Sara Wingate Gray’s review of DREaM event 2: workshop, Edinburgh 25 October 2011

The first workshop of the DREaM project: Developing Research Excellence and Methods was introduced by Hazel Hall (@hazelh), Professor & Director – Centre for Social Informatics, Institute for Informatics & Digital Innovation, Edinburgh Napier University.

Based at one of the Edinburgh Napier Craighouse campus buildings (a very grand one with a fascinating history) the day was an intriguing insight into research methods not necessarily familiar to those working in the domain. In particular, what was great about this day-long ‘thinking’ excursion, was that some of those chosen to introduce these methodologies were firmly sited outside of the discipline, thus providing a refreshing ‘outsider perspective’ on how their own domain’s methods might be translatable to LIS. In particular, Dr Paul Lynch, introduced by Professor Hall as someone who “isn’t a library and information science person” described his own research method interests, in particular, ethnography, as “contested…each discipline likes to give its own tweak to ethnography.” His presentation provided clear examples of ethnographic research and was most informative when he used examples from his own PhD research and interests (hospitality and tourism working environments). His talk emphasised some of the required skills one must bring to the task, including “close looking and listening, the ability to download all of one’s inner thoughts and emotions” … “you have to bring out your subconscious reaction and then deal with it later”, something he went on to describe as “the authenticity of enactment”. This was good, clear advice, and as “we are re-telling attitudes, beliefs, faiths…we act as a filter … giving voice to participants” where one is “ethically sensitive to their (particular) world views” it became clear that reflexivity and the ability to work flexibly (and to bring a systematic approach – for instance, ensuring interview transcriptions were carried out memory-fresh) are intrinsic to ethnographic success.

Next in the research methods line-up was Dr Louise Cooke who added a nice spot of localisation to her presentation on Social Network Analysis (SNA) by undertaking a (small and quick) SNA of the audience present! A swift poll of audience hands also showed that just a couple of individuals present had already used this method in their research, and judging from the questions from the audience after Dr Cooke’s talk it seemed to have generated particular interest. In particular, I enjoyed Dr Cooke’s focus on SNA as a study’s starting point, a map from which meaning can then be explored in greater detail, and second her insight that working in this way, via a “visualisation” … “helps us understand the structure of the network…‘social’ just means there is a relationship between entities”.

My enjoyment of the day was fully brought out in Professor Andy McKinlay’s presentation on Discourse Analysis. In particular, he provided fascinating personal insights into how he thought he came to research in the first place – personal observations coupled with a questioning or wondering mind might seem an obvious initial response, but in fact pose interesting and deeper questions: “what is ‘research’?” and “where does it come from?” are themselves worth delving into to understand what might lie at the core of one’s research interests and praxis.

A well-balanced day, if rather packed and punchy (in a good way), ended with the always-entertaining Professor Charles Oppenheim leading a hands-on workshop exercise on research ethics and legal issues. The audience split into teams and wrestled with some sample ethical problems Professor Oppenheim had provided, which generated well-heated and hearty discussions amongst all groups.

It was also excellent to hear (in a short unconference style session prior to lunch) the research interests of some of the delegates, which in turn similarly generated some heated debate. In particular, the perceived lack of public library research was raised and then countered by some delegates who cited Scottish public library research as flourishing: perhaps some research in cross-border public library research pollination is due!

For session materials for this event (videos, PowerPoint slides and session summaries) see links from the programme. Details are also available for the next workshop, to be held in January 2012 at the British Library.

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