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On attributing interviews done for my research: the dark side of transparency

My recent silence (and being stuck with the last study for my dissertation as the main reason for it) is a results of an attempt to make my research more transparent and inclusive by doing it “in public”.

My original intentions are outlined in the study description I used to invite bloggers to participate,  Networking practices of KM bloggers:

In general I prefer using real names of the participants and links to their weblogs to give credits similar to how it’s done in the blogging world. […]

I would like to post summary of the interview on my weblog (after all interviews are done). I will email it to you before posting, so you can correct anything wrong or decide if it should not be published.

There is a chance that I will blog about work-in-progress while analysing the interview data or working on a publication. In this case I will only quote from publicly available sources (e.g. from your weblog or summary of the interview after you give permission to publish it online).

The main motivation behind this approach was to give credits to the participants and create a possibility of a dialogue around their contributions. I also didn’t expect that the things I wanted to ask would be extremely sensitive, so thought that bloggers wouldn’t mind (or even would appreciate) sharing them in public (in fact, a couple of people I interviewed said that I could just post interview summaries without checking with them first). An additional motivation for doing so was “methodological”: adding transparency to the research process as a way to improve the research quality.

Now what’s happened:

I’ve got stuck with writing interview summaries as those had to satisfy both, putting them online and analysing them for my research. For the analysis the ideal way would be to have “extended summaries”, those with as many direct transcripts of actual interviews as possible, however those would be too long and too fragmented to post in public. I could also make shorter summaries to post online, but this would limit what I could use while discussing the results since I promised to “only quote from publicly available sources”.

So I thought of analysing the data, deciding what had to be quoted and revising the summaries accordingly. But then I’ve got stuck with the analysis. For me discussing emergent interpretation with others is the best way to get “unstuck” and for this study doing that in the weblog would be really the best option. However, I couldn’t blog about anything untill posting the interview summaries online. And I couldn’t write those summaries either…

I eventually got “unstuck” with finding a way to discuss the interviews before making public summaries of them. I made anonymous summaries and used them to have a discussion on emergent themes with two colleagues who are far from blogging. With that input I could get a better picture of how to discuss the study results and which parts of the interviews are really important to include. I’m currently making blog-friendly versions of the anonymous summaries, so I can finally email those to the participants to be checked, post them online and get into blogging the results.

In the process I also figured out a few other issues with making the research data publicly available and attributed to the participants: it made more challenging including background data on the participants (e.g. age) or discussing “difficult” issues around their practices. So, my idealistic attempt for an “extreme” transparency didn’t really work – I guess I’ll be more moderate next times 🙂

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