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Sense-making: from blogging to research methodologies

In my dissertation I describe uses of weblogs as a sense-making instrument that provides a way to deal with unexpected or complex ideas by supporting articulation and organising ideas at a personal level combined with distributed collaborative thinking in “sense-making networks“. While exploring this theme as part of the content of my research was somewhat expected, I did not realise how much reflecting on practices of others and my blogging experiences in that respect would challenge my research methodology-wise.

Blogging research not only turned into participatory research and involving others as co-researchers. As I experienced the flexibility of organising my thinking with the weblog, as well as the fun and added value of the social nature of it, it became more and more difficult to use conventional data analysis methods and tools.

As it’s easy to attribute to my own personality or strange choices, I was glad to hear that I’m not alone in it. Stuart French on blogs as study tool (once you are there check University 2.0 too):

The real research is happening in NVivo, but I find that I do a lot of my thinking better in a blog than a analytic memo, so I started interchanging the two. If a memo was about a specific data or participant then in went into NVivo and was linked, but the more general thoughts about underlying cause/efect relationships, theories in the literature and in use by the participants to make sense of their environments…they end up in the blog.

More and more though, I find the challenge of writing for public consumption adds something of an edge to the process of analysis so many of the recent posts have been to this blog rather than my private one.

In my own case blogging came before I made a choice for specific data analysis methods or considered using tools for qualitative data analysis. When I tried some of them, I missed two things in comparison to blogging: flexibility of dealing with fuzzy data and emergent assumptions, and an easy way to involve of others in the process . While on the technology side including those capabilities in the research tools is probably just a matter of time, I believe that addressing them methodology-wise provides a bigger challenge.

My experiences of sense-making as a flexible, intuitive and messy process raise questions about finding a methodologically sound way to accommodate for those:

If expertise is difficult to articulate, how would you specify (for example) explicit coding criteria to pinpoint patterns? How far the need to make things explicit, to categorise beforehand would ruin the richness of what could be found? How far the decisions on what are the patterns could be logically explained? How easily the process itself could be articulated for an examination by others?

The social nature of sense-making with blogging indicates other challenges. While action research methodologies do provide a way to include others in research, the ways of doing so rely on having a shared goal and cycles of planning, action and reflection. In the case of blogging research involvement of others is unplanned, casual, and fragmented. It is those characteristics that make involvement of others especially valuable (re: exposure and unexpected connections across boundaries), they difficult to account for methodologically.

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