It started with a tweet…

This blog was originally published on the NatCen blog here.

image It started with a tweet, a blog post and a nervous laugh. Three months later I found myself looking at a book of blogs. How did that happen?! Being involved in the NSMNSS network since its beginning has been an ongoing delight for me. It’s full of researchers who aren’t afraid to push the boundaries, question established thinking and break down a few silos.

When I began my social research career, mobile phones were suitcase-sized and collecting your data meant lugging a tape recorder and tapes around with you. That world is gone, the smartphone most of us carry in our pockets now replaces most of the researcher’s kitbag, and one single device is our street atlas, translator, digital recorder, video camera and so much more. Our research world today is a different place from 20 years ago, social media are common and we don’t bat an eyelid at running a virtual focus group or online survey. We navigate and manage our social relationships using a plethora of tools, apps and platforms and the worlds we inhabit physically no longer limit our ability to make connections

Social research as a craft, a profession, is all about making sense of the worlds and networks we and others live in, how strange would it be then if the methods and tools we use to navigate these new social worlds were not also changing and flexing. Our network set out to give researchers a space to reflect on how social media and new forms of data were challenging conventional research practice and how we engage with research participants and audiences. If we had found little to discuss and little change it would have been worrying, I am relieved to report the opposite, researchers have been eager to share their experiences, dissect their success at using new methods and explore knotty questions about robustness, ethics and methods.

image Our book of blogs, available as an ebook here, is our members take on what that changing methodological world feels like to them, it’s about where the boundaries are blurring between disciplines and methods, roles and realities. It is not a peer reviewed collection and it’s not meant to be used as a text book, what we hope it offers is a series of challenging, interesting, topical perspectives on how social research is adapting, or not, in the face of huge technological and social change.  I want to thank every single author from the established bloggers to the new writers who have shared their thoughts with us in this volume. I hope you enjoy the book as much as I have enjoyed curating it. All proceeds from book sales will go towards network events which are otherwise unfunded.

We we will be running more online & offline events this year so do follow the network and join in the discussion @NSMNSS, #NSMNSS or at our blog http://nsmnss.blogspot.co.uk/

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

Future challenges, take down notices & social media research

I’m taking part in a panel at the SRA’s annual social media in social research conference tomorrow and thought I’d take the opportunity to make some personal reflections on the challenges facing social media research in the future. These are top of head thoughts which I’ll come back to after the event tomorrow. You can follow tweets from the event at the hashtag #SRAconf.

 

You might be able to explain social media using doughnuts, but what about how we research that behaviour and the data it produces. Three years into our New Social Media, New Social Science? peer-led network we have over 600 researchers in our community and we’ve witnessed an explosion of interest in social media research in the social sciences.  Over the course of those three years researchers from around the world have come together in person and online to share their experiences, frustrations and achievements. We’ve identified a number of challenges.

There is no doubt that there are now more people talking about social media research, it has become part of mainstream methodological debate and researchers are developing new tools for exploring social media data and understanding the social media dimension of contemporary life. It’s hard to find any sector of life where the promise and potential of ‘big data’ haven’t been touted as the next big thing.

But we face a key methodological challenge. I’m struck by the fact that quite simply most social media data is ‘not quantitative data, rather qualitative data on a quantitative scale’ (Francesco D’Orazio) – we have yet to fully address the fact that a high proportion of social media traffic consists of pictures not text. The social science of images and visual data is not hugely well served by current approaches and tools which focus on text and numerical data. There are some researchers leading the charge in this area (see this from Dr Farida Vis, for example, on the challenges of analysing visual data from social media) but we have much to learn from colleagues working in the digital humanities sphere.

image  This brings us to the collaborative challenge. I’m confident that the most powerful insight from social media research will come from transdisciplinary efforts drawing on the varied insights and skills of for example statisticians, qualitative researchers, digital curators, information scientists, machine learning experts and human geographers. We have a window of opportunity to forge a new shape and rhythm for our research methods and epistemologies, I’m not convinced we’re yet fulfilling the potential transformative nature of this moment.

We also face profound ethical and legal challenges. In a week when internet search giants have been legally required by an EU court to respect individual’s rights ‘to be forgotten’ we are talking about using social media data for research. We might feel that our social research is a benign endeavour contrasted to commercial harvesting of customer insight data but we all face similar ethical and legal challenges: whose data? whose consent? whose ownership? All complex issues, as shown by our recent NatCen research on the views of social media users about researchers use of their data. We have only just begun to scrape the surface of this debate and meanwhile data is being mined, harvested, analysed and reported in increasing volume. The critical moments which will shape and define the ethical and legal frameworks for the use of social media data will probably not come from social research but from the use of social media data in the commercial world or media realm, these industries practices may shape our future access to research data. Are we engaging enough with these sectors and issues?

And in a world where technology moves fast we face a capability challenge. How many of us are really au fait with the worlds we are researching on social media platforms? Which brings us to the connective or contextual challenge how can we research what we don’t understand or use? We know from our members that many methods lecturers, research supervisors, research commissioners, and research ethics board members do not feel adequately equipped to make rounded, informed decisions about the quality, ethics or value of social media research projects and proposals.

Finally, there is a synthesis challenge, how if at all can new forms of research and findings map onto, elaborate or further inform conventional social research data?

Of course challenges are hard, knotty things to tackle but they also give us great opportunities to really push the boundaries of our practice as social scientists. Social media research needs social science as much as it does data science, it needs anthropology and ethnography as well as big data analytics, it needs to reflect, explore and understand the context and communities which anchor and shape social media data. I’m up for the challenge, are you?

You can join the NSMNSS network by following @NSMNSS, we tweet using the #tag NSMNSS and invite open contributions to our blog.

Reblogged: Quantitative literacy is a life skill

This blog was first posted here: http://www.natcen.ac.uk/blog/quantitative-literacy-is-a-life-skill October 3rd, 2013

We’ve got a problem with numbers in the UK. From parents browsing school league tables, to voters weighing up the comparative costs of party manifestos, quantitative literacy is a life skill. And nowhere is this truer than in the social sciences; year on year young social scientists graduate without the numerical skills needed to master the age of ‘big data’.

Concern about this deficit has been troubling social science for a number of years and a range of initiatives have sought to address it from the great work being done by the Getstats campaign to the ESRC Quantitative Methods initiative tackling the issue in the social sciences.

Today the Nuffield Foundation, HEFCE and ESRC have raised the stakes and announced a significant investment to address this persistent gap. £19.5 million has been awarded to 15 universities to create a step change in the skills of our next generation of social scientists. The funding will support 15 new Q-Step Centres, additional teaching posts in quantitative methods and targeted university degree programmes which focus on developing quantitative literacy in a range of social science disciplines.

As a major employer of social scientists with a commitment to support the quality of social research in the UK, we welcome this bold move. We are delighted to be working closely with three of the Q-Step Centres at City University London, Cardiff University and the University of Edinburgh. Our researchers will be sharing their expertise and experience of working on some of the most complex quantitative policy research with undergraduate students through lectures, careers workshops and work placements as well as a range of other activities. This role continues our long history of being at the heart of capacity building for social science through NatCen Learning including our past stewardship of the ESRC funded Survey Skills scheme for early career researchers, a current programme working with lecturers to boost their skills in delivering quantitative methods training and our own graduate researcher scheme.

We need to act now to ensure that in ten years time Britain is still producing social scientists who are skilled enough to run complex surveys, communicate with the public effectively, and continue to push the envelope of quantitative methods. We hope it has not come too late.