A long time ago, I did a PhD in organic chemistry. During that time, I also started a career in educational publishing. I left that in 2011, to take an MSc in Information Systems Development. Along the way, I developed an interest in way humans use technology to do democracy. Because research in this area calls for very different skills to those used in physical science, I’m always on the lookout for ways to augment my research skills. So I was happy to spend 3 days this week at Napier’s Researcher Skills Forum. Here’s the programme, and the following is just some of what I learnt and enjoyed. Continue reading
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I’ve been informed, interacted and impacted at i3! I could only attend on Thursday and this morning, but my eyes have been opened to the wide world of Library and Information Research, and some of the characters in this world.
The sessions I attended were
- Professor Annemaree Lloyd, Dr Frances Hultgren and Dr Ola Pilerot: Refugees and researchers in transition: the complexities of researching fractured landscapes
- Dr Bhuva Narayan and Professor Gobinda Chowdhury: The role of information avoidance in diabetes self-management: a mobile-based study using the experience sampling method
- Keynote Presentation by Amy Sippitt, Research and Impact Manager at Full Fact
- Maryam Bugaje and Professor Gobinda Chowdhury: Towards a more user-centred design of Research Data Management (RDM) Systems
- Dr Michael Olsson and Professor Annemaree Lloyd: Bodywork: vanishing knowledge, embodied practices and identity construction among enthusiast car restorers
- Dr Graeme Baxter and Professor Rita Marcella: An exploration of the relationship between post-truth politics and Scottish citizens’ information behaviour
- conference dinner, ceilidh and a few drinks back at the hotel
- Keynote Presentation by Dr Crystal Fulton, University College Dublin
- Dr Geoff Walton and Dr Alison Pickard: Analysing information discernment in mid-teens to extend their digital literacy
- Todd Richter, Dr Laura Muir, Dr Tom Flint, Professor Hazel Hall and Dr Colin Smith: Getting Unstuck: information Problem Solving in High School STEM Students and Evidence of Metacognitive Knowledge
I mentioned the social aspects because I think some of the most interesting stories around research came out then. For me, and of course I may be wrong, papers deliver the ‘facts’, conference presentations tell some of the ‘back-story’, and social events can fill in the details. For example, a researcher talked about the major difficulties she experienced when trying to travel to collect data. So now I’m a bit more fore-warned of some possible practical difficulties.
I won’t say which I thought was the best presentation, because that would imply there was a ‘worst’. As far as I’m concerned, anyone who exposes their ‘research-hearts’ to a sea of potential criticism is a winner.
But I will say which I got the most out of personally: Bhuva Narayan’s presentation on information avoidance amongst diabetics described my personal world. A research blog isn’t the place to rant about my personal experiences of this condition, much as I want to. But I think it is appropriate to note how our careers have included academic/educational publishing before moving into academic research which is close to our respective hearts.
I’m also tempted to wonder whether there is room for research into information misbehaviour, e.g. are there links between information avoidance and other ‘undesirable’ activities?
My other favourite was Graeme Baxter’s presentation on post-truth politics and Scottish citizens’ information behaviour. Graeme showed how people reacted to political statements made by the five major Scottish political parties. Each party published statements intended to advance their positions and/or denigrate other parties, by quoting ‘facts’ without citing references. In fact, Graeme and colleagues had to dig quite deeply to establish sources and hence the veracity of the ‘facts’ they ‘tested’ on their participants.
As a scientist, it’s hopefully second nature to back up facts and statements with either citations showing where these were ‘proved’, or to prove them ourselves from the data we’re presenting – anything else is plagiarism or worse. Not so in political campaigning, it appears. Graeme suggested that political ‘facts’ go on a journey in which ‘original sources become less clear and facts become increasingly reinterpreted’. I guess the moral is an undertone of ‘facts matter’, in that we need to be sure that our facts are facts (i.e. true/correct), and the contexts in which they are they are true, and what they really mean.
For example, Graeme showed a political communication saying that 152,000 college places had been lost. Did that mean that 152,000 people were now being denied the chance of a full degree, thus potentially harming Scotland’s economy and much else? Er, no, it meant that quite a number of short courses and lessons in mostly ‘hobby’ interests were being cut. For me, any loss of educational opportunities isn’t great, but this ‘fact’ wasn’t anywhere near as bad as it appeared. I’d be disappointed if I couldn’t go to an interesting one-off lecture or short course on one of my interests, but it probably wouldn’t be career- or life-threatening. And as my colleague Todd showed, there is a huge amount of educational material on YouTube, for example. (The difficulty there, as he also mentioned, is learning which material offers me the most value, and doesn’t omit the things I really need to learn.)
