With grateful acknowledgements to Hazel Hall and Peter Cruickshank for quite a few of the following words.
I’m very happy to report that Peter Cruickshank and I have recently contributed to a new paper on methods for studying workplace information literacy. Entitled Workplace information literacy: measures and methodological challenges, the paper is currently in press, but the manuscript is now available as a pdf download from the Edinburgh Napier repository. It will be published later this year in Volume 15 issue 2 of the Journal of Information Literacy.
The work on this paper was led by Professor Gunilla Widén of the Faculty of Social Sciences, Business and Economics,Information Studies at Åbo Akademi University. The other co-authors are Gunilla’s former colleague Dr Farhan Ahmad (now at the University of Turku) and Dr Shahrokh Nikou, who works alongside Gunilla at Åbo.
Peter’s and my contribution to Workplace… comes from the workstream also covered by Cruickshank & Hall (2020) and Cruickshank, Hall & Ryan (2020). There is more about these papers in my post on the Centre for Social Informatics’ bumper day in December 2020.
Peter’s and my contribution centres on unsuccessful statistical attempts to examine data from a questionnaire on community councillors’ information literacy that Peter and I ran in 2017. (The non-statistical findings are presented Cruickshank, Hall & Ryan (2020). That side of the research was successful!)
Hazel explains more about contents of Workplace… in her blog-post. Here, I concentrate on the experiential lessons from this piece of work. Peter’s tweet sets the theme:
It’s not often it’s possible to publish about an interesting failure, but here’s an example: an attempt with @Bruce_Research to measure the impact of the #informationliteracy of community councillors in Scotland (paper includes examples of success too)
For me, there have been two main lessons. Firstly, don’t assume you’ve failed – don’t let pessimism get to you!I thought this work had failed, and that we had spent some hard-obtained research resources gaining nothing. But I was wrong: firstly we gained an opportunity to learn from the experience. (Of course we also gained some knowledge of statistical methods.) Another gain – for the scientific community – is that, by considering why our methods were unsuccessful in this case, we have potentially saved others from this particular pain and have pointed to methods that are more likely to succeed.
Now I think back, I am reminded of a PhD colleague at the Chemistry department of the University of St Andrews. (For those who don’t know, my PhD is in organic chemistry.) Her thesis was subtitled (when she spoke about it informally)1001 ways not to make [my target substances]. She still got her doctorate, by adding to the sum of human knowledge, even if it was ‘here’s what doesn’t work!’
Also, with thanks to Gunilla, Farhan and Shahrokh, we have gained an opportunity to publish in a well-known journal. So we have gained a bit more ‘reputation’.
The other main lesson, as my Leith-based friends might say, is perseverance. It took a couple of years but there eventually wasa way to make use of this work. Also I got a reminder that nothing in life is guaranteed. Especially in science, we are always trying new things in new contexts – so there is always a chance that we won’t succeed. But that doesn’t make it not worth trying.
Peter and I are very grateful to our former colleague Lyndsey Middleton (now a Scottish Government statistician) for advice on statistical methods. Failures in this work were not due to her in any way. They almost certainly arise from Peter and me trying to retro-apply statistical methods on data that was not gathered for this purpose.
Cruickshank, P., & Hall, H. (2020). Talking to imagined citizens? Information sharing practices and proxies for e-participation in hyperlocal democratic settings. Information Research, 25(4). https://doi.org/10.47989/irpaper880
Cruickshank, P., Hall, H., & Ryan, B. M. (2020). Information literacy as a joint competence shaped by everyday life and workplace roles amongst Scottish community councillors. Information Research, 25(4). http://informationr.net/ir/25-4/isic2020/isic2008.html
Widén, G., Ahmad, F., Nikou, S., Ryan, B., & Cruickshank, P. (in press). Workplace information literacy: Measures and methodological challenges. Journal of Information Literacy, 15(2).