The ethics of social learning and working out loud

vulnerable

A Social Learning Practitioner is a learning professional who encourages, enables and supports knowledge sharing and collaboration across their organisation – not just in training. He/she is a role model, leading the way by showing the business what it is to be social, and modelling the new knowledge sharing and collaboration practices that are required for the modern business to operate effectively in the modern world. Jane Hart

I’m a huge fan of social learning, working out loud, connecting with people on Twitter and other public social media platforms to share ideas and insights. But something has been niggling away at me since I happened across a post by Martin Weller on Friday. Martin is a professor in educational technology at the Open University and author of the Digital Scholar  (one of the first texts to look at how digital technology might transform the practice of academics) in this post he discusses the ethics of digital scholarship (you can see the slideshare here). He focuses on practice in higher education but what he discusses has relevance for anyone working in learning and development who sees social learning having a greater role in the future of learning at work.

Martin writes of digital scholarship:

Like much of educational technology or open education, the tendency is often to promote it as an unqualified good, but, inevitably, it’s a bit more complicated than that.

He points out that well-rehearsed benefits of digital scholarship (greater collaboration, stronger and wider networks, equipping students with much-needed digital skills… ) have tended to overshadow some real ethical questions about expecting learners (in his scenario university students, in workplace learning our colleagues) to work out loud, to push themselves increasingly into the public sphere when learning.

Learning can be an intensely vulnerable process, where individuals confront their own abilities and learn new or different ways of doing things, sometimes failing or falling along the way. Forcing this process into the open enhances the vulnerability of our learners, is that ethical? What responsiblity do we have as ethical practitioners to ensure that social learning does not heighten vulnerability, leaving participants exposed and at risk? When we plan online communities, working out loud weeks or start using social media in development initiatives how many of us stop and think about the ethics of doing so? Or do we get so caught up in the process and our own love for that way of learning that we forget that not all of our audience might have the heart or resilience for it?

If we start building more and more open and public learning into workplace development activities (and to the workflow itself) how much leeway do we really leave people who don’t want to have a presence on social media, who might for a range of reasons be placing themselves at risk of harm from working out loud? Martin points to this post by George Siemens where Siemens describes that vulnerability beautifully:

Learning is vulnerability. When we learn, we make ourselves vulnerable. When we engage in learning, we communicate that we want to grow, to become better, to improve ourselves. When I first started blogging, I had a sense of fear with every post (“did that sound stupid?”), loss of sleep soul-searching when a critical comment was posted, and envy when peers posted something brilliant (“wow, why didn’t I think of that?”). When a student posts an opinion in a discussion forum or when someone offers a controversial opinion – these are vulnerability-inducing expressions. On a smaller scale, posting a tweet, sharing an image, or speaking into the void can be intimidating for a new user…While the learning process can’t be short-circuited, and the ambiguity and messiness can’t be eliminated, it is helpful for educators to recognize the social, identity, and emotional factors that influence learners.

I think the reason this post struck such a chord with me, and (honestly) left me slapping myself on the forehead, was that I spend a great deal of time and energy thinking about the ethics of social media in the context of research. Here we have been bemoaning the lack of strong ethical frameworks to protect research participants and researchers from the potential harm of their social media activity and engagement being used for research purpose or in the research process. We are developing frameworks which ask critical questions about informed consent, risk and rights to confidentiality and anonymity.

Where are those discussions in social learning or working out loud? That is an honest question because I can Google with the best of them and I haven’t found much yet. I have found discussions of the importance of trust in building communities of practice and of creating supportive organisational contexts for working out loud but I haven’t seen anything about the impact on the individual learner and our ethical responsibilities to each of them.  I’m really hoping you’re going to prove me wrong, by commenting on this post and providing lots of links to where the L&D professsion is discussing this issue.

We have well-developed ethical frameworks for establishing coaching relationships, contracting is a common feature of action & peer learning sets as are community rules around behaviour and confidentiality for online communities of practice. But when we build a Yammer activity into a programme of development at work or ask people to blog about their learning where is the contracting and consent? Do we do assess the risk of the vulnerabilities this might cause? And whilst we say to people (or at least I hope we do) this aspect is voluntary (especially where it involves being active in public social media networks) how voluntary is it really?

Playing devil’s advocate, when we talk about selling the benefits of social learning, or creating a cultural shift, a critical mass, are we really just creating a huge amount of peer pressure on people to learn in a certain way, in an open space? If we’re making it part of our workplace learning activities what are the risks to colleagues of being seen not to participate? Whilst we work hard to be more social are we taking time to discuss the implications of being present in different digital domains? Trolling is rarely out of the news these days, do we support our learners to understand safe digital practices? These are issues highlighted in a recent report by Helen Beetham & David White about student expectations and experience of the digital environment in universities:

A related concern students have is being pushed too fast towards the public spaces of the open web, in the name of borderless classrooms or third space learning. They understand that this is somewhere they need to develop a presence, but they also see university as safe space where they can play and fail, try out new ways of expressing themselves and new identities.

I don’t have all the answers by any means but one thing I do know is that as a practitioner I have professional responsibility to start thinking more about this. And just like in social media research there will be things we can do, frameworks we can develop, practices we can support which will minimise risks to participants and create safe digitial spaces and behaviours. In fact, as I’ve found with our network of researchers using social media, there is probably already loads of excellent ethical practice out there. But I think much of it is implicit in the way we work with others and design programmes or initiatives and I think we need to start having that discussion explicitly.

Having an ethical conscience shouldn’t mean we stop being social or using social learning approaches but it should mean we are able to have that conversation out loud. So I’m starting one here, tell me how you’ve managed the ethics of social learning and working out loud, when you wanted to equip your colleagues with digital skills how did you negotiate the ethical risks of learning in the open, let’s see what we come up with…

 

 

 

 

 

Treading through treacle, summer in the city…

Hot town, summer in the city,
Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty,
Been down, isn’t it a pity
Doesn’t seem to be a shadow in the city
All around, people looking half dead
Walking on the sidewalk, hotter than a match head…

(The Lovin’ Spoonful)

It’s been so hot this summer walking around London, the office, the tube have all felt at times like treading through treacle. The air is heavy and our senses seem less sharp, our pace is slower, we can feel oppressed by the weight of that heat.

