Hyperlocal government-citizen engagement: a new project for the Centre for Social Informatics

CCN+ logo The Centre for Social Informatics has been awarded a new research grant by the Communities and Culture Network+.

My colleagues Peter Cruickshank and Dr Bruce Ryan have won funding for a study into hyperlocal government-citizen engagement. They will investigate the efforts of three neighbouring Scottish community councils in improving engagement with their citizens in both online and offline conversations. This work follows on from recent and ongoing investigations into the use of online communication by community councils: (1) a project to visualise community council locations; (2) a study of public online presences of community councils.

The new project is inspired by the legal duty of community councils to obtain and share local opinions, and to be involved with planning processes. As these councils find their “online voices” (for example in developing their Twitter personae) the project team will observe how this changes their relationships with citizens. Digital Economy logo

The Communities and Culture Network+ is part of Research Councils UK’s Digital Economy programme.

iDocQ Information Science doctoral colloquium 2014 #idocq2014: a review

Information Science Pathway logoiDocQ, the annual doctoral colloquium for students studying for PhDs in information science and other related disciplines, took place this year on 27th June at the University of Glasgow. It attracted participants at all stages of doctoral study, with students travelling to Glasgow from as far away as Aberystwyth to join in the activities on the day.

The formal proceedings kicked off with a keynote presentation delivered by Professor John Robertson of the University of the West of Scotland, chaired by PhD student Calum Liddle of Strathclyde University. John’s discussion of his research into media reporting of the Scottish independence debate demonstrated how elites respond to information that they want to ignore. John explained how he analysed media coverage of the forthcoming Scottish referendum (e.g. broadcast interviews, cartoons), and the difficulties he experienced when attempting to disseminate his findings. His presentation raised a number of interesting points related to the power and influence of long-established social networks, and how to handle stakeholders when your research may not be welcomed by them.

The rest of the morning at iDocQ was scheduled to give an opportunity for the student delegates to present their work in 20×20 format. This session was chaired by Frances Ryan, a first year PhD student in the Centre for Social Informatics at Edinburgh Napier University. The speakers and the themes of their presentations were:

The presentations are currently being archived at the iDocQ SlideShare account (along with the iDocQ 2013 20×20 presentations from last year).

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After lunch I hosted a session on social media for impact. This was delivered along the lines of the workshop that I ran at the ESRC final year conference on April 25th 2014. Following discussions of the “social media bingo card”, each group of participants devised a set of “social media for impact” headlines (see the shots of the flipcharts in the slide show above). The headlines relayed ideas and advice, as well as questions for further discussion over the afternoon tea break:

  • How do you distinguish social media platforms that are useful to help increase your research impact from those that are a waste of time?
  • How do you find your social media community/audience?
  • How do you move from being a consumer of the social media content of others to a producer of content for consumption by others?
  • How do you manage the time commitment required for engaging with social media so that it is time well spent?

After tea there was a “research clinic” panel. Here questions submitted anonymously by students were answered by expert panel members from the four university departments that comprise Information Science Scotland: Dr Ian Anderson of Glasgow University; David McMenemy of Strathclyde University, Dr Lizzy Tait of Robert Gordon University, and Professor Hazel Hall of Edinburgh Napier University. The academics shared advice on the basis of their own PhD experience, research activities, and experience gained from supervising doctoral candidates. The questions covered both procedural issues (e.g. “Who will be at my viva?”), and requests for advice for specific stages of the PhD such as the literature review (e.g. “How do you stop your literature review getting too broad?”), data collection (e.g. “What steps can you take to generate a reasonable response to a survey?”), and writing up (e.g. “How can a student make a case study about a particular organisation relevant to a diverse sector?”). Some time was also spent on the question of how students should “manage” their supervisors. Another question on whether there is still “space” to work in the academy post-PhD led to an interesting discussion and the sharing of lots of advice on how to be prepared for making academic job applications in the future.

The formal proceedings of the day came to a close in the plenary session when Dr Ian Anderson, Convenor of Information Science Scotland, awarded the prize for the best student presentation from the morning session to Erin Ferguson of Strathclyde University for her 20×20 on research into Freedom of Information legislation.

