Mar 232016
 
Screen Capture of the Data Design and Society website

Today I attended the University of Edinburgh Data, Design & Society (DDS) course’s final presentations session, having been invited by Ewan Klein, who is the course organiser.

Data, Design & Society is an innovative programmes across three departments of Edinburgh University: the School of Informatics; the School of Social and Political Studies; and Design Informatics. Students on this programme (which is a 20 credit bearing Level 8 course) have been focusing on specific real world projects which, this time, have been focusing on food and food sustainability. All of the course materials are available publicly online, along with more information on all of the projects.

The format for this session was group presentations of the projects and for each of these I’ve captured the group name and comments, but not all of the students names. If you are interested in following up with any of these do feel free to contact the teams via Ewan (ewan [AT] inf.ed.ac.uk).

Please note: I took these notes live during the presentations so please do be aware that there may be some corrections to come, and that there is much more information about all of the challenges and responses on the DDS site

Good Eats

Good Eats wants to encourage students to consume healthy wholesome food. On the whole students are not getting the nutrition they need. The Healthy University Project found that only 25% of students at UoE get five fruits or veg per day. They ran their own survey on undergraduates and postgraduates. We looked at factors influencing decisions and found that price was by far the most important factor (over 80%) but convenience was also important (45%). We did find interest in healthy eating though, and around 50% of students were preparing food at home for themselves at least 5 days a week.

Good Eats also ran a focus group. There is general concern about their food and would like healthy and sustainable eating. But they consider eating healthily is more expensive, takes more time, and energy. So we wanted to ensure that we designed a solution that was healthy, quick and cheap. We looked at ways to convey information – brochures, website etc. But we thought that a tailored personal solution was going to be key, including some interaction, so we focused on an app. The app would enable convenience, it would be accessible, versatile to engaging on different levels, interactive, and it also allowed us the potential to include other types of media.

So, the app would act as “a cookbook in your pocket” with interactive shopping list, and a wide variety of information suiting students from different backgrounds and cultures.

So, we started to design the app. We had a main screen, and you could look at settings – metric and currency conversion; favourites list. For each recipe there is an ingredients list, methods list with integrated timers, and there is also a shopping list that you could customise – or add directly to from the recipes.

We then ran a participatory design session with users. We had really good feedback – they particularly liked the idea of being able to add ingredients to their shopping list, and the convenience. We asked students if they would really use this app and they indicated that they would look up recipes, and prepare lists the night before cooking so that they could pick up ingredients around lectures.

During the project we looked at lots of ideas, we built on our feedback from our survey and focus group and also from our mock presentation. We think this has great potential and really enjoyed working on this project.

And finally, a quick demo of the app store listing, the main menu, the settings screen, the recipe pages – that helps you navigates. There is a favourites list. And we have an information on recipes – cost per serving, timing, etc.

Q1) Can I download it?!

A1) Not yet but, we wish!

Q2) Did you look at other food and recipe apps and resources to build that and were there particular things you chose to take or not take from those?

A2) We did look at other apps and sites but didn’t directly take anything from that. We did use Spoon University, which is sort of a similar idea as a website, but that is focused on cooking and eating at college and not so much focused on nutrition. So we kind of used that and other sites as foundation for what we wanted to do.

Q3) How much of a behaviour change did this involve? Are students cooking?

A3) That first survey indicated 75% of students were cooking 5 times a week or more. So we wanted to improve the cooking, not change how often they cook. Talking to our focus group we asked what they cooked… They said easy things like macaroni cheese, cookies, burgers – things they could make for friends so we specifically looked for healthy recipes.

Q4) You said that students are not getting enough fruit and veg – did you integrate ways to encourage this in your design of the app?

A4) We looked at using the database to recommend healthy ingredients and alternatives. We also talked to food managers about improving on e.g. Sainsbury’s recipes.

Q5) Content – recipes customised like that. Also financial sustainability.

Q6) Might be good to talk about how to find some of the healthy food – so you don’t waste time on trying to find kale etc…

A6) We did discuss what could be in there… Like social media and local settings, stores to buy healthy foods etc.

Save the cups!

Right now, as consumers, we knew that coffee cups are not being recycled. More than 3bn coffee cups are thrown away in Britain each year, and fewer than 1/400 are recycled. So we wanted to see what we could do to address that, and also to look at what University of Edinburgh could do.

At University of Edinburgh over 2 million coffee cups are sold, only 2000 keep cups are sold. Coffee cups are not recyclable, keep cups are not well publicised.

From our focus group we found people are concerned at the situation but they are also not clear on what to do – they have to dry out a cup before putting in the recycling. We considered adding a 5p charge for cups, or to decrease the cost of keep cups. Give discounts on keep cups or give first years a coffee cup when they begin their studies. But we were told that making policy changes can be slow so we focused on behaviour change. So we decided upon a poster, which would highlight the 20p discount per drink sold if you use a keep cup.

So, for our design ideas we got together a group of four people to critique our design ideas. Our first posted highlighted that if you took all disposable cups wasted at University you could make 200 keep cups – that was a bit too bland. We also tried to focus on what happens to coffee cups after being wasted – that coffee cups thrown away a year could fill a whole classroom – but that was too abstract. We had a further design focused on global impact of waste – featuring a polar bear – and people cared but felt it was far disconnected from coffee cups.

So our next poster design was “Do you like coffee?” and highlighted the 20p saving. People felt motivated by saving money – it was the most effective of the posters – but they felt 20p was too little. But we knew we couldn’t change pricing. So we decided to focus on the economic angle but highlight the savings more clearly. So we developed a poster that continued that message, saying “if you drink coffee every day you save over £50 a year”. And our previous posters were on a brown paper background, that was associated with environmental issues, so we went for a cleaner look and feel more in line with economic angle.

So, if we compare our final design with a current UoE design… That highlights waste and cost (£7) of a keep cup. From our research we think our poster would be more effective. Our participants thought £7 sounded expensive so could be a deterrent rather than a motivator, whereas we highlight savings per year.

So our conclusion is that by putting up more and particularly better posters the University could do more to contribution to waste, and maybe make a dent in that 2bn coffee cups wasted per year.

Q1) Did you think about using the poster in a virtual space such as Facebook – where you could click to buy… Maybe removing barriers to buying.

A1) We didn’t think about that. The one that is up in the library is actually in the queue area in a cafe… You see it as waiting in line, highlighting what you could save.

Q2) The numbers are kind of staggering, so if you get it right it could really make it a different. Did you think about that price – it does seem a lot – but also on carrying keep cup around and that being a potential behaviour change that is needed.

A2) In our research we did talk to people who had keep cups… a lot did it for financial reasons and a lot of buyers are staff members who using them on desks. Students can be more reluctant to do that, concerned with spills in laptops. And we did ask about policy change – e.g. for disposable cups being recycled cups – but that is really slow. But we did suggest reducing the keep cup price, or handing out to first year.

Q3) Do you think students would actually carry these around?

A3) We think so and they indicated that they might.

Q4) What about the branding of the cups themselves – there are lots of coffee shops in Edinburgh, each with their own branded keep cups. Did you look at all at the branding of the cups, or of the issue of people actually using their cups across different shops – since students (and staff) don’t just frequent one place.

