Planning my first article from my PhD research on societal impact

I am currently trying to prepare for my first progression viva which is in June, by getting my methodology chapter into shape for submission in may. However, I’m also keen not to take my eye off the ball and lose focus on the rest of my PhD, so have given myself the task of preparing my first article for submission. (I have published an article from my UG research on colonial discourse and one on dissemination, but this will be the first article to come out of my PhD research).

After carrying out my initial scoping workshop to look at experiences and opinions around research impact, particularly societal impact, I wondered if the research design and findings of the workshop might make for an interesting article on using participatory research to inform the development of methods for a larger research project.

I have outlined my initial plan below, with a couple of links to journals I am considering as potential places to publish.

Title: Using an action research approach to explore researcher experiences and opinions of societal impact

  • Background to my research

Context of research into societal impact

Impact definitions

Overall PhD aims and research questions

How the scoping workshop fits in to overall research

  • Carrying out the workshop

Research design

Practical issues

  • What did I learn?

Data gathered


  • Next steps

Using the data to inform interview questions

Possible journals

Educational Action Research – my work fits the Education subject area, and the journal has an emphasis on looking at different research methods and designs. Gold Open Access option (£1700), co-edited by Pat Thompson, a big name in my field.

Higher Learning Research Communications – International journal, completely open access, broad scope of articles related to higher education including teaching and learning but also best practice and faculty experiences. – I have a feeling this journal might be more realistic for my current stage.

I have sent this off to a couple of very helpful colleagues for some initial feedback, as I think it is always worth getting another opinion to help you think about angles for a new article, or consider outlets you wouldn’t have thought of.


As always, any comments very welcome!

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. 🙂

Pinning down my methodology: Part 2

The Kawa River Model

Having covered the basics of my methodology in Part 1, I now want to talk a bit about research design. Bear with me though, I am still very much on a learning curve with this stuff, so all the ideas are under development.

Why qualitative?

So, as I discussed in the previous post, I will be using a qualitative approach to do my data gathering, as I understand this will allow me to build up the most comprehensive picture of social impact definition, understanding and practices within the wider context of the participant subject areas and experiences.

Interviews and visual representation

I plan to carry out semi-structured depth interviews as well as asking participants to create visual representations of research journeys and social impact interpretations. I am choosing to use the depth interview rather than the structured interview to allow the participants to bring experiences, opinions and topics into the interview which they feel are key to the impact debate, rather than dictating the areas to be covered. This lets the participant be in charge of the conversation direction, hopefully leading to a much more relevant and contextualized set of data.

How to select the participants?

I did think about holding an initial workshop open to all researchers which would be used to identify appropriate researchers who would take part in the longer term case studies. However, I binned that idea after realising that it is too dependent on unpredictable nature of open invites: How many times have you been to/run a training session just to find that half the people don’t turn up? As my research is very dependent on covering a range of disciplines, it seems much more sensible to make a carefully planned selection than to leave it all to chance.

Which subject areas to cover

To make this selection, I will be using my existing contacts and project experiences to identify one researcher from the four broad discipline groupings across the University;

  • STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths)
  • Arts
  • Humanities
  • Social Sciences

These 4 researchers will be invited to take part in a long term case study over 12 months to explore their understanding and experiences of impact. The case study research will consist of a combination of in depth interviews which will then be transcribed, and visual methods including cognitive mapping and journey representation, possibly in a form similar to the KAWA model.

Making space for the story

I have always been interested in how people tell a story through their research in order to translate it into real-world scenarious and communities. By using the diverse qualitative methods above I hope to build a detailed picture of researcher experiences and give them space to explore their experiences of how impact is generated in their field of work.

Pinning down my methodology: part 1

Following a couple of recent conferences in Nottingham and Blackpool, I needed to spend some time thinking about how the discussions I had at these events could improve and feed into my research.

In particular, they got me thinking about my least favorite subject recently….methodology. With my lack of any kind of experience in the social sciences prior to starting my PhD, my understanding of the philosophies surrounding different methodologies is pretty sketchy. I have been trying to remedy this with a stack of very intense, slightly dull looking books, but I’m not gonna lie; it is definitely still a work in progress.

I thought a couple of blog posts on where I am up to might help to straighten my thoughts out and maybe connect with some people who have been exploring their own methodology issues. In this first post I just want to explain the basics of my methodology in relation to my research aims and questions, then the following posts will deal with the underpinning philosophy and research design.

