Summer School on Doing and Communicating Qualitative Research

Mid July, Diane Golay and Christiane Grünloh attended the summer school on “Doing and Communicating Qualitative Research” at Kingston University in London. This summer school has been offered already before and the main organisers are Evanthia Lyons and Adrian Coyle, authors of Analysing Qualitative Data in Psychology (Sage).

The summer school offered various workshops per day, from which the participants could choose. The workshops attended by Diane (DG) and Christiane (CG) were:

  • Principles and Practicalities of Qualitative Research (DG)
  • Doing Thematic Analysis (DG)
  • Doing Interpreative Phenomenological Analysis (CG)
  • Doing Narrative Analysis (CG)
  • Qualitative Interviewing: Individual Interviews – Focus Groups and Beyond (DG & CG)
  • Keys to Publication: Writing Qualitative Research (DG & CG)

The participants were quite active on Twitter during the week, using the hashtag #KUQRSS (Kingston University Qualitative Research Summer School).

Keynotes

Celia Kitzinger gave an inspiring keynote on “Making a difference with qualitative research”. Her current focus is on “exploring the cultural, ethical, legal and social dimensions of coma, the vegetative state and the minimally conscious state”, which you can learn more about on their website.

Reflecting on research and the “impact” we want it to have, one might wonder: How do you make a difference when you only have a small sample? Celia shared an example from her research, which was really powerful. They had interviewed relatives from patients in a vegative / minimally conscious state. Afterwards they gave them postcards, on which the interviewees could share something that they wanted the doctors and lawmakers to know. These postcards were then later made into an exhibition that doctors and lawmakers attended. Pictures from, for example, one doctor reading the postcards in that exhibition were then shown to the relatives. For these relatives, it made a big difference that the doctors had read their postcards. This showed us that with relatively low-key and simple tools, it is possible to make an impact – make people’s voices heard and establish a communication between groups of people that otherwise do not come into contact with each other (like for example in that case, lawmakers and patients’ relatives). Inspiring!

Celia had scheduled some tweets that were published on Twitter during her keynote, for instance this one:

Dariusz Galasiński gave a keynote on “Qualitative discourse analysis and psychology: Extending the possibilities”. As a linguist he shared interesting experiences, for instance, from an study on questionnaires. They used the “Think aloud” method while participants completed a questionnaire, because they were interested in how people interact / cope with questionnaires, their construction of their choice, and what did people say about the choice they were making. This was really interesting, as some of the questionnaires put a number to an emotion. He gave “despair” as an example and that you cannot have “little” despair, because being despaired is always “big”. A participant said, that he felt not despaired, but a little bit weak, so “let’s put a little 2”.

He also presented some very interesting findings from his research on men’s suicide notes, which led him (with some help from his daughter) to define the concept of “long suicide”. (He made this research into a book, which was recently published.)

Workshops

The workshops proved to be extremely helpful and relevant for our research. They provided theoretical background which we could then apply in hands-on exercises. We got many practical advice during the week, which are also relevant for experienced researchers. For example, in the workshop on IPA (Interpreative Phenomenological Analysis), it was recommended to conduct the first 2-3 interviews, transcribe them and then have a supervision and discussion with someone. The supervision focuses then on questions like: Do they really talk about things that you want them to talk about? It was also said that sometimes you notice small things; for example that you ask a lot of closed questions. The lecturer was then asked, if this supervision is also needed if the researchers is very experienced. Yes indeed, as it is unlikely that they have worked with these population group or asked these interview questions before.

The hands-on workshop on interviewing, already mentioned in a previous post, was definitely a highlight. It covered all the most significant aspects of designing an interview schedule and actually conducting an interview. At some point during this second phase, Diane was given the opportunity to put herself in the shoes of the interviewer for a while, and received valuable feedback on how to improve her interviewing skills. A very instructive experience!

Consultation Clinics

Every day, we had the opportunity to attend a consultation clinic – an hour of discussion in a small group with an experienced qualitative research, during which we could ask questions related to our own projects. This was an excellent opportunity for us to get expert advice on our current and even future research endeavours. Getting a fresh perspective on our projects, from people who did not belong to the same field as we did, was extremely interesting. It led to very constructive and creative discussions – so much so that the time always seemed too short, even after a whole day of active mental work!

We found the consultation clinics so helpful that we made use of them even on days where we did not have a particular question ourselves, because it was very valuable for us to get the opportunity to learn from the projects of others and the recommendations they received.

Visit at Hampton Court

On the last day, we visited Hampton Court Palace, which you can see on the picture accompanying this post. We were a surprisingly small group visiting, but we very much enjoyed both the visit and the company!

We wholeheartly thank the organisers – especially Prof. Adrian Coyle – for this fantastic week and highly recommend this summer school to everyone interested in qualitative research!

La la Ladok

Our research group has a long tradition of doing action research. Action
Research has been defined as having dual aims, research as well as involvement. The latter implies things happening, action, change–a bit like agile development if you wish. At the same time, this is relative to scale. In a small project, things are happening fast and various actions by practitioner and researcher alike have direct consequences. In large projects, this is not always so. In retrospect it will be easier to see the change and trace a trajectory. In real time, especially in the periphery of a large project, it can be hard to experience any action.

One of ongoing action research projects we are following the local preparations for a major new system implementation. Deadlines have been pushed forward on numerous occasions–by years.

The system in question is the nationwide Swedish Student Information System (SIS) – better known by the name Ladok. The system holds all student records for students in Swedish higher education and is critical from a legal perspective but it is also the backbone for most other student related ICT as it is used to generate directory information that is used by learning management systems (LMS), campus cards etc. The system is long overdue for an upgrade and a completely new version is just in its early phase of implementation. This is a 50 million Euro project with an estimated user base of 400 000 students and 50 000 staff in higher education.

We have been following the local preparations at one university, rather than the development as such. The collaboration has included activities such as:

  • coaching,
  • seminars,
  • participation in information efforts and
  • surveys.

The major effort though, were the vision seminars that were conducted with students and staff (users that is) in order to establish high level goals. Thus, our focus has been on local preparations for a huge change in work processes that the new system will require.

While the constraints and uncertainties can be at times frustrating this is also the reality behind many large system implementations. In the next few posts we will further discuss some of our experiences from the project – so far.