A4) Looked at reduction of usage of cups, we focused on within the university and policy in place… Didn’t think about interacting with the city as well as the university.

Pimp My Pollock

Pollock halls is the main catered residence halls for UoE students, serving around 2000 students a day in a buffet style self-service restaurant (JMCC). They have a number of initiatives to try and eliminate food waste. They have a zero waste to landfill policy, they compost and use that on campus. They do good stuff but they don’t engage students in that. So our goal is to foster student awareness and engagement.

There is an issue to solve here, There is a cost of around £2000 and 8000 kg (the weight of a Tigon!) waste per month because students put too much food on their plate. They are cooking almost twice the food that is eaten. They do try to highlight waste on screens – but that isn’t totally credible and the maths isn’t quite correct when comparing waste to number of food items.

So we looked at 9 different ides – including things like smaller plates or no trays – but the feedback was that change like that is difficult and slow to do. So we looked at communicating to and involving behaviour change in students. Our focus groups fed back though that being served food might help with the waste, that the environment looking better might make the difference too. Students also said that they didn’t know what a good job the university already does with waste, and again talked about the environment. And that they wasted food because it didn’t taste good. So we need to change environment to change behaviour. So, we decided on… drumroll…

Pimp My Pollock. A video/presentation, social media campaign and redesign of JMCC to change attitude and behaviours. We wanted a video that could be played during freshers week, to include RAs (staff/senior students that support students in the accommodation), to help raise visibility of staff and the good work already being done. The social media campaign would build upon existing interest. There is already a very popular @sexdrugsjmcc Instagram account with images of the food that is used playfully and is managed by the community – definitely not the university. So we thought of perhaps using Facebook to highlight reductions in food waste, fun images, maybe Spotify playlists for the JMCC too, to engage students more.

There is also a perceived behavioural control issue if you have two conflicting views of the same thing so that our impressions match up with positive work taking place – hence redesigning the space. We also want to make the space itself so it is more inviting, makes better use of space, and help highlight waste through infographics/posters etc.

Q1) Is anyone working on behaviour change in the management of this space? I am particularly surprised about the size of plates thing – that’s a proven thing.

A1) I work at the sustainability department and what we’ve tended to find from accommodation services, managed separately and differently. Trying to manage infrastructural changes are not met well. So with coffee cups… When we found recyclable coffee cups they said not cost effective. Haven’t personally tried with plate size but happy to feed that forward to that team…

Q2) Had you thought about ambassadors approaching people when eating about how much on their plate – I know staff do that sometimes when trays are put away…

A2) We thought about that… Hence the idea of the Facebook page… Hopefully that would help without that issue of it being staff. In terms of the policies already in place students don’t know about that so an induction, and engagement with food waste issue coming from students rather than staff would be more effective.

Q3) On small plate and trays I know that the service team see the plate size as reasonable… And they see that plate size as reasonable… and returning going up again when having so many students going through, student satisfaction.

A3) RAs who have lived there longer they didn’t think that plat size etc – popular in focus groups – was realistic. They felt that being served was more likely to be successful as then you can take smaller portions without needing to negotiate that.

Trayless Dining in Pollock Halls

Our idea is trayless dining in Pollock Halls. They have 2000 students eating at the JMCC dining room but they are currently catering for nearer 4000 because of waste. We wanted to help address that, and reduce the waste going to compost. There are some pre-existing initiatives. The JMCC Love Food Hate Waste initiative – more for retailers and producers – so we wanted to focus on students.

We canvassed student opinion. Many didn’t know how much they were wasting, even returning a second time with trays. So our idea is simple but there is supporting evidence that removing trays would have an impact. We had a focus group of 4 students at Pollock Halls – they weren’t aware and didn’t care, there was apathy to waste. Students were more positive to outsiders changing their behaviour, rather than coming from them. We wanted changes to environment. Students in our group saw plate size changes as too aggressive. Removing trays seemed acceptable.

So, we did participatory design process with 20 volunteers and got them to photograph their results. We asked them to go trayless and we did see a reduction in food waste… But there were logistical challenges. We think a few days of doing this would get them to adapt. We followed up with an online survey – 40% were happy for that change; 25% didn’t care; 35% were unsure. That seemed prety good compared to initial apathy.

Generally students were willing for some changes, and would have little influence on dining experience as they get the same product, and this could have a long term impact. The American University saw a major improvement on waste and washing trays etc. San Diego State University saw a 4.9% cost reduction from going trayless – including food waste and cleaning. And this can have a health impact too.

But we did see some contrasting opinions. We asked about whether removing trays would be inconvenient – we did have someone saying that multiple trips back and forth would be inconvenient. A staff member suggested that JMCC is too small of an area to implement trayless dining compared to US food halls. Main issue was behavioural changes towards waste from front of house. And their conveyor belt is build for trays not plates.

We didn’t see immediate fixes here so we thought about implementation – could be trickle down and trickle up. For Trickle Down we found a 6 point plan for going trayless: keep them available in case required; provide trays for disabled students; convert staff and employees – they must be onboard; gather feedback – there are concerns to hear and engage with; create a smooth transition – we think that implementing programme at the beginning of the academic years because that will be their first experience, as freshers, with JMCC; audit – and make available so students and staff can actually see the impact and the positive impact.

Bottom up implementation is preferred by the staff… It is supposedly already happening in Love Food, Hate Waste campaign… But we didn’t see much evidence. So, in conclusion… Trays are the solution to the JMCC waste problem because its easy and cheap to implement.

Comment 1) I think these suggestions are great and I’ll feed them back to colleagues, will keep trying to persuade people to pilot schemes…

Q2) You talked about starting at the beginning of the year – that’s more bang!

A2) Actually when change is implemented mid year, students are initially upset. Think you can avoid that when no other experience…

Q1) So maybe a pilot in Freshers week

Q3) You guys took on feedback from previous session for today, really great.

Q4) The comment about JMCC being too small to go trayless was intriguing… Was there any evidence of the actual layout in use at the US universities cited, or of the size of some of these and why that makes a difference?

A4) Evidence of smaller cafeterias that have successfully implemented this. One of us has personal experience

Ewan) Part of argument was throughput… As for 2000 students they need 3 sittings.

A4) Staff were happy for students to lead the change themselves, they were fine with that so if we can persuade students to do that that could work!

For these last three presentations there was no time for questions after all of the earlier discussion and engagement – but there were definitely people keen to ask questions and discuss all of the projects presented. 

Healthy Meal Deals

We wanted to increase consumption of healthy packaged foods on campus. We looked at several solutions: healthier alternative meal deal; adapting store layouts; healthy loyalty cards. There are meal deals on campus but we wanted to add to these with healthy meal deals. There are various current surveys that find students gaining weight during their university time, and the food and behaviours during this time guide them later in life. And surveys have shown that students relied too heavily on convenience foods because – grabbing food between lectures etc.

And in the UK there is a well known health crisis around BMI, it’s across all classes – it’s not as high in highly educated groups but still highly effected.

So, before we introduce our suggested deal we want to show you current meal deals. Currently you can select a sandwich from a range, crisps from a range, and sugary and/or caffeinated drinks. The meal has more sugar and fat than you should, but most calories come from the crisps and sandwiches. The sandwiches are high in fat but many are actually proportionately low in calories. Similarly sugar and calories – way worse. 30g is maximum sugar per day, many options have more than the appropriate 10g/meal. Looking at nutrition labels you can see those sandwiches are high in fat and sodium.