It reminded me of moments at work when projects slow down and movement is barely tangible. A way forward can feel elusive or lost. Trying to wade through that treacle becomes dispiriting, de-motivating and strength-sapping just like the trudging around town in the heat.

And then from nowhere, the smell of electricity in the air, a breeze picking up strength, a buzz, a crack of lightning and suddenly the landscape changes. Rain in torrents, parched earth (minds?) drink greedily and in a flash everything changes. Fresh life and air reawakening our senses and restoring our energy, things come back into focus, the heat haze lifts.

So maybe when we’re treading through that treacle the trick is to step back, move away, take some time out – go sit in the park under the bandstand, enjoy a cool drink, talk about something else and wait for the buzz and crackle, it will come…

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Image from ‘100 days of summer‘ series by Charles LeBrigand

That jumping off place…

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Image by Olfiika, shared under Creative Commons licence.

Fear, excitement, determination, uncertainty mingle. Looking round, observing, eyes focused, heads bowed. Reaching deep inside, finding the courage but fearing what’s ahead…that jumping off point.

I’ve been surrounded by people recently coming to that jumping off point, at home and work. People who’ve reached a crossroads and have to commit one way or the other, to move forwards down one path or to reaffirm and commit to a route already chosen.

I’ve been watching their deliberations and trying to help when they’ve asked by lending an ear being a shoulder to lean on. I’ve watched them struggle to commit to one direction or another, thinking through the options, being led by head and heart. Decisions are such hard, tricky creatures, should I do X or Y?, what will happen if..?

I’m struck by how much we are swayed by our feelings and just how excruciating those choices can feel. Yet we often choose to invest in ‘logical’ decision making processes which focus on facts and data without stopping to listen to our feelings, intuitions, emotions. We write lists of pros and cons, weigh up the risks, talk it out with our nearest or trusted confidantes but we’re trying to predict unknowables.

There’s lots of interesting research on how we make life choices and decisions, if you’re interested try these articles for starters:

The science of decisions 

On decision fatigue and why making decisions late in the day may not be wise 

And positive psychology has a lot to teach us about how our personal actions are central to our sense of self and happiness.

I  think we’re inclined to view these moments of choice as scary, fearful places to be. So much so that sometimes we end up paralysed by the fear of making the wrong choice and remain rooted to the spot, uncomfortable but unsure where to go, which direction to turn. We fear owning decisions that need to be made.

Obviously not all of life’s twists are of our own choosing but even when our calm sea is rippled by external factors, contexts or circumstances we can still own how we react to those changes.

We can jump on the wave, surf it, see where it takes us, or choose to swim for a different shore but if we don’t make a choice we can find ourselves left bobbing at the mercy of the tides, wondering what if, feeling resentful, bitter. I wonder if we reframed this jumping off point as a place of excitement, full of potential and exciting mysteries how different that choice might feel? Is the unknowable really so scary, when we were children the unknowable was exciting, something not to be feared but run towards. If you look up the definition of the term you find this:

Jumping off point › a point from which to start a journey or activity › an idea , example , or piece of information that is used to begin a process or activity…

So when we’re stood in that fearful place, unsure where to go maybe we should remind ourselves that moving off from that jumping off point, making a call, screwing up our courage, will be just one decision in a life full of choices. A journey, a life, is all about choosing your direction of travel, just for now, for this moment. It doesn’t mean you are locked to it forever, whether you’re taking a new route or recommitting to a path you’ve chosen there will always be twists and turns you can’t anticipate. But if we don’t make those choices we can be left battered and bruised, feeling helpless, done to…

I’ve noticed how much happier, more at peace and relaxed people are once they’ve taken an active step to make a decision, to stay or go, to commit or detach, to jump off or jump on. Taking ownership of what you can control  lifts a load off people’s shoulders. I think I know which place I’d rather be in.

The future of learning: Are we equipped for it?

imageI attended a round table discussion co-hosted by the CIPD and Towards Maturity today.

This is one of a series of recent activities which indicate a fresh commitment & willingness on the part of the institute to reach out to its L&D members and, more importantly, to become part of wider discussions about shaping L&D practice for the future.

I really welcome this. L&D felt like the Cinderella of the CIPD when I first joined four years ago and I often found more progressive and challenging mind sets outside rather than within CIPD. I can see this changing, that CIPD is working alongside the LPI, and other formal and informal groupings of folks who have a connection to and interest in developing L&D, is a really great step forward. I’m a firm believer that if you don’t like what your professional body is doing you should get involved to shake things up so I was very happy to give up my holiday deckchair for a morning and come along and contribute to what was a lively and inspiring discussion.

Our themes for the day were:

  • What do today’s leaders expect from L&D and what should they expect?
  • How can we improve L&D alignment to strategic organisational goals?
  • Are we equipped in L&D to respond to changes in the future of work?

There are various outputs which will come from the session as a whole but suffice to say each session was ably kicked off by two speakers drawing on their own experiences to provoke debate. I was asked to tackle the final question and I got to speak after Don Taylor of the LPI which is always a pleasure, I knew we’d be talking the same language. Don’s challenge to business leaders was “If you think learning belongs in the classroom, enjoy the view as your competitors overtake you.” I couldn’t agree more.

In the spirit of working out loud these are my background notes for my part of the session, my main theme was that learning and learners will not wait for L&D to catch up, apply a model, or craft  a theory around their new ways of working and learning. We need to accelerate and expand our capacity quickly before we get bypassed.  Our workforce has changed, we have more part-time workers, more diverse, more transient workers, we work at different times of the day and week and from different places. We use a range of devices and routes to find out about things we need to know for our jobs, we go to the source, we talk to people outside of the business. It isn’t a question of when technology changes the workplace; that’s already happened and will continue to happen. Now it’s a question of how we respond to these changes.

We’ve always been quick to adopt new shiny buzzwords – e and m-learning, MOOCs spring to mind… but less quick to recognise that all the shiny tools will make not one iota of a difference if we don’t understand that how people work and learn has changed, and then we change how we work as professionals accordingly.

The findings from this years CIPD L&D survey and the Towards Maturity Benchmark show a greater desire from our profession to be business aligned and focused on outcomes and impact. But look again at the surveys, especially the LPI capability map and the TM Learner’s Voice, and you’ll also see that L&D in our workplaces remains strongly classroom based, a lot of e-learning is still ‘click next’ and blended learning is not as much of a reality as we’d like to think. This despite the fact that learners are telling us they have changed how they like to learn. In my own organisation we’ve been on a real journey over the last three years and it’s not over yet. Just changing what we offer (from predominantly classroom based L&D to something more fluid and responsive) has been challenging for us and for our colleagues but immensely rewarding. When a community of practice takes hold it it becomes an agent for change, vastly strengthened by the multiple voices within it drawing on their own experience of the work, the practice, the business.

