Thursday, 28 May 2009

JISC Assembly final Programme

The BRII project will host an Assembly on the 2nd of June. The following is the definite prorgamme.

Date: 9th June
Time: 10:30 – 15:00
Title: Stakeholder buy-in
Venue: Board room, Osney one Building, Osney Mead, Oxford OX2 0EW

* 10:30 Coffee
* 10:50 Introduction – Sally Rumsey, BRII Project Manager
o Roundtable of Presentations and discussions on Stakeholder buy-in.
View from Oxford University – Cecilia Loureiro-Koechlin
View from CAIRO-Roehampton – John King
View from IDMAPS – Newcastle – Sunil Rodgers
View from SLAP - Gloustershire – Stuart McQuaid
User research and user-centric design and how this can engage campus audience – Cambridge, Academic networking – Anne-Sophie de Baets and Oszkar Nagy
How stakeholder engagement works within e-admin of teaching – Cambridge, e-Admin of Teaching – Matthew Jones
* 12:30 Lunch
* 13:30 Presentation by Susannah Wintersgill, Head of Internal Communications, Public Affairs, Oxford University
* 14:15 We form groups to work on “a comparison of methods between participant projects”—> I thought we could use this slot to work on the document we have to send to JISC afterwards. They want a clear outcome coming from each assembly. Our outcome will be written in a report to JISC. If any one can think on a better idea for our Assembly outcome and on how to use this last slot please let me know.
* 15:00 Assembly ends

We are also organizing a Tour to the Bodleian Library at 16:00 which will last 30 mins.

Map to Osney One.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Data Analysis

In my previous post I talked about my initial thoughts on the data I am collecting from my interviews. That was an exercise to warm my brain up to start thinking on qualitative data analysis, categorisation and coding of data. In this post I would like to briefly explain the methodology I am using to analyse that data. Be careful... this post has a bit of theory on methodology, but I'll try to keep it simple.

To start I have to say that I have been contacting administrative and academic staff from around the University. (You can see a classification of interviewees in my previous post.) I have done this by using the contact details other people I have previously met gave me. So for example if I interviewed Dr. X and he suggested I could contact Professor M, I will then contact Professor M via email, and say Dr X gave me your name and suggested I could talk to you... This has helped me a bit with getting a bit of trust and credibility from potential interviewees. It has also helped me with making sure I am meeting with the right people.

I have had interviews as short as 20 minutes and as long as 1:45hr. I have recorded all of them except one telephone conversation I had with a divisional research administrator. I was on the phone with him for 1hr! Interviews have been mostly semi-structured/unstructured. I took a flexible approach to account for Oxford's heterogeneity. I would always start with the same questions (I would ask them to tell me about their jobs) and then I would choose questions depending on their answers. However I always tried to keep my questions mainly in these three areas:
  1. Questions related to the creation and management of Research Management/Activity data.
  2. Questions related to the use of Research Management/Activity data (perhaps from other sources.)
  3. Questions related to issues and future uses of Research Management/Activity data.
Some of my respondents were able to cover these three areas some only one or two. This depended of course on their roles and experience.

Next step was to transcribe those interviews into Word documents. I've been doing that on the train. Surprisingly this is the perfect place for me to do such a boring and tedious task. So 1hr each way and I am able to transcribe possibly 30 to 45 minutes. (If you are transcribing audiofiles and dreading it, try doing it on the train.) I haven't done an exhaustive verbatim transcription but tried to capture all the ideas covered in every interview. Now I have enough material to start doing the analysis.

As I have carried out interviews, my data are qualitative, i.e., texts containing my interviewees’ ideas. The aim of qualitative data analysis is to abstract those ideas into one cohesive set of statements which could stand for similar pieces of data i. This is not a statistical generalization but an interpretive one ii. The way this works is by organising segments of text according to categories of data, or data codes. I then will go through an iterative process of rephrasing and writing summaries of all of the ideas contained in each category. At doing this I am abstracting the ideas from their original contexts (e.g. the interviews or the interviewees’ jobs) and assigning them new contexts, the one of their categories. Selecting categories is not a science but a kind of art. They depend on the way the researcher interprets the data, and they need constant reading and re-reading of the texts, to make sure categories and analysis reflect the phenomenon under study. The end result of the analysis will help me to draw specific implications, like for example the relationship between BRII stakeholders and the Research Information Infrastructure, characteristics of data needed, uses of research activity data, ways of accessing and viewing information which are most useful for different roles in Oxford, etc.