So, we wanted to look at switching out options here using what’s already easy to supply. So we considered alternatives where sandwiches are wholemeal bread – not ideal but more balanced; water or tea and maybe fresh juice; and fruit or yoghurt instead of crisps.

Promotion wise we wanted to persuade students to make those healthier choices, and to have that campaign actually across campus, not just in shops/cafes. We tweaked designs a lot with focus groups. The price isn’t concrete – couldn’t chat with manager until today – but likely £3 area and students indicated willingness to pay up to £4. And we also found good responses to comparing the healthy meal deal to the standard meal deal on nutrition rather than price basis. Then in-store we wanted to promote e.g. mixed nuts (rather than chocolate) they’d give protein and good fats – with a wee monkey but also a real citation – which students said they wanted as evidence. We also had some playful posters highlighting the benefits of fruit, of tea, etc. As well as promotion of wholemeal bread, to make it healthier….

So, our next step is to have discussion with retail managers – we meet him today! So that will be in our report. But we wanted to find out if it was realistic enough. But we expect obstacles to be commercial interests – if school has contract with providers of goods in the deal that good be a barrier; bureaucratic procedures; price.

In conclusion we wanted to include a meal deal that was inclusive of healthy options and that would increase demand for convenient but healthy food options. And it competes with but doesn’t replace current meal deals.

FoodHub

We will talk about the fast hack (all teams took part in) at the beginning and how we progressed from there. We were given the task of increasing the rate at which students select healthy food options on campus and engage with sustainable food initiatives. During our work we had a three part survey – two parts focused on our ideas, a third part focused on awareness. That awareness section was where we had most interesting data – there was apathy, the campaigns felt quite insular in terms of who was aware and engaged etc. We felt there was poor promotion on campus and students couldn’t name sustainable food initiatives on campus. We also found students had a lot of priorities and sustainable food wasn’t high on that list.

We suggest FoodHub, a united front for all of the many existing initiatives around sustainable cheap healthy food on campus. We thought about delivery through Facebook, app, text, etc. And we also wanted to consider active vs passive information – looking information up is time consuming, but prompts can be invasive. We went into a participatory design process with this in mind. So, we ran a trial text service as part of this, sharing messages from existing initiatives on campus. Then we did one to one feedback with participants.

We had great focus group qualitative data but we wanted something more quantitative data too, and to understand how texts might work and how. Our survey showed that a third of students don’t plan food but buy on the day; but we also wanted to accommodate those planning in advance. People found finding cheap food on campus relatively doable, cheap sustainable food more challenging.

So, we ran this for a week and we had results. 37% attended 1 or more event and all said they’d attend again; 100% would recommend to friends; 91% thought it provided a cost effective alternative; 63% indicated they might seek out food themselves. But what didn’t work? Well we sent 14 notifications and one 1 to 2 responses – this was either people who already had plans, or who were out at KB where events were less accessible. But we also saw 100% no change in attitude towards sustainable food options. People have busy schedules, we had a number of individuals already engaged in sustainable foods already in our group – so events not novel.

When we went into participatory design process we were thinking about an app, but actually texts seemed more effective – more embedded in day etc. And for an app they would have to download, use, keep on phone. In terms of active vs passive platforms. The majority of people wanted Facebook for more passive service, and text for more active materials. The combination was definitely the most possible. People also wanted some sort of review of events that could help guide peers (Yelp style), probably part of the Facebook component.

So, where to go from here? We are running it for a month to see if attitudes change; we want to add more features; and we want to promote and share the service to a wider range of students on campus.

The RA Connection

We are going to talk about what we did, the way we approached this. We made a toolkit for RAs (Resident Assistant) to help them support students to make healthy decisions on campus. We talked to students, RAs, Foodsharing, SRS office, and we engaged with surveys, focus group, informal interviews, and participatory design workshop with RAs.

When we throw away food we could be eating it has a financial and environmental impact. The University has a policy for zero food waste – but students are not included in that. Students care about this but when asked what they consider when purchasing foods students say convenience and costs are main concerns when considering buying sustainable food. So, our idea was to work with Edinburgh Food Sharing. So, what is Food Sharing?

Food Sharing takes unused or unsold food from individuals and businesses, that is passed to Food Sharing, is then redistributed to Food Sharing. This is mostly still edible (e.g. day old bread) – half of all food waste is edible, and 40% of UK students report skipping meals because of costs – so these can be complimentary issues. In terms of changing behaviour there are personal, social and material environment aspects. We thought that changing individuals isn’t the best route, but that changing social would be more effective, hence using the RAs.

The RAs help students when they first arrive at university. 170 RAs are based at 35 sites across the University and they are obligated to run at least one sustainability event per year. And free food is a great way to engage students. So we decided to educate RAs with sustainability by helping them running their events, we used our participatory design session to engage with RAs. We set SMART goals for this: Engage 50 students from multiple halls in (1) food collecting and distribution based on but not overlapping with FoodSharing (2) events to cook, prepare and share that food.

To help RAs we wanted to do some work for then – handouts, posters, and event forms for their Learn space run by ResLife. The handout explains food sharing. The event forms cover Cooking from Scraps – a workshop attendance followed by running their own; and Food Sharing Month – to raise awareness. The posters highlights workshops. The second is about food sharing to raise awareness.

So, we wanted to raise awareness, support RAs and make it easy for them to do more. And it was received really well by the RAs we spoke to.

And with that all the presentations were concluded and we’d hit our 11am finish time.

Huge thanks to Ewan and the whole DDS student and staff community for having me along – there were some fantastic ideas presented and I really enjoyed seeing the different approaches taken – some much more design orientated, some much more technical. The projects will now go on to write up their work into reports and the projects will be shared on the course website.

Jul 092014
 

Today I am at the Student Social Media Showcase (#SSMS2014) and the Mixed Methodologies Seminar, both precursors to the European Conference on Social Media (#ECSM2014) which I will be at until Friday. I’ll try to liveblog most of the conference days but today I’ll be posting notes as this is a loosely structured day. The Showcase, being Storified here, brings together both students and academic delegates of the conference and, for the student social media showcase, over 100 local school children as well as local businesses and apprenticeship schemes operating in Sussex. Both the conference and today’s event’s have been organised by the Brighton Business School, at University of Brighton.

This morning, while the kids have been experimenting in the creativity suite, I have met the organiser of ECSM2015 (which will be in Portugal), and we have been hearing about the DV8 Sussex Apprenticeship scheme which has been placing students, aged 16 to 23, in businesses from very small cafes to big social media agencies, on specific digital media and social media apprenticeships. They spend four days a week at their employer, and one day a week at college taking a number of social media, digital media, and marketing modules. It sounds like a really interesting scheme and the two students we met this morning seemed like great representatives of the scheme – they will be running hands on experiments in running mini campaigns for the students.

