“Distracted from distraction by distraction”
― T.S. Eliot
I first wrote about researching my own PhD on July 27, 2019, nearly a year ago. What did I want to have achieved by the end of that first year? Had I given it any thought? I should go back and check really.
10 months on, though, I’m still here and feeling better about the research than I have had in a while. To clarify, I’d never felt badly about it but it had certainly felt like I wasn’t progressing much.
In the last two months, I’ve had two or three realisations and breakthroughs. After my last meeting with Helen in March, I knew that I wanted to write up my case studies properly so I decided to do some research. I bought Yin’s Case Study Research and its Applications (6th edition) and there made my first mistake. I decided to read all of it.
This doesn’t seem a particularly good use of my time in retrospect but I figured I would start from the beginning and carry on ‘reading all of it’ until I’d found the points that were relevant to me.
I don’t recommend this approach.
Work pressures meant that I had less and less time to read in that general-and-quite-broad way so, in time, I read less and less. Then the coronavirus lockdown hit and I had even less time.
Two weeks before my next scheduled meeting, I’d got no further in knowing exactly which theoretical parts I needed to quote and use. So I started writing up just to get the facts of the cases down on paper. As I wrote, I got a better understanding of what I had been doing and I was better able to see the gaps in my method.
The methodology has been as follows:
- Write some stories (this is quite simplistic sounding but not in practice)
- Note where they have been distributed and how they have been promoted,
- Note the social media and readership statistics,
- Survey Bristol residents and others to assess readership and reach,
- Assess other demographic variables;
- Construct a statistical model on the social media effect of local news while controlling for other variables.
I created a matrix of which stories I had written and could, therefore, track each one in terms of exposure and distribution to media and, therefore, people. The story writing is quite a time consuming process. Researching the stories about the mayor of Bristol and the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry took months, and is ongoing.
The matrix helped me see that I hadn’t used Facebook much in my social media promotion. In fact, in Bristol, there has been a bias towards Twitter for various reasons. The mayor himself, when referring to social media, refers almost exclusively to Twitter when it comes to criticism of him. He has called it ‘that Twitter nonsense’ and refuses to engage with those who he calls ‘trolls’. Part of that ‘Twitter nonsense’ effect is the outcome of the Bethel story I wrote last July. However, that story is not the reason why the mayor paid £90,000 of public money to scrape Twitter data and get monthly updates on what people were saying about him on social media. This story is also one I broke — it was about Impact Social.
There are two important elements to the case studies.
1. They make up the methodology of what I have been doing to answer my research question;
2. They provide the validity for my data collection rationale.
Survey and data analysis
The next part of the research, alongside the case study write-up, is to complete the survey, disseminate it, and then collect and analyse the data. The results from my data analysis should give me the information I need to answer my research question: what is the effect of social media on political participation in relation to, and compared with, local and national media.
I am still a bit wary of how I’m going to operationalise ‘political participation’. Can it be measured quantitatively? or will it need qualitative assessment?
It may be that it can be measured by assessing various means of political participation and seeing if these change over time. I will keep this in mind.
I also need to do the literature review. I had a real breakthrough while writing up the case studies. As I wrote, I went back to check my original wording for my research question. I returned to the output from the LitRev course and found my research outline and the research topic.
What I had been abbreviating as the social media effect on local news, had actually been originally conceived as “What is the effect of social media on [local?] political participation and knowledge, in relation to local and national media?”
I realised that it is better formed as follows: “What is the effect of social media on local political participation and knowledge, compared to local and national mainstream media?”
In practice, this translates to, “what would the effect be of relaying information about local politics if the media were either social media, local mainstream, or national media?”
Can we measure it?
The research method needed to translate this question into reality is for me a statistical model.
- Get a new book on case studies;
- Finish writing up the case studies;
- Finish the survey by adding in the further stories I identified;
- Publish the survey;
- Collect data;
- Analyse data.
The last three points are additional to the immediate actions needed but they flowed out as I was writing. I’m so excited about feeling that things are going right and that I’m on track and –importantly– I know what to do next.
Previously, I would feel that the LR was such a huge thing that it would overwhelm me. Once I’d written up most of my case studies though I felt that I knew which questions I needed to answer and how to look for those answers. I turned to a couple of articles on citizen journalism and was able to assess whether they answered any of the same questions I had and how I could use them. I didn’t feel overwhelmed.
I noted the references I needed in order to better understand the literature on ‘citizen journalism’ and I also found some useful research results from the articles, which help me validate my data selection reasoning.
It took two months to get to this point and it has taken nearly a year now to get to this stage of research. How does this all stack up?
Well, I’m not sure really. I have noticed my time usage cluster at the far points of my timescales that have been arranged to fit around my meetings with Helen. These are the only external meetings I have about the project. I get excited and re-enthused after talking to her, and I spend the new few days doing things. Then life takes over and I have to reprioritise so I can get paid work done; and then as time approaches for our next meeting, I do more work so I can have something to report on.
I would much rather have work done in shorter increments than two-monthly ones. I’m still working on this idea, however. The question becomes what slows me down? The answer is that being held accountable makes me work, and that’s what helps me progress my research. Life and paid work slow me down, and they can’t really be delayed.
So how do I increase my accountability?
I wondered whether having meetings more often would help but that wasn’t really practical. One other suggestion was to build up a network of similarly minded researchers. Getting a peer group and being able to exchange chapters and advice would be a help.
Find a peer group; find other researchers.
I’ve been both lucky and unlucky with the lockdown because while paid work has been scarce, it has given me time to research. That time has helped me realise I know what I’m doing and what I have to do next. I am very grateful to have found someone to talk to and while she just pointed me to certain things I needed to do next, having that assurance and the prompt for accountability has been a huge help.
I hope you’re all keeping well too. Until next time.