13:51 11/06/2004 Mathemagenic: Mathemagenic
on personal productivity in knowledge-intensive environments, weblog research, knowledge management, PhD, serendipity and lack of work-life balance...


  Tuesday, July 31, 2007

  Making methodological choices

Was going through all kinds of drafts for my PhD and thought that I should blog this piece. This is from a version of PhD outline (research questions, approach, etc.) dated 14 April 2006. It's not going to end up in the dissertation in the current form, so I thought of publishing it - as an easy to find reminder from where I'm coming and as an example of how blogging got me into "write at least something if you can't write a proper academic text" in communication with my advisers :)

Slightly edited for the web and to make it readable out of context.

In this section I'd like to describe the factors that shape my choices regarding research questions, methodology and methods. Some of them are based on the existing research, but many come from my personal blogging experiences, personal preferences and existential beliefs about research (I expect that in the dissertation some of these will be more directly connected with the literature overview, while others will find some space in the discussion of the research paradigm, methodology and methods). However, I feel that it's important to articulate them before I go into the specifics.

Practical value. For me it's important to make sure that my research has an impact on practice. Developing a better understanding of knowledge worker blogging practices could contribute to it in several ways:

  • facilitating reflection of bloggers in figuring out other/better uses of weblogs and improving their own knowledge habits
  • supporting any corporate stakeholders (for example, those responsible for KM initiatives) in decision-making around uses of weblogs by better understanding personal perspectives of people who blog
  • supporting technology designers by describing patterns of (often unforeseen) uses of weblog technologies

To put this in a perspective: I see the results of my PhD as an important contribution on a way to productive uses of weblogs in knowledge-intensive settings. To do so there is a need to cross the chasm between early adopters and pragmatic majority (Moore, 1991), which is mainly done by articulating down-to-earth personal reasons to use weblogs and making sure weblog technology, as well as social and organisational practices around it are mature enough to fit in without too much hassle (in this respect I also draw on the literature on diffusion on innovation in educational domain, e.g. Rogers, 1995; Dormant, 1997).

It may look that I'm less concerned with the scientific/theory contribution of my PhD. It's partly true, but partly comes from my belief that describing new phenomenon from an angle not well covered in the literature in a scientifically sound way makes a good PhD contribution.

I know that there is a lot of work and learning still ahead of me to make it a sound scientific contribution, but I have to admit that it's an opportunity to impact practice that keep me working on it (for more extended discussion see On the role of theory, researcher accountability and translation).

Actor-perspective and crossing (multidisciplinary) boundaries. I believe that for both, knowledge work and weblogs, actor-perspective is important (and often neglected) view on the phenomenon. For me this research is about intersection of different contexts and activities of a person (knowledge worker who blogs). This often means crossing boundaries between private and public, between passion and work-paid-for, between multiple personal knowledge management activities (e.g. organising ideas and managing relations with others), between multiple audiences who read a weblog...

It creates extra complexity and often unmanageable (especially given the multiple disciplines that say something relevant), but it's also where I believe the most contributions will lay. This belief comes from several perspectives:

  • the value of weblogs is probably about crossing boundaries and many specifics of weblog uses are not explained by one specific context/domain;
  • thinking about possible improvements of weblog uses I'd like to aim at synergies rather than focusing on suboptimal optimisation;
  • I read too much literature indicating that innovation happens on the edges :)

Given that I perceive my main challenge in this respect is to keep multidisciplinary perspective, while doing sound research within a manageable time frame.

Exploratory and reflective research. In my PhD I choose to do exploratory and reflective research. Partly due to my personal preferences to do so, but mainly due to the nature of the phenomenon I'm studying: complex, emerging and often invisible.

It's a complex domain blogging practices are shaped by a number of interacting factors, for example specifics of weblog tools used, personal preferences and working routines, social and organisational contexts. Weblog technologies and practices around them are still changing. In this case cause and effect relations are difficult to identify and predict; often they become obvious only in retrospect (retrospective coherence of Kurtz & Snowden (2003)). Methodologically I'm still working on finding a good way to explore emerging patterns and to identify forces that shape them.