Introductions

Asher, one of the main organisers, is talking about social media and how central it is in business and marketing, and the business school’s recognition of the centrality of social media in our day to day lives. Today the focus is on what social media means for us, for the kids in the audience, and for jobs. And Asher is also talking about some work on “what is it students get out of studying?”, we think that the most important thing is learning how to learn… if we give you a seminar on Snapchat, it will be out of date in 6 months time, so the important thing to learn is how to research this stuff, how to learn about it, and how to think about what social media can do in business, in media, in the arts.  And as you look at the displays around the building you will see work by students that demonstrates that.

Sue: When we knew we would be hosting this event we went out looking for partners from the local community. We knew that the research conference would bring in people from across the world, but we also wanted to pull in local graduates and near graduates, but also local employers, and schools. We want to see how this all works, and we plan to do it again and again every year. We should have lots of spontaneous conversations… talk to anyone, see what they do, what they use… And there will be stuff every hour in this theatre – and we have five students you can talk to right away…

Tom English: I will be talking about Snapchat and ASOS, and how Asos could use Snapchat to sell their clothes

Cecilia: I’ll talk about Zara and how they use Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest to communicate with customers

Abiola Oduwasi: I’ll be talking about how people prepare to present themselves for the jobs market – graduates and recruiters

Sean Fitzsimons: promoting your writing and journalism through social media

Alice Britton: I did a project on how Bagelman, a local business, used social media for their business

Showcase

Running throughout the venue today are screens showing digital media presentations from students. Some nice case studies that I’ve already seen included a presentation on beauty bloggers and brands’ use of sponsored posts – where the blogger receives direct or indirect benefit from the brand for writing about them. Some examples were shown and some research suggesting that consumers find reviews useful no matter whether or not they have been paid for was quoted – an interesting finding in the blurry authenticity space that is social media. More on that in Lu, Chang and Chang 2014.

Brighton Fuse Project: Why Social Media needs all your skills – Dr Jonathan Sapsed

It will be good to talk to you today about this project, the Brighton Fuse Project, a research project looking at new media, digital media, and creative industries in Brighton. There is real clustering of these industries in Brighton – you see it in Shoreditch, in Bristol and Bath to some extent, Salford, etc. There is no one big company in Brighton drawing people in – unlike the BBC in Salford – so we wanted to see what was drawing them to Brighton, what attracts them. And we also saw that these companies need people like you (the teens in the audience), and all your skills.

This was a £1.5 million project with University of Brighton, University of Sussex, Natioanl Centre for Universities and Skills, BBC Academy, etc. involved. And Ed Vaizey welcomed this report and it’s findings on the Brighton CDIT. We’ve had a lot of interest because we looked at how the creative industries and skills really intersect with business. And we’ve also seen a huge investment made in Brighton to encourage these industries, to improve infrastructure and the quality office space for these high growth creative businesses. These sorts of things can be exposed through this kind of research, and you can then talk about how to address this.

So what is “fusion”? Well the combination of creative design skills and digital technology skills, the mix of artists, programmers, and business skills. One of our participants from Plug-in Media talked about how important the relationship between creativity and tech is. And we’ve known that idea, that concept of fused content, is important for a long tie for converging platforms – games, tv, mobile, online, etc.  But we didn’t know the extent to which this fusion was needed in sectors like social media. So lots of these digital media companies who have been running since the 1990s are increasingly adding design skills, social media skills, it’s about working out what the company desires, what they will want next, how a campaign can engage people more, to sell more. So you need those sensibilities of the analytical, segments, and patterns of search but also the creative skills and sensibilities for this space.

We looked at entrepreneurs… those who did their first degree in Arts and Humanities or Design are about 48% of the entrepreneurs. That was a bit of a surprise. And those with more degrees, with PhDs, their businesses often were doing even better. And whilst STEM and Computing folks were also doing well, it was equally as well as those from Arts and Humanities backgrounds.

But we also found that some firms are more fused than others. Some – about a third – are specialist so only really employ developers, or only really employ designers. About a third have some mix, and then we have the “super fused” who are dependent on having a tightly integrated mix of these skills. In terms of what types of companies are represented here… the Digital Agencies are more likely to be super fused, as are design services. And the least fused were arts organisations – but that’s probably a good thing, they need to be specialists in my opinion. On the whole fused businesses correlated positively with innovation and turnover growth. The super fused firms grow three times faster than unfused companies. That mix is very important.

So, looking at business models, the firm iCrossing, probably the second biggest digital agency in terms of employees in Brighton, do lots of work as “creative technologists” for various big firms, including Rolls Royce. Now they have a small customer base, they are happy with sales levels, but they want their brand to be more popular…  [brief break as kids leave] So Rolls Royce is an example of a company not looking at sales as a measure. But they had 14 measures of engagement in social media – really playing into the geeky side of what they do, the craftsmanship is shared via YouTube videos and shares of those… so it’s about good creative skills, how to make that interesting and enticing engagement, that is needed. So those 14 measures also get used for triggering payments to iCrossing. Each time they meet a target there, they get paid. So iCrossing employs programmers, journalists, copywriters, graphic designers, tim makers. They are looking for “Creative Technologies” job roles.

And an iCrossing campaign – which I can show now the kids are gone – was for Ann Summers and around paid search (YouTube: Ann Summers: Sexy Paid Search). So this was about using high interest news related web searches that hijack that news story by triggering related ads – for the budget, the BA Strike in particular – and got a good reception and impact for clients – click throughs, media coverage, a huge boost in profile etc. So for that client they have that client on a retainer – giving space for creative ideas, something thought of on the fly. That’s a particularly useful space for experimentation, for lateral thinking, for trying stuff out that is clever rather than high tech, trendy stuff perhaps. Counter intuitive stuff.

We found high levels of innovation in the cluster… and we used the types of innovation used in the European Innovation Survey… usually they find 60-65% innovation but for this cluster in Brighton  99% innovation. And more innovation in super fused companies. And 37% of firms allow time for personal projects – and that allows space for unexpected products and services for the firms.

Fusion is linked to innovation but… it’s not new to the world technology, traditional R&D, or protected by patents. Instead it’s service-oriented, continuously attending to user-experience and design. The value is hard to capture, in spire of £231m revenues across the 500 companies we looked at.

In terms of location… these organisations work for some local firms 40% ish of the companies do local, often business to business work for each other. A good 56% work for clients in london. And about a quarter work for international clients. And these firms are relatively young… the average respondent is 41.7 years old, two thirds of respondents are in their 30s and 7.8% in their 20s. And there are real cross overs of backgrounds… some have STEM backgrounds (22.89%) but many are from Arts and Humanities, Design, Business Management or Economics… but some have, say, stage management degrees… and they bring that creative background to bear on their work.

And the people working in these companies… only 8.4% always lived in Brighton. Many moved to Brighton for the lifestyle (e.g. one of the most successful web company CEO’s cited Britain’s only Vegetarian Shoe Shop as a reason he moved to Brighton!), many for personal reasons. Rarely do they move to find a job, for professional reasons… we think that is starting to change… there’s a kind of second wave here… many of these companies started in the 90s and they need people like you guys to be part of that next wave… And Ian Elwick, Founder-Manager of Brighton Media Centre and The Werks cite the support, the peer communities, these physical co-working spaces, those types of aspects as being important to these communities [we are now watching video – findable on the AHRC website along with the report – on these types of spaces, how they foster knowledge sharing and “being a good corporate citizen in the modern world”].

