Tuesday, 21 October 2014
Kandy Woodfield is the Learning and Enterprise Director at NatCen Social Research, and the co-founder of the NSMNSS network. You can reach Kandy on Twitter @jess1ecat.
It started with a tweet, a blog post and a nervous laugh. Three months later I found myself looking at a book of blogs. How did that happen?! Being involved in the NSMNSS network since its beginning has been an ongoing delight for me. It's full of researchers who aren't afraid to push the boundaries, question established thinking and break down a few silos. When I began my social research career, mobile phones were suitcase-sized and collecting your data meant lugging a tape recorder and tapes around with you. That world is gone, the smartphone most of us carry in our pockets now replaces most of the researcher's kitbag, and one single device is our street atlas, translator, digital recorder, video camera and so much more. Our research world today is a different place from 20 years ago, social media are common and we don't bat an eyelid at running a virtual focus group or online survey. We navigate and manage our social relationships using a plethora of tools, apps and platforms and the worlds we inhabit physically no longer limit our ability to make connections.
Social research as a craft, a profession, is all about making sense of the worlds and networks we and others live in, how strange would it be then if the methods and tools we use to navigate these new social worlds were not also changing and flexing. Our network set out to give researchers a space to reflect on how social media and new forms of data were challenging conventional research practice and how we engage with research participants and audiences. If we had found little to discuss and little change it would have been worrying, I am relieved to report the opposite, researchers have been eager to share their experiences, dissect their success at using new methods and explore knotty questions about robustness, ethics and methods.
Our forthcoming book of blogs is our members take on what that changing methodological world feels like to them, it's about where the boundaries are blurring between disciplines and methods, roles and realities. It is not a peer reviewed collection and it's not meant to be used as a text book, what we hope it offers is a series of challenging, interesting, topical perspectives on how social research is adapting, or not, in the face of huge technological and social change.
We are holding a launch event on Wednesday 29th October at NatCen Social Research if you would like more details please contact us.
I want to thank every single author from the established bloggers to the new writers who have shared their thoughts with us in this volume. I hope you enjoy the book as much as I have enjoyed curating it. Remember you can follow the network and join in the discussion @NSMNSS, #NSMNSS or at our http://nsmnss.blogspot.co.uk/
Thursday, 16 October 2014
Sebastian Stevens is an Associate Lecturer and Research Assistant at Plymouth University. He teaches research methods to social science students specialising in quantitative methods. He is on twitter @sebstevens99 and has a blog site at www.everydaysocialresearch.com.
Thursday, 9 October 2014
- extract relevant and useful information from large bodies of unstructured data i.e. text.
- find an answer to a question without having to ask anyone!
- discover the meaning of colloquial speech in online posts and
- uncover specific meanings to words used in foreign languages mixed with our own
Thursday, 2 October 2014
Somewhere on your computer there are articles to review and interviews to analyze. You also have survey results, a few videos and some social media conversations to contend with.
Where to begin?
Well, here’s one approach: Push a few buttons and bring everything into NVivo. Then dive head-first into your material and code the emerging themes. Become strangely addicted to coding and get caught up in a drag and drop frenzy. Then come up for air – only to be faced with 2000 random nodes and a supervisor/client demanding to know what it all means.
Or, you could do what successful NVivo users have been doing for the past six years – take a sip of your coffee and open Qualitative Data Analysis with NVivo.
This well-thumbed classic (published by SAGE) has been revised and updated by Pat Bazeley and co-author Kristi Jackson.
Here are 7 reasons why you should read it:
1. Pat and Kristi guide you through the research process and show you how NVivo can help at each stage. This means you learn to use NVivo and, at the same time, get an expert perspective on ‘doing qual’.
2. No matter what kind of source material you’re working with (text, audio, video, survey datasets or web pages)—this updated edition gives you sensible, actionable techniques for managing and analyzing the data.
3. The authors share practical coding strategies (gleaned from years of experience) and encourage you to develop good habits—keep a research journal, make models, track concepts with memos, don’t let your nodes go viral. Enjoy the ride.
4. The book is especially strong at helping you to think about (and setup) the ‘cases’ in your project—this might be the people you interviewed or the organizations you’re evaluating. Setting-up these cases and their attributes helps you to unleash the power of NVivo’s queries. How are different sorts of cases expressing an idea? Why does this group say one thing and this group another? What are the factors influencing these contrasts? Hey wait a minute, I just evolved my theme into a theory. Memo that.
5. If you’re doing a literature review in NVivo – chapter 8 is a gold mine (especially if you use NCapture to gather material from the web or if you use bibliographic software like EndNote.)
6. Each chapter outlines possible approaches, gives concrete examples and then provides step-by-step instructions (including screenshots) for getting things done. All in a friendly and approachable style.
