expertise without being responsible for delivery.

For the National Audit Office, consulting is a project based activity where the responsibility for the final outcome rests with the client, and if the responsibility for the final outcome rests with the supplier then it's outsourcing. But doesn't the responsibility for a public sector project still rest with the public sector client? Even if legally it's the supplier's responsibility, isn't it the public-sector that procured the wrong supplier, handed over the wrong requirements, didn't check progress, didn't talk about the requirements as they were being prepared, didn't engage with the process, didn't engage in a relationship with the supplier? Isn't there a moral responsibility on the part of the public-sector client? Isn't that why the media draw attention to failed projects, because there's an accountability demanded of the public sector, but if the public sector can blame someone else, it's absolved of its accountability?

And in that sense the supplier is no more than a consultant in the end, just takes more flack.

NAO (2006) Central government's use of consultants. IN OFFICE, N. A. (Ed.). HMSO.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Government distractions

In January, the radio talked of a report from senior civil servants arguing 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. I ask a question about what hinders their work. One said that there was too much going on, and another commented on frequent change.

I can't find the report though.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Doctor Wu!

Minor corrections - hurrah

Viva tension

Today our Chinese colleague has her viva. She says she's memorised answers for around a hundred questions. For each question she's learned a one minute answer and a ten minute answer. She knows what her contribution is to methodology, knowledge, and theory and she looks happy, ready and anticipatory.

This is the Chinese post grad who's renewing her visa (see here).

Monday, 15 February 2010

Saving time with Nvivo

Qualitative data analysis software can save time (Silverman) is my answer to Minh's assertion here that Word is so good. He writes some provocative blogs, worth reading.

I use NVivo 8 to store, search and retrieve interview text from 30 transcripts. After transcribing I code it against:
  1. general codes - process, structure, climate, facts, queries (see Checkland). For a query, I create linked annotations as to what the query is about and how I might follow it up.
  2. Metaphors, stories and anecdotes or words that strike me. For example, in one case study, participants used the word 'gel'. IN another type of organisation, people, more than once referred to "skin in the game". The shard use of the terms may indicate the culture.
  3. the theoretical framework for engagement, covering aspects of communication and knowledge-ability: mutuality, negotiation of meaning, environment, expertise, contribution, participation and adaptation.
Having coded, I use the NVivo query function. I'll search for a code to draw together all the text that I'd coded under facets of engagement. For a particular case study, I query all the relevant transcripts and documents and emails, copy and pate them into a Word document and then draw on them as reminders and examples as I write the analysis.

Another query I use is text query - I've heard a particular phrase - "Who said it?" I ask myself and search all the files to find it.

I use memos to create:
  • a to do list
  • a coding journal
  • thoughts on each case
  • thoughts one each code
  • key issues that arise
To develop theoretical aspects, I link from a source file to one of the memos, though I'm not very sure yet of the technicalities. I think cross linking will become more important as I move into cross case analysis. Then Nvivo should be of help in developing the theoretical aspects of my study.

Matrix queries then will be the next facility to experiment with to see what patterns I can find with certain attributes.

CHECKLAND, P. (1981) Systems thinking, systems practice.
SILVERMAN, D. (2005) Doing qualitative research : A practical handbook, London ; Thousand Oaks, Calif., Sage Publications.

Saturday, 13 February 2010


I gave a computing tutorial today, but only one student turned up. At the end of the day she avowed its usefulness, and I'm sure she learned a lot, though it's a bit intensive being the only student.

Only that one student downloaded the exercise I'd put on the tutor group forum. Why did no-one else come? I guess:
  • they're busy
  • they haven't got babysitters
  • they're ahead on the material
  • they don't need a tutorial
  • they forgot
  • they don't read the TGF so didn't get a reminder
  • they don't go on the course web site to look when tutorials happen
  • they don't receive a letter with the dates of tutorials (as used to happen some years ago)
  • I smell
  • they already know my face and don't want to see it again

Friday, 12 February 2010

Limits on coding field data

Silverman warns that using a coding scheme is both a way of seeing the data and a way of not seeing the data because
"it deflects attention away from uncategorised activities."
It's a bit worrying that you get stuck seeing something one way, and can't change the perspective. Silverman also cites Sacks' warning about characterisation of data too quickly because we assume
"that we can know [such categories are accurate] without an analysis of what it is [members] are doing." (1992, vol 1: 429)
I know this from trying to code my data into categories that bleed into each other and overlap.

