The format was similar to the first, with a combination of presentations about different innovative and unusual research methods people might want to explore, short delegate presentations about their own research projects, and a research ‘practicality’ – this time, about research and policy (which is particularly relevant to the aims of my own research!)
Again, I don’t want to duplicate content that will be provided on the LIS Research site itself, so I’ll just cover the sessions and information that I found the most useful and pertinent to my own work, which now that I’m three weeks back into being a student, I feel far more able to absorb and apply in a meaningful way than I did back in October.
I think first it’s important to mention what is quite possibly the greatest librarian t-shirt I’ve ever seen. Nice work Michael.
Anyway. Onto Conference Report Proper…
The first thing that really struck a chord with me was the minute-long presentation given by research student Ella Taylor-Smith as part of the Unconference Half Hour. Her topic is e-participation. She’s conducting case studies using ethnography and discourse analysis and applying resource mobilisation theory to develop hypotheses about social movements, which she’ll then use to build technology pilots to test the ideas she’s developed, to see if they’re pointing in the right direction. (Phew, that’s a lot of concepts I’d never come across before…I hope I made them make sense…!)
Ella and I had a chat during lunch and she was kind enough to tweet me some recommended reading afterwards:
- Klandermans, B. and Staggenborg, S. eds., 2002. Methods of Social Movement Research. University of Minnesota Press.
- Flyvbjer, B. (2006). ‘Five Misunderstandings About Case-Study Research‘. Qualitative Inquiry, 12 (2), 219-45.
I gave a short presentation about my research topic too:
You can watch the video of the session below:
Another session I found really interesting and potentially relevant to my research topic was Professor Mike Thelwall’s Introduction to Webometrics. It covered a few different techniques and he explained how they could be applied to LIS, including using altmetrics instead of/as well as traditional citation index searching, for a number of reasons, including the fact that results can be up to two years more up to date. Initially I didn’t quite understand why this kind of search would be useful, and tweeted that I wondered if it was a more in-depth equivalent of googling yourself, but Professor Hazel Hall explained that this it’s a way of discovering how much impact your work is having, which is important if you’re under pressure to demonstrate your impact for funding or promotion, for example.
Mike also talked about the uses of sentiment analysis and how computational linguistics can be used to explore aspects of online communication. This was really interesting and far more complex than I can do justice, so I’d recommend having a look at the presentation and exploring it for yourself if you’re interested! I think I’ll dig a bit deeper into it in case my methodology does involve analysing online political discussion, but one problem with the method that Mike raised was that exchanges and discussions of a political nature can be problematic to effectively analyse because computers aren’t great at picking up on sarcasm!
The final session of the day was Professor Nick Moore’s presentation Making the Bullets for Others to Fire, which looked at how research can inform policy. He gave a really thorough account of his experiences within the Policy Studies Institute, and great advice about how to understand information policy, not getting too positive too early on, responding to comments and criticism, and planning what you want your research to achieve from the start. It was reassuring to find that the way Nick presented his Information Policy Matrix and described how information is socially important (to understand policies, how to vote and participate) fit in with the way my reading is taking me at the moment. I need to go away and explore the potential ‘gap in the matrix’ in the ‘information and society’ / ‘legislative and regulatory’ box.
Nick raised some really important issues for planning research, including the importance of seeking to inform future policy rather than looking back at policies of the past, and being aware of political agendas in research projects that have been set up by other people/organisations. He also provided a perfect, but difficult to achieve, sign of success:
Express your research aim in one, clear, unambiguous sentence.
Challenge accepted! I might be some time…
The general lessons were these:
- Critical comment is really important and researchers mustn’t be afraid to do it. There’s no point doing the work if you don’t express your views and provide critical comment. This can be a scary prospect, but in Britain we’re lucky because we have a big enough mass to enable critical comment to be heard. We’re not as huge as the US, for example, so aren’t invisible. We’re also big enough, however, to not damage our entire career by being openly critical in our research findings and publicising them.
- Interest and passion are essential, especially if you want to inform policy. You have to be able to keep going, because it’s not a short term thing and takes time! You need the motivation to keep powering on.
- You need to be able to try to work out what is the next big issue and what will be important in 2, 5, 10 years time. Consider what small issues haven’t yet been addressed.
- However, it’s important that you don’t get too far ahead of the curve and find that nobody’s ready to look at the work you’re doing.
- It’s important to consider role of universities – you need to be in a department that has a reputation and is geared up to informing policy if you want to do that yourself.
- You need to be able to retain your independence in order to be listened to.
- Focus and specialise - pick your area of specialism and become a real expert
- Carry others with you – make use of professional and academic networks
- Pick your allies and find ways of working with them
- Don’t look too far ahead – elected politicians seldom look beyond the next election