I’m particularly interested in two things related to Graeme’s presentation. (This doesn’t mean I’m not interested in other aspects!)
- The first is the extent to which people trust facts coming from government, rather than political parties’ campaigns. Graham cited the white paper on Scottish Independence which was delivered in 2014. Was that an output from a party or from the government or from the ‘neutral’ civil service? (I’m interested because I know a few current and former civil servants who sweated blood to try to ensure that it contained established facts, and clearly differentiated between these and ambitions for the post-independence world. But civil servants are required to serve the government of the day, even if this goes agains their personal views, unless this would involve them in something seriously immoral.)
- The second is how much people trust information provided by community councils. (Let’s ignore how little people appear to actually access this information. As my colleague Peter Cruickshank points out, it’s entirely possible to take in and act on such information without leaving any obvious signs of engaging with it.) I’d really like to understand what people make of the (digital) information outputs of their community councils. I hope we can soon do some engagement research that probes this.
Firstly, I’m inspired to do a bit of object-oriented programming around a model cool cat, especially as I’m cited for some reason.
Secondly, I’m sorry I couldn’t attend all the presentations made by my Napier colleagues.
The online survey for the second Information Literacy for Democratic Engagement project has been running for about three weeks now. We intend to keep it live for another week, so we can’t say anything about what community councillors have told us – yet! However, we can say there are some interesting patterns in how people tackled the survey.
As of Saturday (25th March) evening, 1171 people had followed the link to the survey, and 747 have completed it (a 36% drop out rate). We want as many people as possible to take the survey, so if you’re a community councillor who hasn’t taken the survey yet, please click here. It may be slightly complex to complete all questions but it really should only take about 15 minutes, and you’ll be contributing to a major piece of work contributing to knowledge of practical ways to support community council work. If you’re not a community…
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Our survey investigating community councillors’ information literacy is now live. If you are a community councillor, please go to https://survey.napier.ac.uk/n/LILDEM.aspx to take the survey. If you’re not a community councillor, please pass on this link to any community councillors you know.
This post was written by Bruce Ryan and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of his colleagues or anyone else.
Beneath all the current brouhaha about Brexit, interesting goings-on in the White House, and struggles between ‘populists’ and the ‘old guard’, it’s fairly clear that there is room for improvement in the ways we do politics. In most democracies, representation is the main model: the people choose representatives who make laws and govern. In a purely representative democracy, citizens would have no part in law-making or government except via elections.
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We’re very pleased that we have successfully finished the Information literacy for democratic engagement (IL-DEM) project. We’re even more pleased that we have just started a follow-up project called LIL-DEM (longitudinal information literacy for democratic engagement). This will also investigate community councillors’ information literacy, but it will sharply focus on the factors that IL-DEM revealed to be relevant to community councillors’ information work. It will also investigate who community councillors work with to find, process and publish information, and any associated training needs. Finally, it will enable us relevant to finish a literature review around information literacy, lifelong learning and (local) democracy.
Data-gathering will start in just over a week – our main tool will be an online survey. So if you are a community councillor, look out for the online link we’ll reveal soon. If you know any community councillors, please tell them about this project.
In the meantime, please download and read…
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Understanding Digital Policy was the title of an unconference I was at this week. (It was at an outpost of the University of Liverpool in central London – hence the title and illustration for this post.)
Although it was billed as covering
- How is policy shaping the uptake and use of Digital Media and Technologies?
- How are Digital Media and Technologies shaping policy making and policy implementation?
it went much further than that, into how will and how should policy be shaped, and what research should be done. This was at least in part due to the organiser, Simeon Yates, leading the the ESRC Ways of Being in a Digital Age team, and so being highly influential on research directions.
You can jump straight to my personal reactions if you want, but here’s how the day progressed. Firstly, we found interesting and/or kindred spirits by writing our own ‘about-me’s, looking at each others’ and deciding who we wanted to work with. Continue reading
I enjoy the weekly briefing from the Scottish Community Alliance – 6 interesting and challenging articles about how we can make our society work better, leavened with the occasional salutary tale, and always a lot of potential learning. This week’s briefing is no exception. Here’s some highlights:
- Andy Wightman talks about challenges for Our Democracy
- How to influence planning policy
- Ideas about zero-waste housing.
While transcribing interviews for the ILDEM project, I was reminded of one of my MSc courseworks, about Scottish Local Authority websites. It wasn’t perfect but I think my conclusions were based on good evidence. They were
There is marked variation in LA website accessibilities, some having very few accessibility features. It seems no Scottish local government website is ‘perfectly’ accessible while a signicant number do not follow a national standard, the Scottish Navigation List.