There are a lot of different styles of network events… there are cheese and wine events… but those are not so much about help, collaboration, contracting in a business sense… and those engaging in those benefit in material terms… So, a good example. Black Rock Studio, a big developer which was acquired by Disney. They did so well for 10 years they were brought by Disney… something happened… probably a failure of marketing for two big games… closed in 2011… made all of their 279 staff redundant… but a whole group of “black pebbles”, companies started by former employees, set up… and they create apps, small games, smaller scale stuff… some work for hire… some brought out by big Shoreditch company… they meet up, they help each other out, they use social networks online and offline, supportive culture there that is so important to clusters. Though fusion tends to be weak at community level, strong at a business and project level.

But it’s not all perfect news… some risks and barriers facing these companies. Fused firms face skills barriers, they find it hard to find the right skilled candidates. Easy in Brighton to recruit good design hirees, but paid search, product managers, etc. are not skills easily found. Sometimes they have to hire more technical roles through London. That limits growth. They find it hard to find the right people with the right skills… and larger firms perceive artistic community as a barrier… perhaps too laid back, too bohemian according to some. The recession and skills barriers were the main issues facing these firms at the time of the report.

But a key conclusion for us is that arts and humanities is key to interdisciplinary interaction and innovation and economic growth… but the HE system can be suite set again interdisciplinarity, often fields of study are quite separate and that’s not a good fit for creating these fused individuals. And this is a really organic cluster in Brighton, it’s hard to create that sort of effect artificially… policy makers often want to support a wide geographic range of locations but we think they should fund succeeding clusters more, to stimulate growth there…. to let that growth be organic…

Q&A

Q: You didn’t mention Brighton SEO… are you aware of any other conferences or similar happening that cement Brighton as a digital hub…

A: There are lots of those but tend to be very segmented and just known to that sector. In September Reasons to be Creative… and another which Warren Ellis is involved in, Deconstruct,… lots of these things… Twitter is the place to look for these things… a lot more smaller meet ups, in pubs, etc. and a great way to meet and make connections and find jobs, etc. That stuff leads to pub chat… I know one guy, now a senior manager for Electronic Arts in Montreal, who got the leads that led to that job through a pub chat…

Q: If you were designing a module or similar what would you include to address gaps… stuff to support such clusters in future…

A: We’ve talked a lot about this… but a lot of the message that comes from businesses themselves is that comfort with technical and creative sides is essential. And knowing how to manage a project, to be organised, to show leadership, also key. And we’ve thought about ways to best deliver that… practitioners say that graduates aren’t industry ready… and you ask them to help and to get involved in course design… and they are too busy to help… But the bureaucracy of developing courses, and the existence of disciplinary silos, can be the enemy of those sorts of skills…

Asher: if you are a graduate and you have experience of creative writing but never done SEO… or vice versa… what are the first steps to being part of this fused economy?

A: A lot of these skills are very much self-taught… a lot of people learn in that way. A lot of people hire someone they know with those skills and pay them for a morning to teach them on an ad hoc basis – as courses often exist that help with that. And they learn through others…

Information Visualization for Knowledge Discovery: Big Insights from Big Data – Ben Shneicerman, Professor of Computer Science at University of Maryland

One of the fun things here I think is the breadth of types of people involved in these spaces, as we heard before in Jonathan’s talk. Steve Jobs used to talk about his work being at the intersection of technology and the liberal arts. I am based at the Human Computer Interaction Laboratory, an interdisciplinary research community of Computer Science, Information Studies, but also Psychology, Sociology, Education, Journalism, and the wonderful Maryland Instute of Technologies for Humanities. Now many of you may know me from the book Designing the User Interface. Now the stuff you will be talking about at this conference was a real driver for the most recent update, in 2010, to that text. More than 5bn people have mobile phones now and they are changing the world, the way that we interact around health, around community. We have mobile, desktop, web, cloud. We have diverse users, diverse applications… so many opportunities to explore the world around us…

Now today I am going to talk about “Big Data”. In 2012 a release from Obama, announcing a Big Data initiative and talking about visualisation, talks about developing scalable algorithms for processing imperfect data in distributed data stores, and creating effective human-computer interaction tools. So we need to be teaching the key skills of visual reasoning, which we don’t usually teach… In 1999 we published a collection of papers on information visualisation. That area has now massively grown so no longer possible to capture in a book – the web gathers that whole world of papers that is emerging. But we do get some new directions… Jim Thomas and Kristin Cook wrote about the concept of Visual Analytics, Illuminating the Path, in 2004 (online for free). And in Europe Daniel Kein wrote on visual analytics (also available for free).

Now… one of our graduates set up an information visualisation company called Spotfire, growing a business out of their research work. For instance a visualisation showing Retinol’s role in embryos in vision – a rare example of a single image acting as an important research finding. That’s a rare occasion… but that tool became well known for genomic, biomedical, oil and gas discovery, etc. So…. increasingly visual tools are being used… we see a move to large display walls (10M to 100M pixels) helping productivity… Bloomsburg uses arrays of 8 screens with very fixed windows having huge value… we see radiology workstations with multiple displays to see a brain scan… some with 16 displays showing last weeks as well as this week’s scans… these sorts of workspaces are becoming common – multiple people sharing, collaborating, around multiple screens.

We are also seeing small screens (1M pixels and less) having a real impact… mobile screens with data such as Google’s expansive transportation interfaces through their maps, and historical data on that… There is a huge amount of data, our job as designers is to organise that, to understand data needed to make decisions…

So, the information visualisation mantra (and I once wrote this a dozen times in a paper – now cited over 27k times!):

  • Overview – the full range of items
  • Zoom and Filter – let the user do that, find what they want…
  • Details-on-demand – let the user drill into the data

The most compelling part here is the centrality of the human user. It’s not just about the algorithm…

And if we think about the last 50 years of Scientific visualisation in 1D Linear (Document Lens; SeeSoft, Info Mural), 2D Map (GIS, ArcView, PageMaker; Medica Imagery) and 3D World (CAD, Medical, Molecules, Architecture) forms… and they have a great future. And we now have the new area of Information visualisation… often about muti-variable data (Spotfire, Tableau, Qliktech, Visual Insight), Temporal (LifeLines, TimeSearcher, Palantir, DataMontage); Tree (Cone/Cam/Hyperbolic/SpaceTree/Treemap); Network (Pajek, UCINext, NodeXL, Gephi, Tom Sawyer). Loads of blogs here that are worth a read: Flowing Data; Perceptual Ledge; Etc.

So, let me go to the first demo… traditionally we often look at temporal data… for instance Stock Market Data. So… overview first… so looking at a year… February has a lot of uncertainty. Now you (an audience member) mentioned a “spike”… is that a spike upwards? Or downwards? We have the wrong language for visual reasoning yet! Now we can zoom into this data… look through this data…. seek patterns… Information visualisation allows you to see new patterns, new changes, to ask new questions. So with this [demo] visualisation you can create a pattern and look for that in your data set… but people were interested in how one might do the opposite – make a pattern and explore by inverses of that pattern… that’s thought patterns you can’t explore on paper and you can do it rapidly, and readjust them on a screen… You can try out and test hypotheses easily with these tools – and you can try this out, look for “TimeSearcher”. TimeSearcher was designed to do time series for stocks, wealth, genes, and to work with large data sets and allow the user to really shape interactions.