All in all it was a great day, largely thanks to the clever programme devised by the hard working iDocQ 2014 student committee members: Frances Ryan of Edinburgh Napier University; Calum Liddle of Strathclyde University, Chikezie Emele of Robert Gordon University; and Wachi Klungthanaboon of Glasgow University. Delegates left with a better appreciation of the variety of doctoral research in information science, new connections, and plenty to think about regarding their current work, its value and impact, and their future career paths. The student feedback recorded on the event evaluation forms completed at the end of the day was very positive and included comments such as:

  • “The presentations really made me think about my own research in light of the issues that other PhDs are tackling. A welcome eye-opener.”
  • “20×20 was a great opportunity to learn a new presentation style. I was so hesitant to do it at first but, after, I’m thankful for the opportunity and would encourage others to give this a go. I also found the research panel very interesting, useful and candid.”
  • “This was, quite simply, a wonderful day. Thank you so much to everyone. I leave here confident, upbeat and I feel like I am in-the-know – it’s been a while! I’ve had my nerves hit quite a few times during my PhD. It was most welcome, among other things, to hear a research panel speak so frankly about their first-hand experiences and advise doctoral students. I’ll come again next year.”

To see how others enjoyed their participation, you can also check the blog posts by Edinburgh Napier doctoral students Frances Ryan on justaphd.com and Christine Irving on The right information.

iDocQ is likely to return to Aberdeen in June 2015 (where it was held last year). If you’d like to be updated on the plans for the 2015 event, please follow @iDocQ on Twitter


Congratulations Dr Nicole van Deursen!

Dr Nicole van Deursen

Dr Nicole van Deursen

Many congratulations to Dr Nicole van Deursen of the Centre for Social Informatics, who graduates with her PhD from Edinburgh Napier University at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh today.

Nicole’s thesis is entitled HI-risk: a socio-technical method to identify and monitor healthcare information security risks in the information society. The doctoral work was supervised by Professor Alistair Duff and Professor Bill Buchanan.

In her thesis Nicole argues that information security risk analysis should include include consideration of human and societal factors, and that collaboration amongst organisations and experts is essential to improve knowledge about potential risks. A key outcome of the work is a information security risk identification method entitled “HI-risk”.

HI-risk takes security incident data from several organisations and translates these into overviews of potential risks, which are continuously moderated by an expert panel. Although Nicole’s empirical work focused on security risks in healthcare environments, the method could be developed as a knowledge-based or expert system for use in a number of other contexts, for example: as a tool for managers to benchmark their organisations against others; to make security investment decisions; to learn from past incidents; and to provide input for policy makers.

There is further information about the thesis, and Nicole’s wider interests in information security, on her blog Information security and society. The full pdf of Nicole’s thesis is available from the web site of the Institute for Informatics and Digital Innovation. You can also follow Nicole’s updates on pervasive information security from her Twitter stream @nicoletwits.

Blaise Cronin to deliver guest lecture at Edinburgh Napier University, 24 June 2014

Blaise Cronin

Professor Blaise Cronin

Dr Blaise Cronin, Rudy Professor of Information Science, Indiana University is Visiting Professor to the Centre for Social Informatics at Edinburgh Napier University. Next week he will be on our Merchiston campus to deliver a presentation entitled “Beethoven vs. Bieber: On the meaningfulness of (alt)metrics” (abstract below) as part of the School of Computing/Institute for Informatics and Digital Innovation Tech Talk series.

This takes place on Tuesday 24th June at 14:00 at Merchiston in room D40.

The presentation will last approximately 1 hour, and there will be time for questions afterwards. External guests are welcome, either for just the presentation, or the presentation and discussion that follows. Please email me at h.hall@napier.ac.uk if you would like to attend.

