Methods

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I felt that the best way to capture the perceptions of the organisation’s employees on digital was through interviews. My aim was conduct the interviews in such a way as to balance the ability to collect detailed and comparable data with providing a relaxed and conversational atmosphere which I felt was likely to bring out the most detailed responses.

According to Patton’s  (1980) typology of interviews  I took an “interview guide approach” which has the following characteristics:

“Topics and issues to be covered are specified in advance in outline form; interviewer decides sequence and working of questions in the course of the interview.” (1980, quoted in Cohen et al 2007: 353)

Patton outlines that the strengths of this approach over either more of less structured methods is that it “increases the comprehensiveness of data and makes data collection somewhat systematic.” More importantly, the interviews can remain conversational. The weaknesses Patton identifies are that the lack of a stricter format means that important information may be missed out and that the flexibility may make it problematic compare responses.

I felt that I was able to overcome these particular difficulties. In the case of missing out important information, I had ongoing day to day access to the interviewees as part of my professional role so should gaps or glaring inconsistencies appear during the analysis phase I had the opportunity to re-interview. In the end, this situation never arose. In the case of the risk to comparability of data, my intention from the outset was not to pre-define how I would classify responses but to see what common themes emerged from the interviews and be led by the participants in one sense. This did make the analysis of the data complicated and time consuming but in the end was a process that I feel was effective.

Sampling

The sample group for this research was small, just seven individuals. This was also a factor in not selecting a methodology more focussed on statistical analysis as with such a small group it would have been hard to prove significance.

Five of the individuals were selected due to the fact that they had been active in storytelling activities already or had specifically expressed an interest in them. The level of activities undertaken included attending or running workshops on storytelling, digital or otherwise or involvement in other communication channels at Netskills. One of these participants was employed by Netskills’ sister organisation, Jisc infoNet. Despite working under a different management structure this person was involved in many of the same projects as Netskills staff as well as having been an active participant in a training workshop on digital storytelling.

Another two participants were selected from the management team to take part, not because they showed an intention to be involved in storytelling activities but to offer a view of the topic that was more looked at the strategic implications of a digital storytelling approach.

ParticipantRolePrevious experience with storytellingDate interviewed
CFManagement teamParticipated in planning and running storytelling workshop for project teams 21/12/12
KVTraining teamAttended 4 day workshop on digital storytelling Took part in film-making workshop Has created digital stories17/01/13
EPManagement teamNo specific storytelling activity but has been positive during team meetings about the use of storytelling for internal and external communication 23/01/13
BDManagement teamNo specific storytelling activity. Has responsibility for Netskills’ public facing web services such as the website and has responsibility for keeping an overview on all Netskills operational activities30/01/13
TGinfoNet employee and Business and Community Engagement management teamHas attended 4 day workshop on digital storytelling, Participated in planning and running storytelling workshop for project teams 23/01/13
SHBusiness and Community Engagement management teamHas attended a workshop run by the university on storytelling in organisations and has expressed an interest in using storytelling techniques with the projects that this person supports22/01/13
RYTraining teamTaken part in a film-making training programme, has responsibility for much of Netskills communications output through the website.29/01/13

Table 1: Details of participants (initials are not based on real names)

It is possible that bias may have crept into the research on the basis of this selection technique and the size of the sample but for me it was important to include the individuals who had had most involvement in thinking about storytelling within the organisation as they were the ones who were most likely to be affected by any developments in this area.

Conducting the interviews

The interviews took place in a period from the end of December 2012 to the end of January 2013. For convenience they took place at each subject’s place of work but in a private room. Only the participant and I were present. Each interview lasted between 35 and 50 minutes. Audio recordings were taken which was to allow for easier transcription after the interview and to allow me to focus more on actively listening to the participant. I wanted to be able to maintain eye contact as much as possible and felt that intensive note taking would have prevented this as well as proving a distraction for the interviewee. I took sketchy notes throughout each interview but this was to capture key words the interviewee had used allowing me to summarise back to them what they had said to check my understanding.

I rejected the idea of capturing the interviews on video. Video would have allowed me to analyse more closely non-verbal behaviour during the interviews such as body language and facial expression. I declined to use it for two reasons. Firstly I felt it would have significantly affected the atmosphere of the interview. Cohen et al (2007) state that one of the disadvantages of the use of video is that it creates the feeling of surveillance and I was keen to avoid the interviewees feeling self-conscious. Even with an audio recorder this was going to be inevitable to a certain extent but a video camera would have been too intrusive. Secondly, where an analysis of non-verbal behaviour might have yielded richer data it would have been excessive given the scale of the research and that I was trying to take the information given to me at face value.

During the interviews my aim was to keep the momentum going, prevent the interviewee from becoming bored but to avoid directing subjects towards particular answers. To achieve this, as much as possible I tried to:

  • Maintain eye contact, except where taking brief notes
  • Use open questions that left some room for the respondent to interpret the question according to their own viewpoints on the subject
  • Use verbal and non-verbal cues to encourage them to continue or elaborate points
  • Pause at the end of answers, maintaining eye contact, to encourage interviewees to provide more detail or talk about other points.
  • Summarise more detailed answers and to ask “have I understood this correctly” or “can you explain more what you mean by…?”
  • Avoid feeding answers based on my own assumptions about what the interviewees had said or done in the past.