There are also many invisible aspects of the domain: implicit knowledge worker needs, not accounted for knowledge processes, invisible blogging activities, hidden subculture-specific values, uses of weblogs discovered only by those who blog... In case of this research reflexivity (of the participants) is a way to tap into invisible (see Simons & Ruijters (2001) for an example in a context of implicit learning), but also as an additional quality check though reflexivity of the researcher.

Participatory research. In my case participatory research means two things: relying on my personal experiences as a blogger and frequent interaction with others, involving them as co-researchers.

Personal involvement is explained in a number of ways. First, treating my personal blogging practices as an additional data source provides me with a valuable input on invisible aspects of blogging, serves as a faster way of learning about blogging at work than any published research and give a starting point to many questions once I observe different "blogging behaviours" of other bloggers. Second, it gives me an identity between other bloggers and facilitates any engagement required for the research. Finally, it influences the way I collect, organise, analyse the data and present the results. It wasn't intended so, but at the certain moment reflecting on the way I do research I realised how much my personal experience and involvement influences and enriches my findings (see Researching blogs and blogging research: synergies of colliding worlds and Not documenting, doing: blogging as research for more details).

Involving others can't be avoided if you blog as a researcher: blogging is participation and co-constructing the practice (see Mortensen (2003) for similar discussion of her research through active participation in an online game). This involvement could be avoided by choosing to study a group of bloggers distant from myself. In fact, in two cases the distances between myself and bloggers I study are different: in one of them I made an effort to influence less, while in the other I embraced the participatory nature of it, learning about practices through participation.

Research paradigm. The choices above, while still implicit, were/are the main explanation behind my "stubbornness" in making specific choices on research questions, methods and ways to ensure and evaluate the quality of my research: I has been resisting suggestions that wouldn't fit my implicitly chosen* research paradigm. It's only now I start to articulate and position it - somewhere in between constructivist and participatory qualitative research according to Guba & Lincoln (2005)), but I'm still in the process.

*I suspect that I "evolved" into it rather han made a choice. The traces of many points above appear in my weblog as early as October 2002, as evident from links in Stellingen I wrote in December 2004 by selecting quotes from others that explain my research attitudes.


Dormant, D. (1997). Planning change: past, present, future. In R.Kaufman, S. Thiagarajan, & P. MacGillis (Eds.), The guidebook for performance improvement: Working with individuals and organizations. San Francisco: Pfeiffer.

Guba, E. G. & Lincoln, Y. S. (2005). Paradigmatic controversies, contradictions, and emerging confluences. In N.K.Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), The SAGE handbook of qualitative research (3rd ed., pp. 191-216). SAGE Publications.

Kurtz, C. & Snowden, D. (2003). The new dynamics of strategy: Sense-making in a complex-complicated world. IBM Systems Journal, 42, 462-483.

Moore, G. (1991). Crossing the chasm. HarperBusiness.

Mortensen, T. (2003). Reflexivity and participation in Online Games. In: Pleasures of the player: Flow and control in online games (pp. 69-93). Doctoral Dissertation, Volda College and University of Bergen.

Rogers, E. M. (1995). Diffusion of innovations. (4 ed.) New York: The Free Press.

Simons, P. R. J. & Ruijters, M. C. P. (2001). Work-related learning: elaborate, extend, and externalise. In W.J.Nijhof & L. F. M. Nieuwenhuis (Eds.), The dynamics of VET and HRD systems (pp. 101-114). Enschede: Twente University press.

More on: methodology PhD 

  Tuesday, July 24, 2007

  Difficult choices

In a brief moment when I'm online during my holiday I find an email invitation to an event in the US where I'd love to be. Since it's out of question that he can join me this time, Robert decribes my choices clearly: "you either go with Alexander or with your breastpump". Or, I add in my head, I don't go.

After events I did with Alexander I'm pretty sure I don't want to drag him along - intercontinental flight, jetlag and no Robert around will make any participation difficult. Travelling with a breastpump is annoying, but doable, but it's not only milk that I'll be taking away - Alexander is still too little and needs mama around.

So, it's the third one - I don't go...

More on: parenting 

  Wednesday, July 04, 2007


Almost packed. Almost ready. Flying tomorrow. Happy to switch off.