Beethoven vs. Bieber: On the meaningfulness of (alt)metrics: abstract

The REF and RAE symbolize powerfully the ongoing transformation of the higher education system, in the UK and elsewhere. Formalised research assessment exercises are creating a pervasive culture of accountability, metrification and monetization. Increasingly, research inputs are justified on the basis of measurable outputs (datasets, patents, papers), which, in turn, are expected to generate quantifiable impacts (downloads, inventions, citations). In addition to traditional measures of productivity and its downstream effects, we also have social media tools and platforms providing dynamically updated indicators of socio-scholarly usage and impact (e.g., Mendeley readership statistics, ‘likes’ on Twitter, news media mentions, blog commentary). Now, so the argument goes, we can discern the true contributions of an individual, unit or institution and evaluate the impact of their research in the round, ensuring that heretofore dimly perceived or overlooked effects are properly acknowledged and factored into the calculus of reward. Academic careers and reputations run the risk of being reduced to a miscellany of indicators, not a few of which are of questionable validity and reliability.

Google+ and library and information professionals: findings

Google+-logoBack in March I put out a call from this blog to fellow library and information professionals to contribute to a research project on the use of Google+. Grant Charters, one of my final year project students in 2013/14, had designed a survey to collect data for a project entitled Social platforms as business tools: An investigation into the use of Google+ by librarians for their professional development and in library and information services delivery. Grant was keen to consult with a range of professionals who work in libraries and information services to find out about their use on Google+ to support services delivery and/or for their own professional development.

Thank you to everyone who took part in this work: 119 people responded to the survey, the majority of whom work in higher education. Four people also kindly gave interviews about their experience of Google+.The project is now complete and I am pleased to summarise the main findings here.

Although librarians exhibit some interest in Google+, participants in this research reported a lack of awareness of what the application has to offer in the delivery of library and information services. Of those few who do use the application for this purpose, the most frequent deployment is for general communication with users who have a Google+ presence, the dissemination of news and current awareness, and the marketing and promotion of the library service. It was noted by these survey respondents that Google+ allows for a more participatory role for users in service delivery, particularly in the updating and sharing of resources. However, because Google+ has a low uptake amongst the general population (especially when compared with Facebook and Twitter), this mitigates against LIS professionals adopting it in this way. Librarians would rather engage with other established social software tools where a higher level of interaction with a larger audience is possible.

The findings in Grant’s dissertation report a slightly greater use of Google+ by library and information service professionals for their own professional development. Google+ helps support general communication, and networking and collaborating with other peers who have active accounts. There is particular enthusiasm for the Google Hangouts feature. Here several people can communicate in a live space simultaneously, for example to collaborate actively on projects. Google+ Circles were also highlighted as a means of targetting relevant resources at the “right” people. As is the case with attempts to deploy Google+ for services delivery, however, the low number of librarians with a Google+ presence means that its value for professional development is also limited.

The study concluded that the main barrier to adoption of Google+ by librarians for the purposes of both delivering library and information services and for supporting their own professional development is the low user base. For any technology until (or unless) there is a critical mass of active users, its potential value cannot be realised.

Facilitating collaboration: a doctoral defence in Sweden

An invitation to Borås

Yesterday I served as the opponent at a PhD defence at the University of Borås in Sweden. This was my second Nordic PhD examining experience this year, following my March trip to the Åbo Akademi University in the Finnish city of Turku to examine a thesis on social media and public libraries, as reported here.

Dr Ann-Sophie Axellson, Dr Monica Lassi, and Professor Louise Limberg

Dr Ann-Sophie Axellson, Dr Monica Lassi, and Professor Louise Limberg

The PhD candidate on this occasion was Monica Lassi who, until recently, has been working as a lecturer in the Swedish School of Library and Information Science. Monica’s work was supervised by Professor Louise Limberg and Dr Ann-Sofie Axelsson. The broad theme of Monica’s thesis entitled Facilitating collaboration: exploring a socio-technical approach to the design of a collaboratory for Library and Information Science is collaboration in library and information science (LIS) research. The focus is on the potential of designated online spaces – collaboratories – to facilitate and stimulate collaborative work related to the creating, sharing, use and re-use of data collection instruments such as interview guides, questionnaires and observation protocols.