People now have access to a vast range of knowledge, information and learning at their fingertips, at the touch of a keyboard or a screen we can find huge swathes of information, how to videos, toolkits etc. We can personalise our learning and draw it down when we need it. That learning comes in many shapes and sizes from professional qualifications through to amateur You Tube videos, L&D can’t control that flow any more, if we ever could. But we can help business make the most of that flow, find what they need easily and be equipped to critically appraise it. That’s what I want my team to be doing.

Much of how people learn now is informal, social and collaborative. It’s not that expertise is dead, it’s simply that people have ways to access expertise which no longer needs to be mediated and funnelled through formal learning events. In an environment where people can access expertise from across the globe directly with a tweet or a post, why would they wait for the next scheduled course from their L&D team?

I am painting a deliberately bleak picture but our profession needs to change and change rapidly before it gets passed over.

I really believe we have an important role going forward as curators and facilitators of  learning, helping others to share their knowledge, skills and experience. We can be  agents of change but not if we continue to see ourselves as the sole custodians of that knowledge armed to the teeth holding out against attempts to wrest control from us. I wrote in my blog recently that:

I don’t want to be doling out pearls of wisdom from my carefully guarded stash, I want to see people talking to each other about new tools, ideas and ways of working in their teams, at staff meetings, during project work and over lunch. That’s a learning culture, one where a good idea spreads contagiously, where fresh takes on persistent problems are grabbed by the people affected and worked through collaboratively. But it’s challenging in workplaces where training is the norm, where time is pressured and resources are scarce.

We are uniquely placed, with our cross-organisational remit to act as agents for change and to help people to develop curious and enquiring mindsets and skills which enable them to adapt and respond to changes in the workplace and wider society. I want learning in our organisation to be personally owned but organisationally supported (thanks to @andrewljacobs for that phrase if not the acronym it produces!)

We need to ask what we need to do (as individuals and as a professional body)? What do we need to change? What are the sacred cows that we need to let go of? And we need to keep asking these questions. Here are my starters for ten, more great ideas came out in the discussion and will be collated in a white paper:

  • We need to be alert, observe what is happening (or not happening) in our workplaces and outside our workplaces and able to think strategically about what that means for our practice and activities
  • We need to walk the talk, if we think social, informal and collaborative learning is the way of the future we need to be seen to do it ourselves and be able to influence leaders in our businesses to embrace it too.
  • We have to get better at consulting and diagnosis, and where it isn’t appropriate we need to be prepared to challenge requests for ‘training’. We can have an important voice in shaping how work is done at our organisations and influencing change. Providing ‘solutions’ we are comfortable and confident with might be comforting but probably won’t be helping as much as we could.
  • On that note we need to learn to innovate, try new things, be prepared to fail small but think big. And we need to be thinking carefully about how we work alongside senior leadership, managers and staff to ensure that learning and development are woven into everyday work rather than something which is bolted on, has to have time made for it. Curiosity is a mindset and trying new things is a way of demonstrating that curiosity, we have to persuade and influence our colleagues that new approaches are valid.
  • Let’s not adopt technology mindlessly simply because it’s a new and shiny thing that everyone is talking about, but not be afraid to adopt new tools that will support changing cultures of work and learning.
  • And I’d really like it if we stopped guarding everything so zealously between organisations and within organisations. We really need to learn to collaborate and help our colleagues to collaborate to hear different voices, expertise and perspectives.
  • I think we have to get used to the permeability of disciplines and embrace it. Where does OD start and L&D stop? Does it matter? Let’s learn from marketing about how to sell L&D and talk to our comms colleagues about engaging an audience. Let’s get less hung up on whether we’ve got a seat at the table, or what our job titles are, or which department we sit in and concentrate more on what impact we can have.

And if that all seems a bit overwhelming then bite off a little bit of it and get started. You have insights which are valuable to your organisation, demonstrate that.  Be confident but reflective, if you don’t know something learn it, if you’re not sure where to start ask for advice. After all a little role modelling never goes amiss!

Oops I almost forgot, what’s the answer to the question? We agreed it was a work in progress, the report card says we can do better. Here’s just some of the future capability we thought we need to build up as a profession:

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Why I 💜 social…

imageAnyone who looks at my Twitter account can see I’m a prolific tweeter, 16.8k tweets in five years is *frantically does maths* about 9.6 tweets per day. How did this happen? I’m not naturally inclined to be a great networker or in the public gaze, if you believe the psychometrics I’m quite an extreme introvert. But one of the interesting things I’ve noticed is that quite a lot of L&D professionals and qualitative researchers are introverts, despite the fact that going out, talking to people, giving presentations and being generally social are a large part of our working lives. But that’s an aside and something for another post… So why did social get me? Or how? Well one day I stopped lurking, stepped out from behind my egg and started connecting, sharing and dipping my toe in the stream. And I realised that it:

  • ignites my passions and inspires me to try new things
  • satisfies my curiosity about the world and people around me
  • connects me to others, those with shared interests & those with very different experiences and viewpoints (hence the passion & the curiosity)
  • can be unexpected and surprising, challenging my mindset & opinions
  • supports my learning – my Twitter #pln are peerless, fearless & fabulous
  • connects and shares my work and ideas with a wide range of people
  • helps me collaborate with fellow professionals, in networks that cross time zone, geographical and disciplinary borders
  • it lifts my spirits and makes me think about the serious and the silly

I often get comments about how much time I must spend on social media but in fact it’s very little. I have pretty demanding job, most days I tweet on the way into the office and on the way home, a little during the day if something crops up I want to share. To me it’s just a conversation, I have them throughout the day some are in person, some on the phone, some are virtual – all are valid. I don’t stare at my timeline all day long, but the moments when I do dip my toe in are so very valuable, as @HR_Gem has also shared this week sometimes the most unexpected things come out of 140 characters. I want to share what happened for me in the course of seven days on Twitter last week, just to demonstrate that it is more than sharing inspirational quotes and pictures of fluffy kittens (although let’s face it I am partial to them too!):