Silverman, D. 2005. Doing Qualitative Research : A Practical Handbook (2nd ed.). London ; Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Planning thesis

Fellow OUBS post graduate (FOPG) and I were comparing notes. We're both doing qualitative research in the public sector and we're both planning our thesis chapters.
  • FOPG's written an outline of an A4 page for each chapter, in which she outlines the content; I've written around half a page for each chapter.
  • FOPG's including her case study material in the methodology chapter, but I'm planning on a separate chapter for my case studies. Therein lies an interesting difference, because she's got twenty small case studies whilst I've got five in-depth case studies.
  • FOPG has only one interview usually for each case study, and her biggest case has three interviews whereas my cases have at least three interviewees.
  • FOPG's analysis chapter will be separate from her case descriptions; my analysis will be part of the case studies chapter.
  • FOPG's using grounded theory; I'm building theory around the existing literature on engagement, having drawn up a theoretical framework that I'm using to code against. The consequence is that she has to iterate over her work to identify themes, whereas I'm working against pre-identified themes, though open to new themes. So her methodology chapter is more important to her arguments whereas mine is probably less important than the literature review that justifies my framework.
  • FOPG hasn't yet blocked in word counts; I've suggested word counts for each chapter.
  • FOPG recognises that the maximum length is 100,000 words whereas I'm planning at around 70,000 believing that appendices, references and verbosity will add another ten or fifteen thousand.
  • FOPG's aiming to submit a draft 25th June; I'm aiming for 1st July. So we're not far apart.
My plans have been influenced by Patrick Dunleavy's book and Rowena Murray's.

Can we do it? FOPG's discussing her plans with her supervisors this week; I'm discussing plans with my supervisors at the beginning of March. In the meantime, we're writing.

Watch this blog.

Dunleavy P. 2003. Authoring a phd : How to plan, draft, write and finish a doctoral thesis or dissertation. Palgrave Macmillan: Basingstoke ; New York.
MURRAY, R. (2002) How to write a thesis, Buckingham ; Philadelphia, Open University Press

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Stories of engaged relationships

I'm researching engagement between consultants and public sector clients specifically on IT projects. Let me tell you a story of how engagement could influence IT project outcomes.

Two parties, a Consultant IT Supplier and Public Sector Client agree and shake on an IT contract. The Public Sector Client writes a big requirements documents that outlines the type of system required - as if it were a new car, and throws it over the wall at the Consultant IT Supplier.
"Can’t we just clarify with a bit..?
No. You just get on with it."
So the Consultant IT Supplier gets the technical teams to develop the system. Six months later he comes back to proudly display a Rolls Royce of a system. But the Public Sector Client can't afford a Rolls Royce system and goes:
"No, that's not what I want."
Take an alternative scenario. This time, the two parties discuss the requirement documents. The Consultant IT Supplier takes the requirements back to the technical team, which raises points and queries. The two parties meet and discuss and the Public Sector Client answers the queries, elaborates on the requirements and the rationale for the requirements. They return to their teams, then come back again and again to discuss formally and informally. Six months later the two parties, together have created a Skoda of a system.

The point to take from this is that, to paraphrase St Exupery,:
Engagement is not looking into each others' eyes,
but looking outwards, in the same direction.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Interesting generalisations

Interesting generalisations that I can start to pull out of my data:
  • success stories
  • gelled teams
  • small teams
  • face-to-face communication
  • leaders have vision
  • procurement gets the right people to start with.
  • strategic management
  • IT aims that support business aims
Do previous findings apply to my data?
Yes. There're findings on participation, team work, culture, management, strategy, project management.

Silverman, D. 2005. Doing Qualitative Research : A Practical Handbook (2nd ed.). London ; Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Media training

I went on a media training day,a full day session organised and run by Janet Sumner in the Open Broadcast Unit (OBU) in Milton Keynes. Its purpose was to develop skills for on-line delivery of courses and research, such as podcasts and youtube videos.

It was the best training day I've been on for ages!

They started fast, within half an hour having us in front of a camera and asking us:
  • Tell us about your research?
  • What are your findings?
  • How might we use your findings?
There were four trainees and three trainers, so one trainee would be in front of the camera man and the interviewer, while the third trainer briefed and rehearsed the other trainees. By coffee time we were back viewing the rushes (Rushes are the raw material which are cut down into show reels or final TV programmes) and assessing our performances.
  1. we watched the rushes of each trainee in turn.
  2. the trainers asked for the trainee's assessment,
  3. each trainer gave their assessment
So we got a lot of feedback:
Avoid lists and jargon. Give examples - crowbar in your stories. Practise telling the stories you want to share. Make the point. Know what point you want to make. Pitch it at an intelligent fourteen year old. Weight the special words. Practise your one-minute piece to camera (PTC). Learn your script by heart.

Over the interviews in the morning we stumbled and stuttered, some more than others. By the end of the afternoon we'd worked with props, done a PTC and self shoots. The self shoots revealed how relaxed we could be when interviewing each other. So we'd got something to aim for.

I was fascinated by my fellow trainees' work who told us about:
I'm not expecting to be on television any time soon, though, if you want to see me, you should soon be able to find the edited clips on the Open University youtube channel. This training can help prepare for questions at the viva though, and I need every opportunity I can get to practise communicating verbally.

If anyone offers you the chance to do this training, grab it. It's brilliant.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010


I'm excited and a bit nervous that my Phd supervisors have asked me to send them a map of the writing I'll produce for them between now and July. I have to write the first draft of my thesis, around 80,000 words, split up into around 7 plus or minus two chapters. As writing 2000 words was really hard three years ago when I started this degree, I'm surprised and pleased that I imagine ever writing so much. Sadly, not many people will read my work. For a PhD, perhaps three people will read the thesis, then it gets bound and put in a corner of the library to gather dust and no-one ever reads it again.