I was very pleased to be invited to examine this thesis, not least because its main theme ties neatly to aspects of my work with the UK Library and Information Science Research Coalition (2009-2012), e.g. the development of research capacity in LIS, and the promotion LIS practitioner research. The Developing Research Excellence and Methods (DREaM) project and the two-phased Research in Librarianship Impact Evaluation Study (RiLIES) project, were also designed to improve the support of LIS research in the UK:

The work that Monica undertook in the preparation of her thesis has some parallels with the attempts of these projects to raise the quality of LIS research, encourage more people to engage with LIS research, narrow the gap between practitioners and researchers, and to ensure that research undertaken in the domain is relevant. A further reason for my interest in this work is that some of its themes overlap with those considered in my own doctoral thesis The knowledge trap: an intranet implementation in a corporate environment, particularly the question on how to motivate information sharing in online environments.

My role on the day was to give a half hour talk about the thesis (see the slide presentation and summary of the research below), and to question Monica about the research in detail in front of the audience at the public defence.

After the defence I sat in a meeting with the examination team during which the outcome of Monica’s performance decided. I then witnessed the joy of all when the news of Monica’s success was relayed, accompanied with the popping of corks and cries of “Skål!” The celebrations continued with presents for the new Dr Lassi (including a home-made PhD thesis piñata), speeches, and a Swedish Tex Mex themed dinner.

The contextual trickiness of LIS research

It should be emphasised that LIS is a tricky subject area when it comes to the question of collaborative work focused on research endeavour. (This is in contrast with the work of practising librarians in information services delivery, a profession that is well-known for its collaborative efforts across a range of activities, e.g. long-established co-operative interlibrary loans systems, and consortia building for the purchase of library management systems or the negotiation of contracts with publishers.)

The reasons for the low rates of collaboration in LIS research are many, and can be illustrated by referring to different practice in the hard sciences, where collaboration is much more common. One feature of the subject domain that mitigates against collaborative practice in research is its interdisciplinary nature: LIS involves several academic disciples, e.g. business studies, computer science, information systems, organisational science, psychology, sociology, strategic management. Another issue is that the research problems that LIS tackles do not usually require the concerted effort of a network of researchers that is often necessary in other research work, such as finding a cure for a deadly disease or addressing a global problem such as how to stall climate change. This said, however, there are good reasons why LIS researchers would benefit from closer collaborative relationships, and some of these emerged from the empirical work discussed in Monica’s thesis.

Research questions and theoretical models

book table

An interesting table at the University of Borås

Monica’s work addresses three main research questions:

  1. What do members of the LIS research perceive to be (a) benefits, (b) facilitators, and (c) challenges of an LIS collaboratory?
  2. What are the attitudes amongst members of the LIS community towards practices of creating, sharing, using and re-using data collection instruments?
  3. How can the Social actors model and the Online community life-cycle model contribute to the understanding of perceptions and practices related to (a) data collection instruments and (b) a potential LIS collaboratory?

The Social actors model was identified as a means of understanding collaboratory actors with regards to the context of the organisations in which they work, and their professional roles. The selection of the Online community life-cycle model was considered appropriate to this study because it can give a perspective on design social spaces within a collaboratory. For example, with reference to interaction between actors, it reveals factors that contribute to the success of an online community.

Four studies and their findings

The thesis itself is based around four studies, each of which builds on the one that precedes it, and contributes to the next. A large part of the work of the doctoral study comprised the design and development of a prototype collaboratory. As such, the research process was also a design process. The work takes a socio-technical perspective, i.e. it is based on the premise that technology affects people and people affect technology.

Each of the four studies generated a paper. The structure of the thesis comprises an extended essay and the four papers, two of which are already published with the other two currently in manuscript form.

Copies of Monica's thesis

Copies of Monica’s thesis

The first paper entitled Identifying factors that may impact adoption and use of a social science collaboratory: a synthesis of previous research is a critical evaluation of the literature on scientific collaboration and collaboratories. Its scope goes beyond LIS, and includes material from a range of subject areas including: Communication Studies; Computer Mediated Communication; Computer Science; Computer Supported Cooperative Work; Psychology; Sociology; and Social Studies of Science. The analysis identified six factors important to the adoption and use of a collaboratory:

  • Three individual factors relate to: (1) the impact of collaboratory engagement on career progress (e.g. how it may increase an individual’s citation count); (2) other personal factors unrelated to career progress (e.g. the fun of participation); and (3) the cost of participation.
  • The three group factors relate to the extent to which the collaboratory (1) advances the discipline/science; (2) has an impact on the community that it seeks to serve; and (3) the cost of developing and maintaining the collaboratory represents “good value”.

