Researcher skills forum #RSF18

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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Spring into Methods

Spring into Methods is an interdisciplinary, and cohort building programme, giving doctoral researchers across Scotland, studying for a PhD in the Arts, Humanities or Social Sciences, the chance to apply to attend 2½ day research methods training events across a wide variety of topics.

Details on the SGSS and SGSAH websites.

After i3 conference #i3rgu

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

(Because my blood-sugar crashed, I didn’t get to attend the final plenary except to see colleagues Iris Buunk and Hazel Hall win the prize draw.)

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.

Drs Bhuva Narayan and Bruce Ryan

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.

Final thoughts

image credit: Frances Ryan

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.

Finally, a huge thank-you to i3 organisers Dr Elizabeth Tait and Professor Peter Reid for organising a great conference. Here’s looking forward to i3 2019!

Connecting people, connecting ideas symposium

My colleague Frances Ryan, along with Professor Hazel Hall, will be running a one-day research symposium on 22 June 2017. ‘Connecting people, connecting ideas‘ (CPCI) will focus on research priorities in Information Science as related to everyday life information seeking and information behaviours in online environments.

More information is on Frances’ research blog. If information science is in any way your thing, I’m sure this will be an interesting and provocative event.

LIL-DEM – examining our survey responses

Community, Knowledge, Connections

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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Stranger in a strange(ly digital) land

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

Blast from the past

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. [1]

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The workforce is mapped!

I love working in academia, not least because I often get to do new things. Perhaps the best example so far is the Workforce Mapping Project commissioned by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) and the Archives and Records Association (ARA). The headline results have now been published.

I got to work with Library and Information Science researchers Hazel Hall and Christine Irving, and Employment researchers Robert Raeside, Tao Chen and Matthew Dutton, giving me exposure to several new fields.

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Hello from Elgin!

(I wrote this post on the train this morning but didn’t get a decent wifi connection until I arrived at my hotel.)

digiCC v2

The digiCC workshop roadshow is on the road again! Today I’m travelling to Elgin so I can co-host tomorrow’s workshop for CC and Registered Tenant Organisations members from Moray and nearby LAs. I’m very grateful to co-hosts Tracey Rae and Alison McLaughlin of Moray Council for all they and their colleagues have done to make this event work.

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