  • I floated the idea to create a multi-author book of blogs on social media in social research (if you’re interested you can read more about the project here) in a tweet and a blog. Just a week later we have over 30 people lined up to contribute
  • A chance tweet to a fellow blogger led to us coming up, quite organically, with the idea of arranging a meet up of fellow social science bloggers who run multi- author blogs. We’ll be getting together in London in September to share our experiences and hopefully learn from one another about how to keep people engaged and coming back to our blogs.
  • I idly tweeted July was looking less busy for me, then got reminded by several people who I’d promised to meet them for lunch/dinner/coffee… July is less empty now 😀
  • I got invited to contribute to a round table discussion by someone I would never have met if it weren’t for social media
  • I received some words of support and wisdom at a moment when I needed them (no names you know who you are, thank you)
  • I had several laugh out loud moments (thanks especially to @AndrewLJacobs for sharing POOS with us)
  • I got to share the fantastic work that our British Social Attitudes researchers & interviewers do every year @NatCen, supporting the efforts of our Comms team with a series of links and posts highlighting key findings

How’s that for a set of amazing, and in some cases totally unexpected  outcomes from a handful of tweets and a blog? And that is why I 💜 social.

Just do it…

imageAfter about twelve months (and a bit!) of mulling on an idea spawned by the huge success of the ‘Humane, Resourced’ experiment by David De Souza I’ve finally bitten the bullet and got our #NSMNSS book of blogs underway.

The mulling and let’s be honest procrastination was due to other more pressing work but also a slight worry that the concept just might not translate to our network which is dominated by academic researchers more used to publishing in peer reviewed journals. But I hoped that the folks working with social media in their research would be a receptive audience.

Typically I released notice of it when I was done rather than thinking about when the target audience might be paying attention! Arguably a hot Saturday afternoon before an England match in the World Cup is not the opportune moment to launch a crowd-sourced book of blogs…

But I have been blown away by the response, we’ve already had over 20 authors express commitment to taking part from as far afield as the USA and Australia and we’re not even into most people’s working weeks yet. For me this is one of those occasions when I’m more than happy to have proved my doubting head wrong and it’s a great reminder of why sometimes you just need to get on with things…

@lisa_sugiura: @jess1ecat this is a fantastic idea. I would love to try and contribute too. Have written blogs on social media research and ethics

“@Flygirltwo: @jess1ecat Really great idea. Count me in! Probably up for two. Details to follow. :)” join us for http://t.co/84zGLg2vDl

@cosmos_project: @jess1ecat @DrLukeSloan @w_housley @MattLWilliams @cosmosae . We would be very happy to contribute – great initiative, lots to reflect upon.

@jess1ecat: Potential authors for http://t.co/84zGLg2vDl are flooding in 😃 “@mark_carrigan: definitely count me in for book of blogs – fantastic idea!”

@DALupton: @jess1ecat @thesiswhisperer @ThomsonPat It’s a great idea – maybe I could rework my blog piece on using Pinterest for research? 

“@sarahthesheepu: I’m liking the blog of blogs or collection of blogs on social media shall have to think of something to contribute”

@carljackmiller: @jess1ecat @JamieJBartlett it’s a great idea Kandy, very happy to submit a blog or two!

Brace yourselves it’s going to be an exhilarating ride!

The full blog calling for contributors and giving more detail is re-posted below.

imageSaturday, 14 June 2014 – read the original post here

Call for contributors to A Book of Blogs – blurring the boundaries, using social media for social research

We’ve been thinking a lot at #NSMNSS about what types of activities the network should support next. One idea we’ve been ruminating on for a while is creating a volume of crowdsourced blogs on the impact social media are having on social science research methods.

We got the idea for this from David De Souza (@dds180) and his hugely successful HR book of blogs Humane, Resourced which topped the best seller nonfiction business charts last year. We want to try and replicate this success and believe it will be a great showcase for network members to share their experiences and views about social media research with a wider audience. The broad idea is to reach 100+ pages of content collected from a multitude of contributors from across the social science world, in the UK and elsewhere. In the spirit of the network this will be a crowd sourced, digitally published volume.

Our best guess at the moment is approximately 50 contributors giving one blog each of 3 pages each = 150 pages of insight & personal reflections.

The theme of the book is how are social media blurring the boundaries of conventional research methods and practice? You can write about your experiences of using social media for research, new tools or methods you’ve used/developed or more conceptually about the challenges or opportunities shifting methodologies present to us as researchers. Give us a case study or not… Tell us how using new approaches improved or complicated your project… how you present your ideas or reflections is up to you. We’re also interested in how the research community is developing it’s capacity for using these approaches so if you want to write about teaching social media methods hop on board too!

Once we can see the content coming in we’ll try to organise the volume thematically.

The rules/guidelines/principles for anyone interested in contributing are below- 

  • It must be your own work, if you use diagrams, images they must be free to use & respect copyright.
  • You can contribute one or two blogs. No more. We’re hoping to get to 50 blogs, more if more authors come forward.
  • It can be new material or an old favourite. Just be sure to write within the overall theme. If you’ve already published a blog on the #NSMNSS blog or other blogs then we’re happy for you to review, revise and submit an old favourite
  • You don’t have to be a regular blogger, this could be your first or your hundredth blog
  • You can be as provocative as you like, but anything offensive won’t make the cut. Also you don’t have to be ‘fan’ of digital social research, we’re interested in blogs questioning these approaches too.
  • You don’t need to be an established ‘name’ we’re interested in blogs from people at all stages of their research careers.
  • We want the book to be interdisciplinary so don’t feel constrained or excluded if you come from a non-social science background or context. We’re positively encouraging blogs which look at interdisciplinary work and welcome co-authored blogs
  • The book needs to be accessible so please write for a wide audience with varying levels of technical expertise and practical experience, if you are writing about complex methodologies or philosophy include links for less experienced readers to explore other resources on the subject
  • The book is being sponsored by the #NSMNSS network but it is a voluntary self funded project so there’ll be no payment for contributions and editorial support will be limited

We hope (and expect) that we don’t have a cut to make. We’re assuming the average blog will be about 1000 words long – a bit longer or shorter is fine, but we won’t publish a paragraph or a long treatise – unless they are really good 😉 if we do have to make a cut we’ll talk to potential contributors about a fair way of doing that.