  Tuesday, July 03, 2007

  Links on unconferences

We are talking about "Reboot and other unconferences" at work, so I have been collecting all kinds of relevant links (more at del.icio.us/mathemagenic/unconferences):

An Open-Source Conference: BarCamp by Anders Ramsay - for an impressionistic overview. Also, on "why?":

More than just an alternative model for facilitating a rich exchange of ideas, BarCamp seems to represent a generational break from conventional professional gatherings. They usually take a year or so to plan, cost tens of thousands of dollars to execute, often have some corporate backing, and are mostly planned over email. In contrast, the first BarCamp was put together in about six days, mostly via instant messaging, SMS, and ad-hoc wikis, for a cost of about $1,500, which is less than the price of a single ticket to some of the more high-end tech conferences. Stripped away are the constructs adopted by major conferences from academia, such as keynotes, posters, formal calls for papers, and peer reviews. Gone too is the presenter/attendee divide, where those not giving talks too often are passive spectators, except maybe for the occasional end-of-talk Q&A.


The informal feel of the event also makes people less concerned about presenting fully developed ideas, instead, increasing the comfort-level of throwing out off-the-wall ideas just to see what the response is. And by the same virtue, an audience who, in a more formal setting, might politely listen quietly to a not-so-great presentation, is more comfortable speaking up, maybe even turning the presentation into a workshop to see how a bad idea can be turned into a good one.

Conference vs. Unconference by David Gammel - summarising the alternatives


There is definitely more :)

More on: unconferences 

  Late at night

It's dark and quiet - only clicking of the keyboard. My two favourite men are asleep and I'm typing. I can easily picture myself like that - in a few months - working on the finishing touches of my dissertation.

Still a few months to go - I'd better get some sleep before the little man wakes up :)

More on: life PhD writing 

  Monday, July 02, 2007

  Finding confidence

Between PhDs at work we have a saying, quoting our former director, professor Chris Vissers: "PhD is about developing your judgment". It even part of our family jokes, since Robert and me got into dating just after his PhD party (so, after a couple of years working next door to my office he finally had his judgment right :)

I always felt Chris was right, but over last month I had an opportunity to experience it.

Over last couple of years I'd frequently fall into "low dips of the PhD research" loosing motivation, believe in my topic, confidence that what I want to do with my PhD research would actually be accepted methodology-wise...

My post about a year ago is pretty much about it:

Today, discussing some of my methodological struggles with a visiting professor I've heard once again "if you believe it should be like that just do it like that". I've heard it so many times during my research, but today I looked at it differently - as far as I'm my own source of doubts the process of looking for confirmations from others will last endlessly.

The world is so multifaceted that there always be places of not fitting in, always a space for an improvement. If you write for a feedback there is always a chance of unhappy readers.

I knew it all the way along, but I didn't really felt that way. I felt lost, struggling with too many fields to comply and methodological boundaries that couldn't stretch. It also didn't help that my interests didn't align well with the expertise of my PhD supervisors, so although I've got general support of what I'm doing and a lot of good criticism, I didn't have as much "thinking along" collaboration as I needed then.

Suddenly things changed. I finally realised that the boundaries I imagined were in my own head and it was only up to me to deal with them. Something flipped inside and I found lost confidence. Then I've got in the flow...

I'm trying to figure out what have triggered those changes.

First, I guess, I just became ready to accept them, something to do with my "PhD maturity", "developing judgement" topic-wise and methodology-wise.

Then, the time off played a role. Once I sorted out shifted priorities and realised that I'm not prepared to became a full-time mom, I knew that if I spent time away from Alexander I should spend it well and make the most out of it. I also realised, during an informal dinner with one of my supervisors, discussing something completely different, that despite all the criticism that I was getting, he actually believed that I was doing a good scientific work.

Or may be I just had my dose of PhD struggling and scientific gods decided that it's time to stop that and just get work done.

I don't know, but I'm pretty happy with it :)

More on: flow methodology motivation PhD 

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This weblog is my learning diary. Sometimes I write about things related to my work, but the views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer.

Last update: 7/31/2007; 11:56:20 PM.