Anyway, having explained the (sort of) theory behind the analysis process, I will finish this post by explaining the first set of categories that have emerged from my data so far:
  • Perspectives on Research Management data/Research Activity data, what people think about its importance, benefits, relevance to their work, accessibility, visibility, and its management. This is also about the kinds of activities that they perform that involve this kind of data.
  • Research activities, what are the actual processes connected to research activities, types of activities, types of groups, etc, how are they reflected in data?
  • Content of Data/Sources of data – what "objects" are these data describing? (this category will also describe data contributors.) Other issues such as management, quality of content, difficulties at gathering data, difficulties at putting together a website, what is sensitive data, etc
  • Types of Stakeholders, descriptions of departments, functions, people’s roles and their activities
  • Notes for development - anything relevant for the design of the infrastructure or the web services, including my own thoughts.
To give you an idea of the kind of data I got, here you have an extract from an interview with someone from the Medical Sciences division. I have initially classified this text under Research Activities.

"Themes have no money (they are different from institutes and centres) Themes are purely a way of helping to sell their research in a way, showing where their strengths are in this university. A theme is a way to classify people. Themes are also a way of quantifying what they do."

i Tesch, R., (1990), Qualitative Research: analysis types and software tools, New York, The Farmer Press.
ii Walsham, G., (1995), 'Interpretive case studies in IS research: nature and method', European Journal of Information Systems, 4, no.2

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Comparing perspectives on Research Activity data

As I progress on my data collection for the BRII project I feel the need to share my thoughts about the people I have met and the information I got from them. So far I have done 16 interviews across the University and I have scheduled a few more for the next few weeks. I could classify my interviewees in four groups:
  • The administratives - these are departmental administrators or heads of administration
  • The academics - PI's (principal investigators) or researchers doing investigations in research projects or research groups
  • The research facilitators - I think they lie between the academics and the administratives. They provide administrative and management support to facilitate research developments and initiatives. However to be able to do that they should have extensive knowledge and expertise in the research field they are working on.
  • The others - (no, this is not the movie. I have not come up with a name for this group yet. At the moment it gathers staff who do not belong to any of the three groups above.) Within this group there are people whose work is perhaps tangential to research activities. So for example the Information-Press Office who publish news about research projects or new discoveries among other University activities. Or project teams working on other information systems initiatives which may have an overlap with BRII.
These groups' perspectives on research management data in general and research activity data in particular vary and I could classify them in many ways. The following is just an exercise at trying to organise all their views.

The first thing that comes to my mind when I think of the data I have collected is that there are broad and narrow perspectives. They depend on where the staff are standing in relation to the actual research activities.

Broad perspectives come from staff whose jobs involve overseeing more than one set of research activities, so research activities within a department or group or perhaps the whole University. These staff are or would like to be standing high above so they can see everything that is going on, but at a distance. They would like to have an idea of what is there, overall topics of research, some highlights and statistics. Their interests are not limited to one discipline. Quite the opposite. The purpose of standing above is to be able to find links between different areas, to identify similarities, patterns and trends. This could lead them to identify potential collaborations, research gaps, strengths and weaknesses. A good example of someone having a broad perspective is Dr Heather Bell director of Oxford's International Strategy. She told me her work involves gathering information about research activities from around the University. The aim is to improve the visibility of Oxford including its research. So for example if the Chinese Ambassador is visiting the University, she would prepare a brochure with all information related to research about China, collaborations with Chinese scholars and institutions, etc. She said she is not interested in specific details and perfect accuracy but on information that provides an idea of what is going on in the University.