We aren’t planning on a protracted editing process but we will offer to review your draft blog for you and make suggestions, give constructive feedback. We’re looking for volunteers to form an editorial support group to provide informal feedback, let us know if you’re up for that.

The book will be self-published as a digital volume, and distributed electronically. We are planning to make a small charge for the final volume (we’re thinking less than £5) any proceeds will go towards supporting #NSMNSS network events in the coming 12 months. The main focus and goal of the book is about is about sharing knowledge, showcasing some great work and not about making money. It’s about giving people a chance to express new ideas, share what they’ve learnt and challenge accepted orthodoxies of research practice. It’s about creating a volume of interesting perspectives from a new and developing field of social research.

How to join in? If you are interested please let us know in the comments section below the blog or email nsmnss@natcen.ac.uk

Once you are signed up just get writing. We’ll let you know more about the process for collation in the next month, we’ll collate blogs over the next eight weeks and publish within the next three months.

If something is worth doing it is worth doing quickly.

Hope to hear from you – and we’re accepting proposals for titles too! Please share this widely and let your fellow researchers know, the more the merrier!

The #NSMNSS team

With special thanks to David for showing us the ropes and providing the initial inspiration. You can read David’s blog here

On Good Will Hunting, some further thoughts

Do read Good Will Huntin’ from @fuchsiablue. It’s a terrific post in which Julie explores the loss of good will and the difficulty of trying to find it again. She also describes the importance of it as organisational currency. Good will is an elusive, highly prized thing. In all areas of life it helps us to keep going when times are tough, stay positive and go the extra mile. It’s built in any number of ways, slowly over time or quickly through a grand gesture, a moment of honesty or humility. If I think of the good will I have held for people, organisations, companies and services it’s been built from a patchwork of gestures, actions and conversations that leave you feeling warm not bitter, cared for not discounted, connected not remote. It can be lost quickly through a harsh word or a bad experience, or it can creep up slowly through a number of small disappointments which chip away at your good will. I can think of companies that won my good will quickly and squandered it lightly and customer service teams who’ve turned me around with a tone, a phrase or a simple smile.

So it must be possible as Julie says to go ‘good will huntin’ so here are some top of head thoughts about how we can do that in an organisational setting –

  • Understand where and why it was lost and learn for the future, but try to avoid dwelling on the loss, it’s painful yes but we can’t wind the clock back. Like any currency that’s dropped good will needs to be rebuilt and bolstered.
  • Listen to all positive and negative feedback from staff. Get out and about, talk to people, ask them what they’re feeling, acknowledge the challenges.
  • Find out if the standards/evaluation criteria you’re using to judge goodwill and engagement are the same criteria your staff use – if not, what’s causing that gap?
  • List 10 things you’d love to discover about your organisation if you were a new employee (even if they’re not a reality now).
  • Put yourself in their shoes and play “devil’s advocate” list the 10 least satisfying things about your organisation from an employee point of view.
  • Look for common threads which point you to the need for a new approach or a change in processes, behaviour etc. from the senior team
  • Don’t be afraid to be open, honest and radical if change is needed
  • Find ways to ask your staff regularly whether you’re meeting their expectations and what you can do to improve your performance as an individual and as a leader, weave this into everyday conversations, don’t turn it into another employee survey. Ask the question openly and listen.
  • Solicit suggestions on ways you could work collaboratively to add value to the experience of working in your organisation… What about a hackathon? Or reverse mentoring? Or an employee forum? Listen to suggestions and find ways to act on them.
  • Review your people-related policies and procedures from your employees point of view – get rid of the ones which add nothing – chuck out the chintz as @HRGem would say.
  • Identify one thing you’ve always thought was “impossible” to do but, if you could do it, would completely transform your organisation in the eyes of your staff. Find a way to do it.

I’m sure this is just scratching the surface but thanks Julie for putting a new spin on this topic. I think it’s more fundamental and basic than some of the employee engagement, motivation narratives would have you believe and can be intensely personal and contextual which makes it tricky to find a simple solution for.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on it, I’m sure we all have examples to share and learn from.

If you have to go good will hunting then the hunt is probably just the start of a long road ahead but with a positive mindset, dialogue and persistence the journey could transform things beyond all imagining…
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NEW & EXPANDED – Corporate Earthquakes and hacking for change

Hacking often has negative connotations, the anonymous tech wizard stealing your online identity or the scurrilous journalist hacking your voicemail. In light of this it was a bit of a surprise to find myself involved in hacking in 2013. In April last year I signed up for my first hackathon – the CIPD-MIX Hackathon ‘Hacking HR to Build an Adaptability Advantage’. CIPD invited anyone interested in HR, OD and workplace issues to join this process to generate creative ideas for increasing the adaptability of our organisations. Almost 2,000 people signed up from across the globe. We were asked to consider ways in which HR could be the catalyst for increased adaptability and how, as HR practitioners, we could play a role in spearheading change in our organisations. The aim of the hackathon was to create a practical set of bold actions that could then be applied to our own and other organizations. When I signed up for the hack I had no idea what to expect. I’d heard of hacks but must confess I thought they were to do with technology, coding and software. In fact, if you look up ‘hackathon’ on Wikipedia (as I did) this is how it describes the process:

A hackathon (also known as a hack day, hackfest or codefest) is an event in which computer programmers and others involved in software development, including graphic designers, interface designers and project managers, collaborate intensively on software projects. Occasionally, there is a hardware component as well. Hackathons typically last between a day and a week. Some hackathons are intended simply for educational or social purposes, although in many cases the goal is to create usable software.

But as I found out hackathons have moved on, or to be more accurate evolved. Nowadays, hacks are used increasingly outside of tech circles to support innovation and creativity in all types of areas from health services to political activism. Whilst some hacks retain a technological focus, and focus on finding digital solutions, others take a broader approach and are looking for any type of solution technological or otherwise. Some of the most exciting examples I have seen recently have been in public services. NHS Hack Days, which retain the traditional focus on technological solutions, are a great example of the use of the hackathon model for developing public services. What are we really meaning when we talk about hacking an organisation or a process? Well it’s more than simply applying a structured approach to problem solving. It’s also about adopting a certain creative mentality and mindset. It’s what Tanya Snook (aka @spydergrrl) describes as ‘playful cleverness’. I really like this depiction of hacking, she says:

When you seek, in your everyday lives, to deliberately find opportunities to be clever, ethical, to enjoy what you are doing, to seek excellence, you are hacking. Now the key here is that this behaviour is deliberate. Not a happy accident. If you aren’t acting this way deliberately, then we need to change your thinking and behaviour a little bit in order to make this your default MO.