7. This book makes a great companion piece to Pat’s other new text – Qualitative Data Analysis Practical Strategies. Read the ‘strategies’ book for a comprehensive look at the research process (in all its non-linear, challenging and exhilarating glory) and read this latest book to bring your project to life in NVivo. - See more at: http://blog.qsrinternational.com/qualitative-data-analysis-with-nvivo/#sthash.8odh8Olf.dpuf
Thursday, 25 September 2014
Nobel laureate Kahneman has written a seminal book on the different types of thinking processes we humans deploy. In “Thinking, Fast and Slow” he argues that cognitive biases profoundly affect our daily decisions - from which toothpaste to buy, to where we should go on holiday. He goes on to claim that our decision processes can be understood only by knowing how two different thinking systems shape the way we judge and decide:
Thursday, 18 September 2014
There have been lots of interesting discussions and topics floating around about new social media in the social scienes. What better way to share than to host some tweet chats! See below for the dates and the topic we will cover for each tweet chat. All times are London time.
Tuesday 7th October, 2014 at 5pm: Representativeness of online samples
Including: What are the geographical inequalities in contributions across different social media platforms? What approaches can we take to address this? How can we weight twitter data? How can we learn about demographics of people on social media, such as age, gender, employment?
Monday 17th November at 5pm: Ready, set, research!: accessing funds and data
Including: You have an idea for a study, how do you go about funding it? What funding streams are available? What are the regulations/restrictions of accessing different streams? How do we get our hands on big data sets from the likes of Google and Twitter?
Tuesday 9th December at 5pm: The changing role of researchers of SM
Including: How is social media changing our identities as researchers, as people? How does this effect our work? How does this impact the field of social sciences?
Remember to include #NSMNSS in all your posts to help us capture all of the discussion. We will provide a transcript of the Tweetchat on our blog following the event.
Wednesday, 17 September 2014
Earlier this week, NatCen Social Research hosted a meeting between myself, Chris Gilson (USApp, @), Cristina Costa and Mark Murphy (Social Theory Applied, @christinacost & @socialtrampos ), Donna Peach (PhD Forum,Donna_Peach) and Kelsey Beninger (NSMNSS, @KBeninger) to discuss possible collaborations between social science bloggers in the UK and share experiences about developing and sustaining social science blogs over time. We didn’t do as much of the latter as I expected, though I personally found it valuable simply to voice a few concerns I’d had in mind about the direction of academic blogging that I’d heretofore been keeping to myself for a variety of reasons. The manner in which the audience for Sociological Imagination seems to have stopped growing over the last couple of years (unless I make an effort to tweet more links to posts in the archives) had left me wondering why I’d been operating under the assumption that the audience for a blog should be growing. I realise that I’d been working on the premise that an audience is either growing or it’s shrinking which, once I articulated it, came to seem obviously inaccurate to me. Considering this also raised questions about overarching purposes which I was keen to get other people’s perspectives on: what was the website for? To be honest I’m not entirely sure. After four years, it’s largely become both habit and hobby. It’s an enjoyable diversion. It’s a justification for spending vast quantities of time reading other sociology blogs. I’m invested in it as a cumulative project, such that even if I stopped enjoying it, I’d probably feel motivated to continue. I’m still preoccupied by how genuinely global it has become, something which feels valuable in and of itself. I’ve also had enough positive feedback at this point (I never know quite how to respond when people send ‘thank you’ e-mails but they’re immensely appreciated!) that all these other factors, essentially constituting its value for me, find themselves reflected in a sense that it’s clearly valuable for (some) other people as well.
Much of the early discussion at the meeting was about the limitations of metrics. It’s sometimes hard to know what to do with quantitative metrics of the sort that are so abundantly supplied by social media. What do they actually mean? Other people have seemingly had the same experience I’ve had of being provoked by these stats to wonder about what isn’t being measured e.g. if x number of people visit a post then how many people read the whole thing, let alone derive some value from it? We discussed the possibility of qualitative feedback, which is essentially what the aforementioned ‘thanks’ e-mails constitute, as something potentially more meaningful but difficult to elicit. Are there ways to pursue qualitative feedback from the audience of a blog? Cristina and Mark described their current project aiming to use an online questionnaire to get information about how Social Theory Applied is seen by readers and how the material is being used. Are there others ways to get this kind of feedback? Perhaps I should just ask on the @soc_imagination twitter feed? I guess the thing that makes me uncomfortable is the risk of slipping into a publisher/consumer orientation, given this is a relation so well established in contemporary society – I don’t see the people reading the site as consumers and I don’t see myself as a publisher. In fact I’ve found it immensely frustrating on a few occasions when I’ve felt people adopt the mentality of a consumer with me e.g. leaving a comment that “there’s no excuse for posting a podcast with such low audio quality” or “why haven’t you fixed the broken link on this [old] post?”. While I’d like to get qualitative feedback on Sociological Imagination, particularly more of a sense of how people use material on the site if it’s for anything other than momentary distraction, I basically have no intention of doing anything other than what I want with it, as well as leaving the Idle Ethnographer as my co-editor to do the same.