Now another tool we built was LifeLines, an attempt to create a visualisation for Patient Histories – with the overview acting as routes into that medical history, to understand changes, medications, interactions… And one of the nice things I like is that visualisations can also show you what isn’t there… harder to do algorithmically… but you can see gaps that might be concerns, questions, it’s a starting point…. we thought one patient was good, but a million patients would be better… so we worked with some data from the Pediatric Trauma Centre in Washington DC and using a tool we built called EventFlow (also free to download). The hospital (via video recordings then transcribed) record initial checks – airway, breath sounds, distol and central pulse in the first few minutes… and then you get longer for the secondary checks… Looking over a large set of data (216 patients) you can get a sense of how quickly secondary checks occurred… And you can spot anomalies in how staff conducted checks – not dangerous perhaps but not the hospitals protocol…. And you can see all the ways that these patients have been seen, how they vary… the most common variance was starting the disability check before secondary checks… there are some repetitions… some took ages to get their checks done.

So talking about Treemaps… that was our work… for instance SmartMoney Stock Data… looking at a terrible day you see a single blip of good activity – a real clear contrast… often you see patterns that are more subtle… but that visual training happens when data is spatially fixed, when you can spot change…

Treemap: Newsmap (work by Marcos Weskamp) looks at global news items and the number of online articles on a given topic… you can compare countries’ coverage directly… again, a free to use/explore visualisation.

And we did some work with the Hive Group on tree maps for Nutritional Analysis. SpotFire added tree maps in 2007, Tableau now has it. the New York times have used tree maps now. And a German researcher developed the idea of Voronoi tree maps – they look cool and organic it can be hard to read. There is a design aesthetic aspect here, these look cool but are hard to compare size of spaces.

Manual Lima has a great site called VisualComplexity.com with thousands of network visualisations…

And the work we did was in a tool called Node XL, it’s free to download and use, and it’s a network overview for discovery and exploration in Exel… designed to show interactions and connections between people… So for instance can be used to see voting in the US Senate… And you can use NodeXL to directly import from Facebook, Twitter, YouTube etc… feel free to create another importer tool… So one of our first experiments was for #WIN09 Conference back in 2009… and you could see from the 80 people in the room a kind of split between two groups of people – computer scientists and sociologists – and in the tweets you saw that clearly shown… just one cross over in a graduate student!

And that sort of connecting and cross over issue is even more compelling in political discourse… So we did this for the #GOP tweets… you could see a very cohesive densely connected group of republians. A less connected group of democrats. And a few cross over people… but they talk within their group but very little interaction between them. Cross over only via Politico. Media consumed between these groups otherwise really diverged…

But, this work kinda works…. but not a great way to visualise… using grapes for inspiration we tried to restructure around smaller clusters, separations, etc. in a more clear to view way…. for instance used in looking at #SOTU (State of the Union Address).

And… a researcher called Scott Dempwolf who looks at Innovation Networks… he took data on companies, patents, grants from government agencies… 26k edges, 11k nodes…. so he has created a beautiful visualisation for Pensylvania Innovation Networks… but hard to read…. so we tried to break this down a bit…. found a major pair of nodes who hold a lot of patents…. And you see real cluster of some of the big players in innovation…. Westinghouse Electric and the Navy being key drivers here…. So drilling down you see the big players…

We asked Scott to show us something on Maryland…. he created a visualisation for our lab…. again looking at connections and gaps… we can also look at innovation in Chicago to see how we see clusters here… You begin to see the finer grained structure more clearly when you have a visual way into the data…

Recently we published this on the Pew website – you can see Node XL Gallery for more of this sort of data – looked at Twitter network structures: polarised crowds; Tight crowds; Brand clusters; broadcast network; community clusters; and support networks… for those doing customer support via Twitter…

So, you can read more. You can find out about our Social Media Research Group. And we also want to talk about not only business but also other spheres in which these tools can help, for instance the UN Millennium Development Goals… Some progress towards their goals… Bill Gates is helping with next goals… The Gates Foundation is a big user of Node XL… in that presentation earlier we saw visualisations via Bar Charts but understanding interactions is key here.

Q&A

Q: I’m sure over the next few days we’ll see a lot of papers with statistical analysis… what would your advice be for business and finance academics to get papers more visual, and get published…

A: A good question. You do see Science and Nature moving to printed visualisations… they are static…we have a long way to go to make those interactive… by contrast the web and blogs are much more interactive and visual… and increasingly you see that supplemental stuff – video or interactive website – online. Science encourages you to have a website, data if possible, and visualisation tools with your papers. Actually  there is an annual competition around visualisation run by Science and partners…

Q: This is on errors and potential for misrepresentation… with many of these tools there is so much potential to accidentally misrepresent the data…

A: You are right of course… statistics can lie, data can lie, and visualisations can lie… you can use colour, labelling, etc. in misleading ways. But for any visualisation I think an intelligent understanding can reduce that impact. But the majority of datasets I get into my office have errors that the person whose data set it is didn’t know about it…. I was looking at emergency room admissions data recently… 8 patients in that data were 999 years old… those kinds of errors are widely found in data, or a patient admitted 14 times, but discharged only twice… And you have people using flawed data to predict sales but miss one month when their sale is on! Statistics without visualisations risk never spotting that error… visualisation provides a sort of microscope, telescope… new ways to explore and understand our data. And you need a new sort of literacy, that concept of visual reasoning. And the tools have made that possible…

Q: You talked about a lack of vocabulary… what should we be using?

A: We have a tool, not quite as polished as a shape finder, but the question is can you make a measure of the spikiness of each spike? In books you see standards about what is and is not a spike. During a discussion a student suggested something brilliant… using the angles within the spike to find sharp spikes, and also areas of fall and rise. So we have started to explore this sort of stuff… but of course volatility can be a measure… but there are interesting shapes that we ca use and explore here… you have concepts like “value line”, sizes of plateau. It’s a rich space we’ve only just started to explore in the shape finder.

Q: In terms of the methodology to create these models… I am interested in customer journeys between social media channels, capturing those touch points between platforms…

A: You have some systems, like Klout, that gives you numeric data… but we are interested in networks here…. IBM did a project with their internal networks of these things, of connections in discussion. My colleague did work with emails, to see cohesiveness of discussions… but we are only 5 or 6 or 7 years into this social media world… but it’s definitely an opportunity to do good… And again there is an effort from the National Cancer Institute to use social media to make health related opportunities, for smoking cessation, obesity reduction, etc…. to get changes through use of social media… And you see media networks evolve. Jenny Priess and I wrote a paper called “From Reader to Leader”… On Wikipedia only 1/10th of 1% ever make an effort… and only 11,000 admins…. so we need to understand the dynamics of that… how one goes through that path, what the motivations, rewards, recognition, to encourage people along that path… The sciences of the natural world have been successful for 400 years but I think the science of the made world, of social structures, etc. is the science of the next 100 years.