A similar point was made by Catherine Bracey in her TEDCity talk on ‘Why good hackers make good citizens’. For me, hacking is about thinking differently as well as doing things differently. You have to tackle problems and challenges in new and alternative ways to have any hope of solving persistent problems or barriers.

What did my CIPD hackathon look like? Like most hackathons, mine included a series of short sprints. This was managed on a digital platform created by the Management Innovation eXchange and participants were supported by hackathon guides who wrote blogs, took part in hangouts and recorded videos to encourage further our thinking. Interestingly, the concept of Hackathon guides was the most controversial element of the whole process with some participants feeling it created a hierarchical structure of experts which was counter to the spirit of hacking. The hackathon process took place over a twelve week period, for NHS Hack Days it is completed in a much shorter duration. But the basic pattern is the same and you can design the hack duration to meet your needs. I’ll run through the process to give you a sense of what participation involved:

  • First, we were asked to help refine the problem, this was referred to as ‘swarming’ the problem (a lack of organisational adaptability). The 120 barriers to adaptability we came up with were then synthesized in to twelve main ‘enemies of adaptability’.
  • We were then invited to share our ‘moonshots’, descriptions of projects we thought could help to overcome the enemies we had identified.
  • Following this, we completed short mini-sprints commenting on each others ‘moonshots’ and signed up to join hack teams to work up the specific moonshots we were interested in.
  • Then we entered the main sprint. Once in teams we specced out the detail of our hacks working collaboratively in whichever way suited us. As our team was global in membership we made use of Google Drive, mural.ly and email to help share ideas and editing of the hack.
  • The lead author had responsibility for getting the hack into its final shape but it was designed to be a collaborative process from end to end.

I signed up for two hacks and was challenged to think creatively about new and old issues facing the world of work. The title of this post refers to one of those hacks, ‘Corporate Earthquakes‘ led by Alberto Blanco and co-authored by myself, Matt Frost, Stephen Remedios, Conor Moss and Guido Rubio. Our hack focused on using immersive learning techniques to empower organisations to face up to seismic change, in doing so participants gain skills and ways of working for the future which will increase organisational agility to predict, survive and build positively on unexpected change.

The CIPD hackathon created a wide-ranging set of bold, practical hacks that were shared with participants, CIPD members and published for other organizations to try. The final report is here and as you read it you can see how the ideas ranged from the creatively complex to those brilliant in their simplicity (see for example ‘Chuck Out Your Chintz’ led by Gemma Reucroft aka @HRGem). Personally, I found it a great chance to get more familiar with new thinking in HR, OD and L&D and make connections with other people working in those fields. I was exposed to range of brilliant ideas about how to increase organisational adaptability.

So why am I still excited about hackathons, what makes them different to any other form of staff or customer engagement?

I’m excited about the idea of planning an organisational hack in the not too distant future, I think this spirit of ‘playful creativity’ can be used in all shapes and sizes of workplaces to bring employees into the heart of organisational growth and development. Simply I believe hack days and hackathons are one potential antidote to clogged up systems and, more importantly, clogged up thinking (see this excellent blog from @whatsthepont for more on this) .

What I’ve found most exciting about these events is that they move beyond traditional models of public consultation and engagement to inspire people and solutions. You don’t come along to a hack just to comment, complain or have your voice heard, you come to contribute to a solution. At their heart hacks are about a collective coming-together to create progress. What’s so exciting about this model is that it thrives on collaboration and connection, bringing people together from a range of backgrounds, experiences and disciplines and it values everyone’s voice. It’s heady stuff for public engagement.

How often have you been pleasantly surprised or inspired by a colleague’s ideas? Hacking gives you a framework for capturing these ideas and then connecting people from different parts of the organisation to build solutions, grow new projects, develop new approaches. That sounds pretty engaging to me and a more inclusive, connected way to solve problems and create momentum than traditional project teams or committees.

If you can make use of simple digital platforms for sharing the ideas and creating the hack teams all the better. Not everyone in an organisation will necessarily be up for using digital tech to manage the hack so you can either go back to basics and do it without digital tools or, even better in my book, use the process to help a wider group of staff get familiar with sharing their ideas and thoughts digitally. Now that would be a win-win situation as far as I’m concerned…

I’ll leave you with Spydergrrl’s useful list of ways you can start hacking for an agile organisation, and you can hear to her talk about these issues in this video

  • Hack yourself: Redefine barriers as a source of motivation in their own right: instead of being frustrated by “the way things are always done,” challenge yourself to do it differently this time. Use yourself as a guinea pig: Work in a way that is outside your own norm. Challenge yourself to think outside your own box. Do something that scares you. Take a risk.
  • Hack your workspace: make it suit your workstyle (art supplies, toys, blank spaces, whiteboards, room to move, a library, whatever you need). Or better yet, leave it. Grab the equipment from your desk and spontaneously hijack boardrooms for weeks at a time in order to collaborate with your team. Work from home. Work from anywhere, any time.
  • Hack communications: Stop attaching documents to emails. Find creative ways to share knowledge in your team: Do daily stand-up meetings (time them!), use chat. Use visuals to share data. In the office where I currently work, you’ll find whiteboards in common areas, win boards to celebrate team wins, libraries to share resources, outlines/ slides/ diagrams taped up in common team spaces with comment sheets so people can give feedback. We still rely too much on email, but we’re trying.
  • Hack your department: We’re not Google but we can still innovate. We can be strategically agile: we can identify trends, we can see challenges with the way things are done and change them. If the required changes seem too big and too bold, we can start small: take the opportunity to make a minor tweak to a process and see if you make an improvement: Find creative ways to use existing systems, to produce better outcomes. Take a risk. Propose your ideas: go ahead an include your bold idea in your deliverable. Even if it gets removed in the next draft, at least you planted a seed. And if it doesn’t, you may incite change.
  • Hack silos: Begin and end all projects in collaborative spaces: check them for drafts, lessons learned and other information sources to expedite your progress, ask the Twitters, Google solutions from other [organisations] in other countries. Share your learnings organization-wide at project close-out. Crowdsource plans and strategies with internal stakeholders and then test your ideas with counterparts in other organizations. Make internal collaborative tools and sites your default tabs in your web browser and use them every day.
  • Hack your training: If you need to learn a new skill and can’t get the training at work, look for free training resources, meetups or other learning opportunities. Better yet, just do it. Take on projects that stretch your skills and knowledge. Can’t get approval? Do it anyway! Help a colleague with their project in their department. Or form a working group and do it for the whole of the organization.
  • Hack your career: Figure out how to work horizontally in a vertical environment: take a job in another stream or classification to expand the depth of your knowledge. Find a project you just need to be a part of and go be a part of it.
  • Hack your perspective: Empathize with your user. Find opportunities to be the client, not just the implementer. Go sit with a program team for weeks or months to better understand the challenges they face using systems in their day-to-day work. Take an assignment and see how the other half works and lives: If you work in a program, go try out enterprise-level projects. If you work on enterprise projects, go work in a client branch to really understand how enterprise-level decisions impact internal users.
  • Hack your network. Become a reverse mentor; teach an executive to use new tools or just chat with them about the realities of working differently. Join groups that work in another discipline or area of interest. Talk to our counterparts outside the organization to find out how they are solving the same problems.
  • Hack your work. Work differently. Every day.