Interview questions

The interview questions were selected to be open-ended enough so that the ranges of experience of the participants could be reflected at the same time as providing a framework for comparable answers. Questions were not always asked in the same order so that a natural conversational flow could be maintained and not all participants were asked all the questions. For example, questions about previous experience working with digital storytelling were not appropriate for the two members of the management team not involved in actual story production or support.

The questions were also selected to provide data that might go some way to answering the original research questions. The research questions are outlined in the introduction but for convenience are replicated here:

  1. What role can narrative and digital storytelling play in an organisational context to assist communication and reflective practice?
  2. What conceptual, technical and ethical considerations are there for an organisation using digital storytelling as part of its practice?
  3. Are there perceived secondary benefits for organisational effectiveness, interpersonal communication for a team that uses digital storytelling
  4. What recommendations emerge from the case study for other organisations looking to follow a similar path?

Outlined below are the approximate wordings of the questions, the research questions they most closely relate to and some explanatory comments.

Question (approximate wording)Research question addressedComments
How would you define storytelling?Establishing contextAlways asked at the start to establish what people’s understanding was of the topic and to identify any important differences in perception from the outset.
What activities have you been involved in so far relating to storytelling?Establishing contextThis question was not relevant for the 2 members of the management team who had been selected to offer a broader perspective.
How relevant and important would an approach to communication based on storytelling be to Netskills1,3Interviewees were reminded of their response to an informal survey conducted by one of the management team at a team strategy meeting some weeks prior to the interview period as a prompt. Several participants had forgotten their exact reasons for these historic responses but the ensuing discussion was still relevant.
How would you rate your own skills and level of comfort with digital storytelling?2Again, interviewees were reminded of their responses to the quick meeting survey mentioned above. Interviewees were prompted to think about their technical and creative skills as well as their levels of comfort if their personal stories were available to a wide audience.
What do you perceive to be the benefits to Netskills or any organisation in using storytelling as a communication tool?1,3Some prompting took place to ask interviewees to think about the benefits to Netskills’ ability to communicate as well as what the secondary benefits might be for working practices within the team.
What do you perceive are the risks or disbenefits?2If required, interviewees were prompted to consider conceptual, technical and ethical considerations. They were encouraged to think about risks regarding external perceptions of the organisation as well as how storytelling might affect the internal dynamics of the team.
What would an organisation like Netskills need to have in place in order for storytelling to be used effectively?2If necessary, interviewees were prompted to think about technical provision as well as more cultural and political aspects of the organisation.

Table 2: Interview questions

In practice, the conversational nature of the interviews meant that responses to some questions were directly relevant to other questions. This has no bearing on the analysis of the data as the findings are not presented according to the questions as they were asked in the interviews. The method for data analysis is described below.

Data analysis

The interviews generated lots of detailed information ranging over numerous topics. A major risk with the research was that, due to my background and influence on Netskills regarding the topic, I would present only the data that fit my particular viewpoint. To guard against this I didn’t pre-classify the data before it was collected, although the choice of questions may have had some bearing on this in practice.

Instead I tried to derive cross-cutting themes about the subject of organisational digital storytelling from the responses of the interviewees. In the end the themes and subthemes emerged after an organic process that combined the interview responses, the review of the literature and the research questions. The themes and subthemes are identified below and the data analysis chapter is subdivided according to these themes.

Theme 1 – Defining storytelling

Structure and content of stories
Identifying the nature of stories
The effect on an audience

Theme 2 – Benefits of a storytelling approach

Enhancing existing activities
Developing a sense of identity (helping others understand us, helping us understand each other)

Theme 3 – Disbenefits and risks of a storytelling approach

Impact on resources
Reputation and vulnerability
Integrity

Theme 4 – Development and change

Current state of skills and abilities in the team
Preferences for learning new skills and approaches

Theme 5 – The organisational context

Questions of culture
Operational issues

There are some instances where data from the interviews did not fit exclusively into one particular subtheme or another so I had to make some arbitrary choices to classify the data but after a few iterations this was the best configuration I could come up with. In any case, minor inconsistencies in the data classification would not have an impact on my ability to answer the research questions.

The final stage of data analysis was to conduct some participant-checking of the data. This was an important step in ensuring my own perceptions about digital storytelling were not obliterating those of the interviewees. After the data analysis was completed I contacted the research participants again and provided them with a document that summarised the themes as outlined above as well as giving a brief textual summary of what the findings were. This document can be found in Appendix 2. I asked the participants to read the document and respond to the following questions:

  1. Do these themes make logical sense to you?
  2. How well do they reflect the overall issues of digital storytelling in Netskills/Infonet as you see them?
  3. Are there any major issues that you remember raising in the interview that don’t fall into any of these themes or subthemes?
  4. Has anything happened since the interviews that means there’s something important I have missed out?

The majority of the responses indicated satisfaction with the analysis and where specific points were raised I have incorporated these into the Data Analysis chapter.

Next page: Ethical considerations

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