Q: You mentioned bar charts etc. in my presentation earlier. We have looked at new ways to present this data… info graphics etc… there are a lot for quantitative data but fewer for qualitative data…

A: Well one step back…. it’s not about visualising your data…. it’s about your goal, your question, what are you trying to answer… in your data there was clearly more there… a simple taste of what’s possible… the network structure of these community might be interesting…. so it might be a geographic relationship… but you need to know the questions first, and use that to decide what you need, what you will find in the data, how you make new opportunities happen.

 

Mixed Methodologies Seminar – Professor Dan Remenyi 

Dan Remenyi is introducing himself as an itinerant academic, who teaches research methods at various universities and also supervises PhD students.

When I completed my PhD, rather late in life, I felt the most interesting part was the research methodologies but I felt like I needed to learn more in that area, and had a lot to learn. I have supervised a lot of PhDs now and most actually use “mixed methods” but, a bit like “reflection”, you needed to do this stuff… you have to do that… these days you can’t just do it, you actually have to write about, to describe that stuff. If you use the phrase “mixed methods” about your research – and I’m going to counsel you not to necessarily do that – you have to be able to say why you did that, what that means, what the implications are…

So today we will talk about what Mixed Methods really is, and how you talk about it… You should all have had the slides in advance… I took those slides and put them into Wordle… you can see I’ll be talking about Data, about Mixed Methods, and about Synthesis… Now… as I progress down this road of talking about research methodology I’ve learned that it is so important to understand the vocabulary of the research world, how to use them appropriately…. Some are easy perhaps but some are much more tricky. You should know these… I suggest you create your own glossary where you really pin down your own understanding of these words… You need to know what they mean, you need to be able to defend your work.

Now, lets talk Mixed Methods… Well this is an expression, some call it a misnomenclature – it really doesn’t explain what it does (a bit like Life Insurance, of Jumbo Shrimp, some often refer to “military intelligence” as the same type of misnomer!). Why? Well there is almost no way that methods can be mixed. What we mean is using both qualitative and quantitative data to make a convincing argument… In the previous talk the speaker talked about charts, visualisations, and that the research question is absolutely key. And that’s the case in methods… but think slightly wider than that… in actual fact when we do research the research enables us to understand better the research question, and come up with possible answers for it…

So what is usually meant by Mixed methods is that combination of qualitative and quantitative data in research. In your research you need to be contributing to the academy, both in terms of the findings and the theoretical aspects of the field. And you have to convincingly make your case. There is still a lot of confusion about Mixed Methods. Researchers sometimes lose sight f the fact that evidence, of whatever sort, is a constituent of the argument which underpins the findings. The challenging part is bringing these different dimensions of the argument into a convincing whole.

At it’s heart Mixed Methods is a research design issue. You can adjust that plan as you go along, academia is essentially about self-improvement… your plan will always emerge and involve as you go along. A research design might start with what data you require to answer the question, then think about how you will collect it. How will you analyse it? How will you use it to establish some findings? And increasingly you are expected to interpret those findings, to talk about what the implications of your research is.

So the term Mixed Methods is being used in two senses…

  • – There is an emerging school of thought, or community of practice, that argue for the use of mixed methods research design.
  • – There is the research practice which has been in place for decades which have called upon researchers to use different methods at different times, stages, phases in their research. Indeed it is hard to use an entirely quantitative approach in research.

Now, not all researchers welcome the concept of Mixed Methods… some think you have to be world class and that you cannot be world class quantitively or qualitatively…. the aspiration is to be world class but I think you can be extremely competent at both. But the philosophical argument is trickier… the ontological argument is that you can either be a realist – positivist, quantitative type road – or a relativist and that that takes you down the more constructivist, analytical route. In reality we are often a combination of both in reality…

Now the key person in this area, he has made it his own, is Creswell. He says you cannot tell your story unless you can put together the numbers behind your research and to tell the stories behind those numbers. He says that numbers never speak for themselves… you have to be able to see the numbers and the facts in context. Paulos (1998) talks about statistics as being uninterpretable without context, background, their origins then they cannot be properly understood…

An example here… stats on home runs in the US Baseball league show increasing numbers of home runs… what’s happening? More matches? More training? More reporting of games? Changes in recording measures? More rewards for better players? Stand out players like Babe Ruth? But a more important reason… they banned cheating! Generally Baseball was played in the afternoons… and the light got dimmer… flood lights weren’t great… pitchers started messing with the ball, spitting on it, rubbing it in the dirt… and the batter could see the ball…. How will you know that just looking at numbers? You won’t, you need some other form of research to understand that data. (For more on these stats Dan recommends Bill Bryson’s book A Short History of Nearly Everything – a great book for PhD students to read as, essentially, a history of science. And his book One Summer: 1927 include those statistics… in that book the most important thing is Charles Lindberg flying the Atlantic….)

Now, there is another phrase you need to be aware of and that is “Multiple Methods”… If you are using multiple methods in the qualitative arena then some say you are using Multiple Methods, that Mixed Methods is exclusively for the combination of Qualitative and Quantitative Methods. You also hear Combined Methods, Hybrid Methods, and (from an audience member) Multi-Level Methods.

A few really important distinctions… At the highest level research can either be Theoretical – this is based on secondary data, data that has been previously been published, and already-established ideas and you create something new from those existing ideas. Empirical Research is about the collecting of data. Now data is a hugely contested term, there is a surprising lack of papers on data… when I questioned what data was in a statistics department they thought I was mad but data is a really tricky term, I’ll come back to this.

Now, in theoretical research is highly linked to empirical research, but always relating that back to theory, and using existing empirical data.

And then we have the two major paradigms of Positivist which is about the qualitative world, numbers (mostly), the process is deductive so there are hypotheses that you are attempting to reject (you try to reject it, if you don’t you accept it pro tem), it’s interpretation with a “little i”. And we have Interpretivist approaches… an inductive process, uses a wide range of data… and it’s about taking that data and from it attempting to form a hypothesis from that. Now the vast majority of research is deductive, a faster process. An inductive approach can take longer and require much more data… Now… Mixed Methods sits between these, straddling both positivist and interprevist perspectives. And following a side chat on mathematical methods, mathematics fits not quite anywhere into these research paradigms… The concept of Ocham’s Razor is useful here: the explanation that the idea that is simplest is best… In general we can never say we have proved something… the only thing that is certain is that we know what we don’t know… But we can say “the evidence suggest”, or “it appears from the evidence”… that can be said… much harder to say that “the evidence shows this is true”.

Now… a comment on Qualitative and Quantitative research and how they differ…

In Quant: You articulate the research question, you collect evidence, you process evidence (questionnaire) – only after you have collected data, and you produce findings…

In Qual a learning loop is involved: you articulate the research question, you collect evidence (interview), you understand the question as you process the evidence and you really have a loop, you learn as you go, and you do produce your findings.

There are alternative approaches too… Action research often takes an iterative approach for instance.

Of course Mixed Methods can be used in theoretical work… you might collect data to support a theoretical perspective. And Mixed Methods are particularly useful in interdisciplinary work. And it can also be useful in applied research, where there are blurred boundaries between topics…

So we have 12 steps in research design:

Setting the course

  • 1. Field of study exploration and conceptualisation
  • 2. Literature review
  • 3. Research question
  • 4. Research design

Moving the project forward

  • 5. Data acquisition …………………… when is triangulation relevant?
  • 6. Data management
  • 7. Data analysis
  • 8. Presentation of findings

Completion Issue

  • 9. Theory development
  • 10. Research question resolution
  • 11. Implications for practice
  • 12. Limitation and future research

Each step informs the next step, although the research process is not a water fall based project

Remember that to do competent academic research we not only have to understanding our data and analysis of that but we also have to understand all of the arguments in the body of knowledge, and we have to be able to articulate that. And that has to feed into the research design.