That’s the key for me, the best thing of all, you don’t need permission for hacking, you can start in small ways with yourself, your mindset or your workspace, your approaches – as Doug Shaw would say:

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Let us know how it goes…

With special thanks to Andrew Jacobs and others for comments on previous drafts and the rest of my Corporate Earthquakes team.   Photo by sobczak.paul under Creative Commons Attribution licence

One small step for L&D, one giant leap for workplace learning…

Have you ever watched a small child learn to stand up and walk? It’s a long process with their first steps preceded by many months of pulling themselves up by the sofa, a random toy, your leg, the cat…the environment may be familiar but the longing to stand and the views from a different height are new and full of potential. Even when they achieve the standing position it takes many more months for them to become consistently stable, hence lots of tumbles, trips and falls. And yes sometimes there are tears but also there are giggles and laughs, and often wide-eyed wonder at how the work looks from their new vantage point. And they will still look for their Mum or Dad, for a stabilising hand, someone to turn to when the path gets rocky or the knee gets scraped. But it’s a journey full of exploration, learning, excitement and practical experience. image Now think about the worst type of learning you’ve experienced at work. All too often we ask people to join us in the classroom for a single one-off ‘hit’ of training, we take them from crawling to walking in one foul swoop and sometimes we don’t even bother to ask if or why they want to learn to walk. For some people that’s a bruising, scary experience and it’s no wonder they fall over when they’re back in their jobs, the learning experience is so ephemeral or awful that the skills, knowledge and behaviours mentioned are half-remembered but rarely acted upon. L&D needs to step up to its role in supporting holistic development rather than just providing training. We should be helping people to identify their goals and needs and responding with a more comprehensive but varied approach. If we want people to learn to walk tall we need to start with small steps (through discussion, listening, bite sized learning, stretch assignments, shadowing), offering a blend of different experiences and resources to support them as they develop their skills and capability. There might be some formal training in there, I’m not evangelical about informal and social learning (just very enthusiastic!). I do think there is a place for workshops and formal training but context & integration have to be key – how will people apply their new skills, how will they pick themselves up and start over again when they tumble? And how can we support them with that (for example by coaching, mentoring, action learning, building networks of peer support) so they’re encouraged to persist, practice and share new skills without reverting to old behaviours or getting stuck where they land.

The biggest small step we can take with our colleagues is to help them see that they can stand on their own two feet when it comes to their ongoing development and that they are able to choose an approach that suits them and the particular issue they are facing. We need to be curating resources people can draw upon at they point they’re needed, building connections and networks, helping people to build their competence at sharing their expertise with others and giving them the confidence to take control of their own development and learning. To use a bit of a hackneyed phrase we need to move from being the sage on the stage to the guide on the side. I’m comfortable with that it feels right to me.

I don’t want to be doling out pearls of wisdom from my carefully guarded stash, I want to see people talking to each other about new tools, ideas and ways of working in their teams, at staff meetings, during project work and over lunch. That’s a learning culture, one where a good idea spreads contagiously, where fresh takes on persistent problems are grabbed by the people affected and worked through collaboratively. But it’s challenging in workplaces where training is the norm, where time is pressured and resources are scarce. It means we need to get out there and talk to our colleagues, understand their work and their goals and then shape our support to meet those needs. We should have been doing this anyway, it’s not rocket science and our world is full of people thinking carefully about how we do this and providing heaps of inspiration about how to do it. To name but two see Jane Hart’s work on learning concierges or Andrew Jacobs on the transformation he’s led at Lambeth Council, he also gave us this list of 50 crazy ideas to change L&D, why not pick one…

image For me it’s been about learning new skills & approaches like digital curation, appreciative inquiry and action learning sets, exploring the role of social platforms like Curatr and Yammer but above all else it’s been about climbing out of the training box and thinking creatively. It’s involved going back to the basics, talking to people and managers about what they need and taking it from there. That means we, (yes that includes you), have to take a long, hard look at ourselves, our own ways of thinking and ways of working. Are you clinging onto something, an approach to ‘training’ or L&D because it’s appropriate or because it feels comfortable? Do you listen to your fellow L&D’ers on these changing practices and think ‘how exciting but it won’t work at my organisation’? If that felt familiar, do you ever stop and ask yourself whether you’ve tried something new in the last six months. If not, why? I’m still learning, still taking those baby steps, tentative and fragile though they may be but it feels good. Sometimes you’ve got to try something new, stumble and persist to be able to walk tall. Will you join me? What small step will you take to transform your practice?

New frontiers? An update to Future challenges, take-down notices and social media research

The 4th annual SRA conference on social media in social research took place on May 16th. As I mentioned in my previous post the theme of the event was future challenges and I was pleased that the six challenges I’d highlighted in my post resonated throughout the day. It was a packed event with some really interesting and thoughtful presentations. Dan Nunan (@DanNunan) from Henley Business School kicked off the day by challenging us to consider the legal issues of consent and data access in this time of increasing legal regulation. I was particularly taken by his consideration of the nature of informed consent in social media research. He reminded us that most social media users barely scan, if they read them at all, the terms & conditions of the platforms they use. With this in mind he suggested the position taken by some researchers that use of data taken from publicly available social media is ‘fair game’ might be suspect. At best he argued we have ‘uninformed consent’, it might be legal but is it ethical? image

Dan wanted us to think about whether we need to conceive a new form of informed consent, he talked about ‘participative’ consent where consent is sought frequently and explicitly from participants. And he cautioned that the voices of researchers in the social sciences have not been heard well enough in current legislative debates around the use of personal data. He drew our attention to the EU’s potential legislation requiring explicit consent (see picture bar above) which could have far-reaching implications for our access to data posted on social media. Challenging stuff so it was good to hear Samantha McGregor (@sammibmcg), Senior Policy Manager at the ESRC talk about how the research councils are engaging in this debate giving researchers a collective voice.

