The results of my PhD scoping workshop on social impact

Some of the data gathered from my workshop

Some of the data gathered from my workshop

As part of my wider Phd research into researcher perspectives on societal impact, I held an initial scoping workshop a couple of weeks ago to further develop my understanding and gather data to inform the writing of my interview questions to be used in later case studies. I found it really useful, so thought I would share with you how and why  I did it. As always, comments very welcome!

Participatory or action research

The idea was to draw upon a participant action research approach, as this approach allows for an emphasis on participant experience and understanding that is integral to my research questions and aims.

This workshop design allows the researcher and participants to work together with two broad aims: to understand the participant’s world, and to learn how to change aspects or carry them out more successfully. In this case, these broad aims were to understand more fully the impact debate and the issues surrounding it, and to learn how to change and improve the understanding, communication and assessment of social impact.

Aims of the workshop

The initial scoping workshop addresses two key sets of aims. Firstly, it directly addresses my research aims as detailed above in the introduction. By holding the workshop and analysing the data gathered I further my own understanding of the impact debate whilst also creating a space in which participants can discuss and explore their impact experiences and opinions.

In addition to this, the workshop addresses some specific aims relating to research design:

• To identify key issues and concerns surrounding social impact for researchers.
• To aid the informed development of a set of questions to be used during the data gathering stage of the case studies.

Structure of the workshop

Although participatory action research is always going to be approached in different ways depending on the context of the subject and participants, there have been attempts to suggest structure templates as a basis to design workshops around. I adapted an eight-step structure (Heron and Reason 2006) into a more compact five-step one to suit the amount of time I had available and to focus more on the participant input than my own research journey. I did however keep a short section in to explain my research aims and to illustrate how the workshop fits into my research journey, as this information is important when ensuring that participants are well informed about how the data gathered will be used.

• Welcome and introductions
• Short presentation on the context of my research and where the workshop fits in as part of my research journey
• Group discussions around what social impact means to the participants and feedback
• Group discussion around which areas of social impact the participants feel need further understanding and feedback
• Summary, next steps for the research and thank you

Data analysis

The majority of the data collected during the workshop was in the form of mind maps and notes written on flipchart paper during group exercises. For analysis of this I have taken direction from a qualitative analysis approach often used for coding different types of data (Bryman 2012). The stages of analysis include the following:

• Transcribe and code at an early stage
• Initial read through of documents, no note taking
• Second read through with marginal notes including key words
• Review the emerging codes

After typing up all the comments from the flipchart sheets, I followed the above stages, resulting in a list of key ideas and questions around each discussion point. I have then summarised these into the following themes:

Exercise 1 – What do we need to consider when
defining social impact?

• University strategy/management
• Impact as part of the research journey
• Metrics/measuring
• Public engagement
• Differences between subjects
• Influencing policy
• Working with industry
• Effects on practice/services
• Data/publication access

Exercise 2 – What are some of the issues and Qs which could
help us understand social impact better?

• University strategy/management
• Impact as part of the research journey
• Metrics/measuring
• Public engagement
• Differences between subjects
• Influencing policy
• Overlap with academic/economic impact
• Defining impact

Many of the issues arising from the two discussions overlapped, indicating that a lot of the key issues surrounding social impact are not seen by the participants as being sufficiently understood.

What next?

I am now using the data gathered from the workshop to write a draft set of semi-structured interview questions to use during my case studies. Overall, it was a really useful experience and has definitely given me more confidence in my research design.

Planning my initial scoping workshop

Exciting times are afoot this week! In just under two weeks time I will be holding my first data gathering exercise in the form of a group workshop to look at opinions around and experiences of social impact from a researcher point of view.

Designing the workshop

There will be around 10-15 participants, including researchers from across the career spectrum including ECRs, Lecturers, Professors and Heads of Research. I chose to sample participants in this way to make sure there would be a diverse range of experience to draw upon.

When designing the workshop I have been drawing on principles of action research, keeping the focus very much on the co-creation of knowledge and exploring areas which the participants believe to be viable and useful. This will ensure that I am exploring areas of importance to researchers, and not just relying on my own assumptions of what the key issues are.

With this in mind, the workshop will focus around 2 key areas:

  • What does social impact mean to you?
  • Which areas need to be more thoroughly understood?

The participants will be discussing these questions in small groups, then feeding back their responses to the whole group. These feedback sessions will be recorded on dictaphones to allow for transcription and analysis later on.

Understanding the research context

One of the things I wanted to make sure of was that the participants would be able to understand why I want to use their opinions and experiences, and how it fits in with my research as a whole. To help with this, I will be using a couple of visual aids:

I developed this ‘impact tree’ as part of a poster presentation for the ARMA conference last year, to help visualise the scope of my research. Hopefully this will help participants to understand what is in and out of scope in terms of defining social impact.

Final impact tree

I will also be using a scanned in copy of my research schedule to show, in a very informal (and owl-covered!) way, how the information gathered from the workshop will feed into my wider research plan.

Research schedule

Hopefully the workshop will be a useful experience for the participants as well as for me – I will certainly do an update post after it is finished.

Planning your pilot study/initial workshop

I have my next supervisory meeting in a couple of days and am relived to say that I actually feel to have moved forwards over the last couple of months, having waded through a LOT of reading and a fair amount of writing too. By my meeting tomorrow, I was aiming to have decided on what kind of pilot study I wanted to do and how I was going to approach it.

Drumroll……..hurrah! I can now announce my pilot study!

I will be carrying out an initial scoping workshop early next year, hopefully by February, to test out my ideas so far and to gain the insight of a relevant group of researchers within my university.

Action research

Following my earlier post on the basics of action research, I have done some further reading and decided to base the design of my initial workshop on the action research approach. The key ideology behind this approach is that research should be carried out in conjunction with participants, focusing on their input, rather than be an activity carried out upon them as though they are passive components.

As my work is totally focused on the experiences and opinions of researchers, it makes perfect sense to ensure that researcher feedback helps to inform the research design for my later case studies. I will be using the workshop to present the potential questions I would be using in my case study interviews, and will be asking attendees at the workshop to share their ideas and responses to these questions to ensure they are fit for purpose and suit my aims and objectives.

Workshop structure

After looking at some proposed action research workshop structures, I decided to use a slightly pared down version to ensure that the focus would remain on the participant discussions rather than just being lots of me waffling away at the front of the room. At the moment the scheduled is looking like this:

Arrival and coffees (15)

Short introduction to my research and proposed interview questions (10)

Group discussion around question 1: what does social impact mean to you? (10)

Feedback and discussion (15)

Group discussion around question 2: which questions do you find useful/ not useful, are there any missing? (10)

Feedback and discussion (15)

Summary and thank you (10)

It is very exciting to be finally planning an actual activity that will result in data gathering – and I am weirdly excited at the prospect of then writing all the findings up too! It will be interesting to see what my supervisors make of the plan tomorrow – what this space. 🙂