Another person I met whose work involves overseeing a large number of research activities is Dr Liesl Osman. She is a grant advisor at NDM. She told me that one of her responsibilities was the identification of weak areas of research like the ones for which the department does not get much funding, research gaps where there is little interest or skills in their staff and the matching of the department's research strategy with their PIs interests. In some cases Liesl generates statistics that can help her with identifying the above. NDM currently have more than 1000 research projects running. I guess they also have archives with information about many more thousands of projects that have finished. All that information is useful for Liesl to learn from past experiences and to identify better ways of dealing with new grant applications.

Narrow perspectives come mainly from academic staff who are directly involved in one or more research activities and who are interested mainly in one research field or discipline. Staff belonging to this category usually have an established network of contacts and a preferred means to obtaining information about research in their areas. These means are usually publications or databases. In general I have seen little interest in being able to access information from other disciplines. Information from other areas that would be relevant for them would also appear in academic publications. Academic publications are trusted and valid sources of information for academics. If someone has written about a link between physiology and parallel programming then that is something that has been proved (as it has been peer reviewed) and worth following. However I think that academics would welcome any tool that would help them to identify publications and their writers in less time. They will definitely put that information under scrutiny and therefore would need as much detail and context as possible. This is information that perhaps needs to be very specialised to every field of expertise and will need to connect to other sources which are related to that subject or to that research activity. The more information about specific activities we can provide the closer and more involved they would be/feel. Being closer to information about specific research activities would help staff to indentify experts, and networks of researchers in their fields. Also to know about the details of individual efforts. The purpose would be to aid individuals in their research careers.

These two perspectives entail different needs, as I explained above. However I also envisage a third area of need. It is the ability to cross over both perspectives. So going from detail to an overview and vice versa. Some academics would be interested in this. One example could be an academic looking for an expert in a specific area. But that area is not very well known by the academic. So s/he has to first get an overview of that area and identify where he could have a closer look. Once he is able to identify the specific area of expertise he would be able to get a list of experts.

What are the implications for the Research Information Infrastructure (RII)?
Obviously I need to work more on analysing my data. I am just starting. However from the top of my head I see the RII having the power to aggregate and disaggregate data (as it will be seen by its users.) A sort of zoom in - zoom out tool. I talked to Monica, our developer, and she said she liked this idea. So hopefully she will be able to develop it.

Additionally the RII will hold information about different dimensions of research activity objects. Web services accessing that information should be able to move from one dimension to the other so to speak. So for example we could create different views - for the different groups I described at the beginning of this post - of the same set of projects. The RII users should be able to move from one dimension to the other depending on their needs. I think that very few people would be interested in obtaining all information related to one research activity in one screenshot. Most of them would be interested in only one dimension which is relevant to them. One way of understanding this would be to see research activity objects as multidimensional cubes. So when you have access to the cube you can only see one face at a time. However accessing the other sides should be a matter of one click.

Friday, 8 May 2009

BRII Assembly

BRII is organising an Assembly on the 9th of June 2009. Project Teams belonging to the JISC Phase 2 Institutional Innovation are invited.

The theme for the Assembly will be Stakeholder buy-in, and the proposed agenda is as follows:

• 10:30 Coffee
• 11:00 Introduction – Sally Rumsey, BRII Project Manager
o Roundtable of Presentations and discussions on Stakeholder buy-in.
View from University of Oxford – Cecilia Loureiro-Koechlin
View from CAIRO-Roehampton – John King
View from IDMAPS – Newcastle – Sunil Rodgers
View from SLAP - Gloucestershire - Stuart McQuaid
Other delegates present their views (10 to 15 minutes each)
• 12:30 Lunch
• 13:30 Presentation by Susannah Wintersgill, Head of Internal Communications, Public Affairs, University of Oxford
• 14:15 We form groups to work on a comparison of methods between participant projects
• 15:00 Assembly ends

Venue: Isis room, Osney One, Osney Mead, OX2 0EW

We are also organizing a Tour to the Bodleian Library at 16:00 which will last 30 mins.

Please note that the agenda is not definite yet and it is subject to amendments.

If you wish to attend please contact me at:
T: 01865 280028