Next up was Professor Rob Procter (@robnprocter) from Warwick University describing how the Collaborative Online Social Media Observatory (@cosmos_project) – which is a collaboration of a number of academic researchers – is developing an open access platform which will give researchers a range of tools for social media data analysis. See the photo below for the impressive range of analytical tools this will provide, it was exciting to hear that the first desktop release of the platform will be launched at the ESRC Research Methods Festival in July

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Then we heard from Joanna Disson & Jamie Baker at the Food Standards agency about how they have been making forays into using social media in government social research. A fascinating case study showing that the tide may be turning in government research towards accepting social media data as one of a number of sources of evidence to inform policy-making. They have been tackling a prevailing scepticism about the reliability, integrity and robustness of social media research by commissioning a think piece from Dr Farida Vis (@flygirltwo) and by using social media in a number of small-scale experiments as part of their ongoing research projects.

image The team have been instrumental in setting up a small group of government social scientists who are keen to explore how to use social media research. It was interesting to hear how the relationship between communications and research has been key to making this happen and heartening that social media research and engagement is becoming more important in the FSA’s social policy research. Joanna and Jamie described how using social media both as a platform and as a tool for gathering research intelligence helps the FSA to stay in touch with hard to reach audiences and collaborate better with interest communities like the food industry.

Next up were a team from TNS BMRB Scotland presenting a case study of their social media work analysing Facebook data and the Scottish Independence debates. What was interesting here was how Preritt Souda (@preriit2131) and Alistair Graham have been comparing the findings from their analysis of Facebook posts to the main pages of the Better Together and Yes campaigns to the more conventional methods of polling.They have found some differences in public opinion looking at both sets of data comparatively and I’m sure there is scope for more work of this type comparing and contrasting the attitudes of the public in different spheres of political and other debate.

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After lunch Dhiraj Murthy (@dhirajmurthy), from Goldsmiths University, did a terrific job of re-energising us with his talk introducing social network analysis of social media, he provided lots of insight into how critical sociology can be enhanced by this type of analysis and gave useful pointers for researchers new to this area. We were particularly taken by his example of SNA for The Voice UK and it will surprise no one to learn that whilst Kylie is the super-connector it’s Tom Jones who leads the lack as the super-ego! Seriously though Dhiraj was able to convey the methodological challenges of these approaches but also their very valuable contribution to applied research topics from race and racism through to health promotion and extremism. He was a strong advocate of the application of a critical eye to all social media methodologies so that social scientists can make use of their contribution to exsiting debates without falling foul of accusations of bias or unrepresentativeness.

Samantha McGregor then gave the conference an update on the ESRC approach to social media research. It was good to hear a reiteration of the ESRC’s commitment to new forms of data as a priority area for investment but disappointing to have confirmation that budget constraints mean there will not be another major call for research in this area this year. The ESRC has also decided to look at other new forms of data such as CCTV alongside social media research. Samantha explained the many and varied ways in which the ESRC is already supporting developments in this area and confirmed that Professor David DeRoure (@dder) is now working alongside the ESRC team as a strategic advisor for social media research to ensure that future investments and initiatives are aligned to work being done by the other research councils in the UK and internationally. There was a strong emphasis on cross-disciplinary approaches to new forms of data. The session ended with a rallying call for social researchers to contribute to the current BIS consultation on spending priorities for the coming year, you can do that here.

The last paper of the day was from Suay Ozkula (@suayozkula) it was a fascinating introduction to her PhD research on digital activism at Amnesty International. Her project is a ‘multilayered ethnography’ and it was great to end the day with a real focus on more qualitative approaches to social media research. Suay has been working at Amnesty International during this process and as such has been able to capture a real insider account of how one third sector organisation is grappling with the new challenges posed by ‘digital activism’ including trying to establish a working defination of what it is and how it differs from the traditional forms of activism Amnesty International has been engaged in.

The day ended with a Question Time style panel chaired by Simon Haslam representing the SRA and involving myself, Rob, Dhiraj and Dan. It was rather better behaved than the BBC version and we were at times dangerously close to being in violent agreement with one another.

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We tackled questions from the floor including: how we can build adequate capability for these new methodological approaches; how are participants in research viewing our use of their data; how should we tackle the legal and ethical implications of social media research; and , how we can address the concerns of those worried about the representativeness of social media data.

  • On the first point our thoughts included making sure the method, tools and critical thinking around social media research are included on university curricula, and reinforced by DTCs; ensuring that opportunities for development are given to existing lecturers, ethics board members and research commissioners; looking to build opportunities for development in all sectors of social research so that the research agenda is driven by many different approaches and not dominated by one approach/set of approaches; incorporating peer led workshops and events to build cross-disciplinary collaborations and to enable us as a community to keep pace in this fast changing area; Rob made the case for supporting the development of citizen social science by encouraging us to share our knwoeldge with the public both on projects and in developing new ideas and solutions through events like Hackathons and data dives.
  • We discussed the engagement of participants and I reminded people about the research that we had done with participants at NatCen last year. You can find the report here: http://www.natcen.ac.uk/our-research/research/research-using-social-media-users-views/
  • In terms of making sure the concerns of social science are addressed in ongoing discussions about the legal and ethical frameworks for access to public data, we were all of one voice arguing that we as individuals and professional bodies need to start talking quickly and loudly about the benefits of social research using social media data for the public interest.
  • On the final point about assuaging concerns about the representativeness and robustness of methods the panel and audience discussed the need to be  confident about the methods we use,  be critical in our use of new data and new social media and be prepared to make the case for the benefits and insight research in this area can add to our existing understanding of social life.

The SRA will be publishing the event presentations on their website shortly and you can also see all the tweets from the event here.