DREaM event 5: Invited paper
Dr Louise Cooke, from Loughborough University, delivered an invited paper at the final DREaM conference titled: “Facets of DREaM: An analysis of network development to support UK LIS research and researchers.”
Louise provided a preview of this session in a short interview.
You can also view this presentation on Slideshare.
This video is also available on Vimeo.
In this invited paper, Cooke described her research into the DREaM project community using social network analysis techniques. She discussed what her analysis shows about the DREaM project as a methodology for developing a network of researchers, and what we can learn from the project about our own networking.
Cooke provided a brief context of social network analysis to supplement her earlier workshop on the topic. Social network analysis (SNA) focusses on the relationships between things, rather than the things themselves, and thus on the idea of structure and networks. Cooke noted some of the common uses of social network analysis in LIS research, including citation analysis, technology adoption, and as a consultancy tool in knowledge management.
When Cooke presented to the DREaM workshop cadre on this topic during the first of the workshops in October 2011, she was asked to provide a game for participants. She chose to illustrate the technique of social network analysis through a practical exercise. She focused on two facets of the cadre members’ knowledge with regards to other participants in the workshop: their awareness of the field/expertise of others in the group, and whether they had already engaged in social interaction with others in the group. This exercise was repeated six months later at the third workshop for comparison.
Cooke presented the results of this comparison to the conference. The results from the first workshop showed that the network was loosely connected, with many participants out on the periphery with little prior knowledge of the work of others. By the time the exercise was repeated at the third workshop, the network was much more densely connected and no longer dependent on a few key individuals. These findings suggest that the network had strengthened. Similar was true for the issue of social interaction: at the time of the first workshop, the social connections within the group were dependent on two key players. This findings hinted at the vulnerability of the network should either or both of these individuals disappear. However, by the third workshop, there was a much stronger criss-crossing of links between individuals within the group, with no one member being isolated.
Cooke repeated both analyses using colour coding to indicate the primary roles of the participants in the network. In both instances, PhD students – who were very much on the periphery when the initial survey was conducted in workshop 1 – had moved inwards towards the centre of the network by the time of workshop 3. This is an important finding for PhD students who often feel professional isolation. Another notable point was the increase in the average number of connections for each individual in the cadre, which doubled between the two workshops.
Cooke argued that this analysis shows that the methodology used by the DREaM project has been successful in addressing the key aim of developing a UK-wide network of LIS researchers. However, she observed that social network analysis is based on quantitative metrics, so it may not help to answer more qualitative questions about the relative success of different aspects of that methodology, such as the role that social media played in strengthening the network. However, SNA shows us further questions we could ask, and helps to identify patterns that we need to explain further.
Cooke concluded that a much strong network of LIS researchers has been built as a result of DREaM, but we now need to consider how to take this forward, and how important it is to the community to maintain and extend a strong network.
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