The second paper “Sharing data collection instruments: perceptions of facilitators and challenges for a Library and Information Science collaboratory” explores factors that may affect a collaboratory’s design, adoption and use, and details existing practices related to data collection instruments. Its findings are based on interview data gathered from a range of actors across the LIS community. This work concludes that a collaboratory would be useful to LIS because the resources held would make it possible to build on previous work. The interviewees also noted that contributors would experience the satisfaction of a rise in personal esteem when their tools are re-used by others. However, two challenges were also identified. First, the interviewees questioned the value of tool re-use, drawing attention to the unique nature of LIS research projects. They also mentioned that when one person adapts the work of another there the risk that this might actually lower the value of the resource in question, rather than improve it.

The third and fourth papers are concerned with the prototype collaboratory that Monica created in the course of her study. An outline of the prototype design built around the discussion of use cases has already been published as The socio-technical design of a library and information science collaboratory. The final paper “Evaluation of a prototype collaboratory for sharing data collection instruments in Library and Information Science”, which is currently under review, presents the results of a practical evaluation of the prototype by a group of Swedish librarians. They encountered difficulties using the system’s interface and discovered that there was a high cost of participation in terms of the intellectual effort of learning the mark-up language, working in English, and becoming familiar with the research methods vocabulary. However, they felt that these could be overcome, and highlighted the value of social aspects of the collaboratory in its facilities for sharing and commenting. They also suggested that such a collaboratory might be of value to their end-user communities.

The research questions addressed

I concluded my presentation by considering the extent to which Monica was able to address her research questions.

RQ1: What do members of the LIS research perceive to be (a) benefits, (b) facilitators, and (c) challenges of an LIS collaboratory?

This work identified the potential value of an LIS collaboratory:

  • Resources held would make it possible to build on previous work
  • The research process would accelerate
  • Contributors would feel a rise in personal esteem when their tools are re-used
  • Researchers from other disciplines could learn from/contribute to LIS
  • New ways of working with LIS data collection tools could be disseminated in teaching

This work also raises a number of challenges and questions related to meeting the needs of a diverse professional audience, ensuring the quality of shared resource content, and means of rewarding participation.

RQ2: What are the attitudes amongst members of the LIS community towards practices of creating, sharing, using and re-using data collection instruments?

From the findings of this study it is evident that there is a willingness to embrace practices to widen the sharing and re-use of data collection instruments. However, an evident tension is individual desire to support the subject domain and the community versus maintaining control over one’s own resources.

RQ3: How can the Social actors model and the Online community life-cycle model contribute to the understanding of perceptions and practices related to (a) data collection instruments and (b) a potential LIS collaboratory?

Monica experienced problems in addressing the third research question on the basis of her empirical work. This was largely due to a factor that the two models identify: the difficulties of dealing with too large or poorly-defined a target group for design. Her empirical material was too diverse and complex to categorise and generalise according to the Social actors model due to the different actor roles and varied organisational contexts of those who participated in the study.

Contributions of the study

PhD thesis piñata

The home-made PhD thesis piñata

Monica’s work makes two main contributions. First it enhances our knowledge of collaboration in general. This is achieved through: the presentation of a literature review on the design, adoption and use of collaboratories; depth of coverage on the theme of collaboration in a social science domain; and a focus on the initial design phase of an online collaborative space (in contrast with other work which tends to focus on what affects and/or stimulates use). Second, by shedding light on LIS in particular, and including practitioners in the study, Monica has generated new knowledge on the sharing of data collection instruments, developed an understanding of the LIS community’s perceptions of the potential of collaboratories, and highlighted specific needs for future work in this area.

What next for Monica?

Monica has recently been appointed as a research librarian at the University of Lund, where I hope that she will be able to draw on her research in the provision of services for the research community that she will be supporting in her new role.