There are different ways to approach Mixed Methods research…. One way is to start with qualitative data as a way to reach understanding, and to design a quantitative instrument (e.g. a questionnaire) that is then deployed and leads to findings… It’s a big deal to create a questionnaire from scratch! And in this approach each step is distinct. You take two steps… one step followed by another… the mixing is very minimal…

But there is no reason not to take a different approach… You use an established research instrument to gather data, then you conclude that stage, and you take a qualitative approach next, in order to reach your findings. That’s a perfectly respectable Mixed Methods approach.

Now you can also take what they call a “supportive mixed methods” design… here you have overlap between types of research, you can benefit from understanding the data of one type in your work collecting data of another type. Now I like metaphor… so take the buttress (flying and not)…. someone pointed out to me that the way that Cathedrals are built is fundamentally unstable… will push the walls out… and that’s why buttresses, and flying buttresses came about. And I like to think of scientific discovery as not always standing on it’s own without data from a variety of different sources. Multiple sources of validation are always welcome… they act like buttresses… (and now we have a side chat in which Dan makes  the point that doctoral students should not touch longitudinal studies… “that’s a different methodological world”).

You should know that academic research gives you a great deal of flexibility in what you do. It is based on peer review – your papers will be seen by at least two people reviewing it – but there is a lot of flexibility as to how you do it. Paul Feyerbiant wrote a famous book, a difficult book, called “Against Method”. And in that book he says the only universally accepted academic research methods, and that is “anything goes”! It doesn’t mean you can be sloppy… it means no one can tell you how you must do your research, or what you cannot do… you can do it your way as long as you can convincingly argue your case, and show that you are contributing to the academic body. As long as you can argue that your methods got you to the right answer, you have to be able to argue your methods, to justify them… I had someone come up for examination who had done 35 interviewers… a particularly tough examiner who said he needed more… but how many do you need? Well you need as many as need before you reach the point of data saturation… you have to be able to justify the number that is acceptable. As it happened this guy went out and found a whole load of papers showing that 35 could be a valid number… this is part of why you have to understood the literature… you have to have read everything that can be read about your topic… And the other thing about academic research is that you have a lot of flexibility but you have to use the language consistently, and to understand the meaning of those words… we had a chat before about what it means to be longitudinal… it means an extended period of time… is that 3 months? 3 years? 3 weeks? For anthropologists they conduct ethnography, they talk about a lived experience… how many of us in the business or management world truly have a live experience… Ethnography is, as a word, taking liberties there… but we can talk about being “ethnographically informed”, by the same token we could talk about “a longitudinal type study”. Teet was talking about interviews over a few months as being not a snapshot… but argued appropriately you could use some of that language of longitudinal language… Because, as we’ve said, we have to be clear of making a clear and justifiable case for your choice of methods… We have so many methods but you have to be clever about how you put your argument together…

So… back to a third model for Mixed Methods… this is a parallel or converging Mixed Model… Where you undertake quantitative and qualitative research in parallel… now I have gone light on talking about “triangulation” here… some people love that term, some hate it… to be precise the word is borrowed from land surveyors who use various tools to map particular features, measuring from different angles… social scientists have borrowed that term to talk about different perspectives… now when I did my research 25 years ago I was told triangulation was a way to resolve conflicts and contradictions in the data… that is nonsense… by being able to look at things through different perspectives, different lens, different data, different people… you get a richer understanding of the question, of the issues involved. Now some say the term “triangulation” is too positivist, that something like corroboration is better…. I don’t really mind… more perspectives is usually better. BUT…. it is tempting to believe that the more panoramic the view, the better… and that may often be the case, but is not always true….  Sometimes putting all this extremely rich view into a cohesive whole can be really problematic… Research does not seek complexity for it’s own sake… If you have a credible answer to the research question from one or two data sources then the job is probably done… Answering the research question is the paramount issue.

So in this third approach, the parallel or converging mixed method design… we will get two sets of data, from two different sources, and bring them together into an argument… and we will draw on both sets of data to draw our conclusions… There’s no other sense in which we want to mix it… Now in the literature you will see some discussion of putting numbers into words and vice versa but I am not convinced by that. Some critical issues… were the two different data collection strategies driven by the same research question? If not, then why to? Was the same research logic used for both – i.e. inductive or deductive? And are the results commensurable? They don’t have to be but you will have to argue your case well, you have to change your argument and explain any contradictory results. And again, you have to answer the research question.

Now, reflection is central to research. It has always been necessary. But it’s now really important to be able to discuss it… Reflection may be defined as a process of questioning the range of activities and thinking which have been performed by the researcher in order to surface any inadequacies or bias which may be present in research. And why you have come to the conclusions you have come to.

Reflexivity – and the piece in MIS Quarterly is worth reading – is about seeing the interrelationships between the sets of assumptions, biases and perspectives that underpin the different facets of the research undertaken. So you might ask yourself what assumptions are at play when you start your research? All research starts with assumptions that there will be an answer to the question, that that question is worth answering, and that the process of answering that research question will change you, will develop you to a higher level in the case of a doctorate for instance. Reflexivity is about understanding that, of understanding biases… nobody likes to feel that they are biased… but you can’t get away from the facts what you are… so I’m a white, British, elderly, academic… all of those mean expectations and values… I might work against those but there are always some residues there… You also want to ask yourself what values of yours affect your research? So all of us have the shared values that knowledge is important for instance, we want to learn more. As someone in academia you also have to believe there is some value in sharing, that’s part of being an academic… you could explore all of that much further of course… but that’s what we mean by reflexivity.

Some mixed methods researchers talk about integrating the qualitative and the quantitative data so that an overarching analysis can be performed… so about how and when you mix the data… now I argue that we are really talking about synthesising the arguments. And the test of an argument is whether it convinces… There are various types of evidence which include data, authority and logical inference… So in academia argument is used to support theoretical conjectures. The way we learn is influenced by the Greeks… Socrates, regarded as close to a tramp, walking around picking arguments, who developed the idea of the dialectic… and that is how academia works… you articulate a thesis… you float an idea, then someone does the “ah, but…”, they correct the idea or take the antithesis… and then you put those together, you synthesise them, and create a new idea… and that re-articulation of thesis starts a new cycle… that’s an ancient concept that still underpins academia.

Now, Teet earlier mentioned a model like an Advanced Mixed Methods Design, something which may result in a case study, experiment or action research project. But what actually determines the method? This can be influenced by your background… an engineer may not want to work in qualitative research, a humanist may not want to undertake complex equations… So it may be about the scale of the work required, the skills that you have and, in the case of doctoral students it may also be about the influence of the supervisor or culture of the institution.

And with that, we are done.

 

 July 9, 2014  Posted by at 11:15 am Events Attended, LiveBlogs Tagged with: , , ,  No Responses »