So, the basic outline of my PhD research is as follows:

Working title

How do researchers experience, view and bring about social impact through their work?


  • To carry out in-depth analysis of the impact debate, with a particular focus on exploring and defining social impact.
  • To record and discuss the lived experiences and views of researchers carrying out impacts upon society/communities.
  • To deepen the understanding of the actions carried out by researchers to bring about impact, in the context of the impact debate and impact assessment.
  • To produce recommendations for researchers and research support staff

Research questions

  • Drawing on literature in the field, how is social impact defined and why is it important?
  • How do researchers understand and attempt to bring about social impact
  • the understanding of social impact be theorised using an appropriate theoretical lens?

Qualitative or quantitative?

To gather the data needed in order to address the research questions above, it is important that the researchers involved are able to communicate their own definitions and experiences. I think the most suitable methodology to allow this is a qualitative approach consisting of detailed case studies.

As I want to contextualise impact within the individual research journeys, a quantitative approach would not be suitable.   I want to further the understanding of attitudes towards, and experiences of, social impact in relation to particular areas of work; to do this I need to gather deep data which is based on lived experience, hence the need for a qualitative approach.

Feedback – please feel free to comment on anything in the post or send a response to some suggested questions:

  • Did you find it hard to make a decision between quantitative and qualitative?
  • Would you have done anything differently in hindsight?
  • Did your chosen approach help/hinder answering your research questions?

Having the made the first decision for this section, next I will be looking at research design….

The research impact journey and conference badge mishaps

Research and conference journeys

Monday this week saw me trekking down to Uxbridge for the Pragmatic Impact Tools Seminar that was being held at Brunel University. The delegate list was a mix of researchers from all areas with an interest in impact, plus some consultation service practitioners.

Challenging your research design and thesis structure

The day itself was extremely inspiring, and I was very happy to have the chance to meet some of the people whose work has inspired me to take the plunge into my own PhD. In particular, a big shout out to Simon Bastow who has helped to pen the pioneering The Impact of the Social Sciences which will be in print January 2014. We had a great discussion around structure and methodology, which really helped me to feel more confident in my unorthodox approach to a thesis structure. Thanks Simon!

Conference travel and badge mishaps

I knew the journey to and from the seminar was going to be long, so I planned ahead and felt it was well organised and structured. That said, you can’t plan for everything, and not being a football fan myself, I hadn’t realised there was a big match on at the Arsenal stadium. Being bodily picked up by a very large Arsenal fan and forcibly squished onto a tube in the midst of a VERY loud football chant was quite an experience. There’s a first time for everything I guess. It wasn’t the last surprise of the trip though – after collecting my badge and wearing it for a considerable amount of time, a fellow delegate responded to my ‘Hi, I’m Megan’, with ‘Are you Megan or mean?’. It took me a good minute to realise they weren’t being mean themselves, but had spotted a rather unfortunate spelling mistake on my badge!

The impact journey

The importance of structure and organisation as part of a journey ran as somewhat of a theme throughout the seminar, as we had discussions around how researchers view the journey of a piece of work and how frameworks can be used to make the most out of this journey. I found this an easy way to visualise impact, and started to think about what a researcher might need along this journey to ensure it is successful.

Customising the research impact journey

In my day job working with researchers across all subjects/disciplines, I have learnt quickly that the subject of a piece of research dictates the audience it is meant for, and therefore the channels/tools/methods that can be used to share it and encourage engagement. With this in mind, I have started to visualise an impact journey that can be applied to any subject, but with tailored suggestions around channels/tools/methods that can be slotted in as and when appropriate. Hopefully, this combination of a transferable framework and tailored elements would result in a toolkit that would enable successful impact outcomes.

What does a successful impact look like?

But what is a successful impact outcome? Again, this is something which is going to be different for not only every subject discipline, but also every research group/researcher, and possibly every individual project. I recognise that it is important that I don’t simply assume I know what successful impact looks like – I need to ask the researchers involved before looking at how to tailor the journey for them. I feel this could be a good starting point for my case study research – finding out what researchers fell a successful impact looks like.

Data collection

To collect this information I need a carefully chosen method, which is most likely to be either a set of interviews, a questionnaire, or a combination of both. Oh the joys of data collection….I think I’ll leave that for my next post!