Next stage: Analysing the data

OK, the interviews are in the can. 7 in all, and I’m really grateful to my colleaugues for participating.

I’ve taken detailed notes from each one, not quite full transcripts but enough for me to have an accurate, unvarnished written record of what was said. I’ve put timecodes at certain points so I know where to look in each audio file to get a direct quote should I need one.

I’m really pleased with the depth and variety of responses I got from my participants. Each interview was slightly different from the previous. This was down mainly to each person having a different set of experiences (so an equal emphasis on the questions wouldn’t have been appropriate) and that I let the conversations flow as much as I could. The wording of my questions was slightly different for each person as well but my initial take is that I managed to get comparable answers from everyone.

The next task is to identify the main themes. Guy’s advice was to start by creating a long list of possible themes and then progressively narrowing down to the definitive list.

I’m going to create a matrix with 5 main topic areas;

  • Nature of storytelling
  • Benefits within an organisation
  • Disbenefits
  • Team and personal development
  • Organisational conditions

…then cut and paste the relevant responses from each of the participants. I may even do this using paper, scissors and glue. There’s going to be a lot of info and a laptop screen may not be enough.

Straight out of the blocks, the thing which has interested me most about the responses was the lack of emphasis on technical skills and technologies. People mostly talked about storytelling and a great deal of that was about the organisational culture needing to be one that encourages openness. There’s an inherent vulnerability to being a storyteller and the conditions have to be right for that to these approaches to flourish it seems.

Gathering data – some thoughts

I experimented on Will before Christmas by trialling my first stage interview questions on him. I felt it went well and Will’s responses will be very valuable when seen alongside my other research subjects.

I don’t want to post too much about the interviews here in case I influence the other participants.

These interviews won’t generate sufficient data by themsleves and I’m struggling to think how best to capture other aspects. This is one of my main aras of concern to take to Guy next time I speak to him.

How do I fit in? I’m part of the case study as well but do I need to answer my own questions? Does that risk me skewing the data? I’ve undertaken quite a lot of work in the form of presentations, workshops, blog posts and so on but I’m not sure how to represent that in the case study.

All being well, over the course of the study we will have produced our own digital stories. I want to include these but will also need to capture reflection from the people that have produced them as well as the rest of the peer group.

For the 2nd stage interviews I was considering doing a workshop to try and capture individual experiences but also some of the group dialogue. We have been learing about participatory approaches to workshops recently and it would be good to put some fo those into practice. This will allow participants to visualise a lot of their experiences, mapping their journeys. This will have to be done carefully to make sure that sufficient data is captured on the day (I’ll need to employ an observer/note taker) as well as giving participants a chance to explain and interpret in their own words what they have come up with.

The more I think about it the more nervous I get that time is ticking away. I want to get my initial round of interviews wrapped up in the next 2 weeks or so so I can start transcribing and coding the data and then planning the next stages.

Methodological Assumptions

Some initial thoughts about my research standpoint, based on Burrell and Morgan’s scheme for analysing assumptions about the nature of social science (1979, cited in Cohen et al (2007, p9))…

I don’t view the answers to my research questions existing in an objective form, independent of the actors involved. I’m dealing with story, something that is intrinsically subjective and human. The effectiveness of a story comes from its affectiveness; the emotional reponse that is created through narrative. Someone will respond to a story in one of a myriad ways, influenced by all sorts of psychological and sociological factors that are impossible to untangle.

There might be empirical studies into the physiological response to narrative but I don’t anticipate that they would be helpful in this context. Certainly the literature I’ve been reading doesn’t dwell on the scientific side of things.

So I take a strongly nominalist viewpoint.

As I’m assuming that knowledge is something “personal, subjective and unique” (Cohen et al, 2007 p7). To uncover people’s responses to stories and their attitudes towards them will mean me getting directly involved with the subjects. I won’t be able to gather data remotely or in a  way that avoids participation in some way. Exactly how, I’m not sure yet.

This is an anti-positivist approach.

People react differently to stories, as mentioned earlier. I’m working off the assumption that there is an unpredictable element to the use of story, no magic formula that will guarantee an automatic response in the audience. This doesn’t mean that you can’t make choices that influence how someone responds. Stories are cultural artefacts so involve aspects that will be recognisable to both creator and listener. The guidance I hope to provide in the project that this dissertation is linked to will be based on consciously using those aspects of story to achieve the desired effects.

My understanding of human nature is Voluntarist.

Lastly, this seems to call for an idiographic methodology. There will be a strong qualitative aspect to the research. My feeling is that although there may be some quantitative metrics that I could look at I would have to make some pretty large assumptions about a scientific basis for them. To give a simplistic example, I could look at the number of views a digital story posted on YouTube receives but I’m not sure I could use this to say there is a direct causal link between the way the elements of the story were compiled and its popularity. 

Notes of Caution

I don’t want to completely dismiss any notion of quantitative research method based on these assumptions. It may be that there will be useful quantitative data that I can use to help tell my story, I’m just not quite at the stage of deciding what that might look like yet.

Another warning bell going off is that it’s nice to have some big words to attach to my methodological approach, that doesn’t necessarily make them right. It feels right but that might be my own broader worldview and personal style at play. I need to keep this under scrutiny and reassess as I go. I’ve not addressed them critically yet. That’s my next step.

My colleague Will has been encouraging me to see this dissertation as telling a story. In this post I’ve talked about how project teams will be telling stories, but I’m part of that process too. This story will be “personal, subjective and unique” and that’s not something that I want to shy away from. But as I was saying to Will this evening, I don’t want to use that as an excuse for producing a piece of work that is ill-defined and full of woolly thinking!

Next steps

Read on to continue to critically examine these aspects of methodology and choose methods that will help me with the research.

Cohen L, Manion L & Morrson, K (2007) Research Methods in Education (6th edition), Routledge, Oxford.