Felt it was time to record a little stock take on how things are going as data generation morphs into analysis.
So here is where I am…
There have now been 11 ‘talk samples’ generated as a result of the appreciative inquiry work in my workplace. I am now clear that the unit of analysis I am working with is a ‘talk sample’, not the individual who generated that talk. One single ‘sample’ is not enough to get insight into that individual’s full capabilities and perspectives around systems thinking. I am quite comfortable with that and I did signal it in my last TMA.
One of the things I have been then reflecting on is whether the talk samples are ‘typical’? Or whether that is even a relevant question? The generalisation issue is something that does not belong in my paradigm. From a ‘sampling’ perspective, I have not used the indicative ‘preferred’ sampling for a couple of reasons – partly availability but mainly because of the confidence of the ‘research team’ in having the ‘discovery’ conversations. Eventually, for the full partnership development work, we will do lots of these interviews but the ‘team’ really wanted to develop our confidence with senior managers/leaders that we are more comfortable approaching. In theory, the more approachable MAY be the same people that give ‘talk samples’ with ‘positive’ content. This is one of those ‘compromises’ made by being driven primarily by the ‘helping’ agenda, rather than the ‘research’ agenda (Schein). Again signalled in my last TMA.
So then the question becomes what could make the research ‘useful’? I guess it is to highlight the value of listening to people’s ‘talk’ with an ‘appreciative setting’ that starts with the assumption that they do have systems thinking capabilities – and to listen out for that – rather than to automatically assume they don’t have it at all and ‘need training’. If in doing this research I personally become more ‘tuned’ into that sort of listening and am more aware of what I do when I do that, then that makes it ‘useful’ – and if in writing it up, I do so in a way that develops others’ appreciative settings then that could be ‘useful’ to them too.
So as I have got those mp3 files handed to me by the ‘research team’ members, my first tasks is to organise them and store them safely (including back-ups). The next task is transcription – I am using a piece of free software called F4 Audiotranskription (not a typo, it is german) which has been invaluable as it ‘smooths’ the process between typing and turning the player on and off. This is a time consuming and quite an intense task – so I do it in bursts and then get on with other things.
As I was not there at the time the recordings were made, I’ve quite enjoyed typing each conversation as it unfolds (so do not listen to them first). Here again, though, there is an interesting ‘tension’ between my helping agenda and my research agenda. The ‘helping agenda’ (appreciating partnership working for wellbeing and health) makes me listen out for interesting insights into partnership working practices, what the speaker values about themselves and others – as the conversations are structured to bring those issues to the fore, it is quite easy for me to focus on them and start thinking about how I will be part of feeding that back in the ongoing partnership development work. The ‘research agenda’ is obviously more nuanced, I am looking out for ‘systems thinking’ and views on practices that ‘enable or constrain systems practices’ – these are the things I will be formally ‘coding’ during analysis using sensitising concepts (see recent posts). Sometimes, I get annoyed at myself for focussing on the former, rather than the latter – and tell myself I will have plenty of time to do the former once the latter is out of the way. At times there is a blurry line between ‘partnership practices’ and ‘systems practices’ – I am going to have to be consistent in how I approach that line when I code – increasingly I wonder whether there really is a distinction between them. For example, if someone says that to work with people from another profession you have to value that profession’s tradition, history and language – then that is also an example of a practitioner with awareness of other’s Being.
In between transcribing, I’ve been thinking about the ‘practice’ of analysis – not so much the method – but more a deconstruction of that practice. Recent blogs show how much I have been searching for some concepts and ideas – even the language – to better understand the nature of analysis. That has been an interesting journey of literature reviewing and almost ‘grasping’ for phrases and sentences that describe what I understood that I was going to do.
In some ways, I knew up front that I was taking some ideas and concepts from my Systems studies and using these as a ‘lens’ to view the data and bring forth illustrative examples – what was more frustrating was finding out if this was a “legitimate” way of doing research. The deductive/inductive distinction seemed too strong. ‘Deductive’ felt too associated with positivist research and having a ‘hypothesis’ and with causal questions. Whereas ‘inductive’ seemed to assume that you came to data with nothing at all – which seemed a little odd from a social constructivist sense – but then the whole issue of ‘subjectivity’ or even ‘bias’ also kicks in.
So, now I feel I have homed in on some discussions in the research literature that do help me. Starting with Blumer’s notion of the ‘sensitising concept’, I’ve now found a theme in published materials. Some seem to call it ‘quasi-deductive’, some call it a reinvention of ‘analytic induction’. But in essence you are starting with orienting constructs, which is a deductive model – this seems to be attributed to Miles and Huberman (1994, 22) – the page can be accessed through Google books but as the subsequent page is not available on the preview it is hard to get the full story.
As time has gone on I have also felt more comfortable with the ‘subjectivity’ aspect and was delighted to see this quote:
the subjectivity that originally I had taken as an affliction, something to bear because it could not be foregone, could, to the contrary, be taken as “virtuous.” My subjectivity is the basis for the story that I am able to tell. It is a strength on which I build. It makes me who I am as a person and as a researcher, equipping me with the perspectives and insights that shape all that I do as a researcher, from the selection of topic clear through to the emphases I make in my writing. Seen as virtuous, subjectivity is something to capitalize on rather than to exorcise.
(Glesne & Peshkin, 1992, 104 – cited in Maxwell, 2005, 37)
(I was so struck by this quote that I sourced the now out of print edition of Gresne and Peshkin’s book and bought a ‘used’ copy via Amazon for 9p plus 2.80 p+p – it is on its way. Glesne has gone on by herself to produce a number of newer editions of the same title – the most recent is a lot more expensive!)
Anyway, the Maxwell book also looks really interesting – alas there is no cheap way of getting a copy but the publisher seems to make Chapter 1 and Chapter 3 available by pdf. I wish I’d seen the Chapter 3 stuff at the beginning of my research process – it changes the way I think about the Introduction and Background for my study. I guess I’ll have the opportunity to use it when I do the final project.
So with all the ‘inquiry’ into analysis, I do wonder whether I am spending enough time on my data – there is a much more systematic job to focus on there. Should I ‘just do it’ or should I really understand what I am doing? It is all about praxis, I couldn’t just do it – it didn’t feel theory informed, I didn’t have a language to understand it. But now I think I’ve got to the point when I have a framework of ideas that I can draw on – it’s time to do the practice!