We also discussed a range of potential collaborations which we could pursue in future. One of my concerns about the general direction of social science blogging in the UK is that the LSE blogs and the Conversation might gradually swallow up single-author blogs – in the case of the former, the fact they often repost from individual blogs mitigates against this but I think there’s still a risk that single author blogging becomes a very rare pursuit over time, simply because it’s difficult to sustain it and build an audience while subject to many other demands on your time. I think the likelihood of this happening is currently obscured by academic blogging becoming, at least in some areas, slightly modish, in a way that distracts from the question of whether new bloggers are likely to sustain their blogging in a climate where their likely expectations are unlikely to be met by the activity itself. I like the idea of finding ways to share traffic and I suggested that we could experiment with aggregation systems of various sorts: perhaps framed as a social science blogging directory which people apply to join, at which point their RSS feed is plugged into a twitter feed that automatically aggregates all the other blogs on the list. Another possibility would be to use RebelMouse to create what could effectively be a homepage for the UK social science blogosphere (in the process perhaps bringing this blogosphere into being, as opposed to it simply being an abstraction at present). Chris Gilson suggested the possibility of creating a shared newsletter in which participating sites included their top post each week or month, in order to create a communal mailing which profiled the best of social science blogging in the UK. Despite being initially antipathetic towards it, this idea grew on me as I pondered it on the way home – not least of all because it could be a way to connect with audiences who are unlikely to read blogs on a regular basis. However while it would be easy to create prototypes of any of these to test the concept, it’s less obvious how they would work on an ongoing basis. The latter two would require a small amount of funding and/or someone willing to take on an unpaid task. Perhaps more worryingly from my point of view as someone who goes out of my way to avoid formal meetings in general and those concerned with elaborating procedures in particular, it seems obvious to me that some filtering criteria would be required (e.g. should blogs have to be continued past a certain point to join the aggregator? should there be quality criteria and, if so, who would assess them?) to ‘add value’ but I have no idea what these would be nor do I see how they could be fairly elaborated without a long sequence of face-to-face meetings that would likely prove tedious for all concerned. Perhaps I’m being overly negative, particularly since two of the ideas were my own, but I don’t see the point of writing a ‘reflection’ post like this and not being upfront about where I’m coming from.
We also discussed the possibility of longer term collaborations. Would social science blogging in the UK benefit from something like The Society Pages and, if so, how do we go about setting it up? I cautioned against overestimating the possible benefits of the umbrella identity TSP provides but I really have no idea. We discussed whether we should talk to the editors of the site in order to learn more about their experiences. I can certainly see the value in pursuing something like this and, as with the aggregators, it has the virtue of facilitating collaboration while retaining the individual identities of the participating sites – for both principled and practical reasons, I don’t want to collaborate in a way that dilutes the identity of the Sociological Imagination. Plus, even if I did, I’d have to ask the Idle Ethnographer and I suspect she feels even more strongly about this than I do. This discussion segued quite naturally into a broader question of how to fund academic blogging in the UK – framed in these terms, my initial ambivalence about pursuing funding melted away because I’d like nothing more than to find a way to fund blogging as an activity. My experiences at the LSE suggest this might be harder than it seems but we discussed this in terms of winning money to buy out people’s time to participate in these activities. I’ve always been an enthusiast for the LSE model of research-led editorship (as opposed to the journalist-led editorship of the Conversation, which I think leads to an often sterile product in spite of the faultless copy) so I’d like it if this possibility, as a distinctive occupational role in itself, doesn’t slip out of the conversation but it’s difficult for all sorts of reasons. I think it would also be beneficial to find ways of employing PhD students on a part-time basis, either for ad hoc assignments or work on an ongoing basis, given the retrenchment of funding and the congruence between the demands of a PhD and paid work of this sort. My one worry here is that the pursuit of funding undermines what I would see as the more valuable outcome of establishing blog editorship on an equivalent footing with journal editorship – given the latter does not, as far as I’m aware, factor into workload allocations anywhere, advocating that time for blog editing should be bought out risks preventing an equivalence between these two roles which I suspect would otherwise be likely to emerge organically over time.
My sense of the key issues facing the UK social science blogosphere:
- How to share experiences, allow practical advice to circulate and facilitate the establishment of best practice
- Finding qualitative metrics to supplement the quantitative metrics provided by blogging platforms
- Making it easier for new bloggers to build audiences and promote their writing
- Experimenting with aggregation projects to help consolidate the blogosphere and share traffic
- Finding ways to fund social science blogging (for students, doctoral researchers and academics)
- Increasing the recognition of social science blogging as a valuable academic activity
- Ensuring that social science blogging remains a researcher-led activity and doesn’t get subsumed into institutionalised public engagement schemes
- Encouraging the development of group blogs as a type distinct from single-author blogs and multi-author blogs with designated editors