Thursday, 25 September 2014

Thinking, Fast and Slow: The Social Media Research Perspective

Dr. Nicos Rossides is the CEO of Medochemie, an international pharmaceutical company with more than 100 operations worldwide. Nicos is also the Chairman of DigitalMR's Advisory Board. This post originally appeared on the Digital MR blog

Nobel laureate Kahneman has written a seminal book on the different types of thinking processes we humans deploy. In “Thinking, Fast and Slow” he argues that cognitive biases profoundly affect our daily decisions - from which toothpaste to buy, to where we should go on holiday. He goes on to claim that our decision processes can be understood only by knowing how two different thinking systems shape the way we judge and decide:

"System 1" is fast, instinctive, subconscious and emotional;
"System 2" is slower, deliberative, logical.
The book delineates cognitive biases, such as how we frame choices, loss aversion, and our tendency to think that future probabilities are altered by past events..  All these can throw light on fascinating facets of human judgement and thought and are posited by Kahneman to be both systematic and predictable.
Framing: Drawing different conclusions from the same information, depending on how or by whom that information is presented.
Loss aversion:  The disutility of giving up an object is greater than the utility associated with acquiring it.
Gambler’s fallacy: The tendency to think that future probabilities are altered by past events, when in reality they are unchanged.
How is this relevant to research? And why exactly should research agencies and their clients care? Well, I would argue that the basic dichotomy described in the book is critical to the existence of the market research industry. Our ability to generate insights, which in turn can only be gained through the analysis and interpretation of evidence, is key to managing a modern business – it is “system 2” thinking. Of course, one could get some things right by merely relying on intuition or gut-feeling; therein lies the caveat: get some things right. Indeed, chances are that the odds would be heavily stacked against you if you ignore facts and rely on less than rigorous or no analysis. Putting this in a different way, fast thinking is not a good way to raise your metaphorical batting average as a business.
One could certainly argue (correctly) that intuition does not occur in a vacuum – in that it often has its roots in prior experience. But testing your assumptions before going ahead with a decision is a way to avoid mistakes. Indeed, examining available evidence to inform decisions is a tried and tested way of succeeding in business. Ask Procter & Gamble  which spends hundreds of millions every year on painstakingly researching all aspects of the marketing mix.
We can draw a parallel to P&G’s B2C decision model  (based on “System 1” thinking) in which they established the “First moment of truth” which stated that there were 3-7 seconds from when the customer sees the stimulus to when they react (decide to buy). There was then a second decision (“Second moment of truth”) that customers made after the purchase; based on the negative or positive experience with the product, a decision would then be made as to whether they should continue using it/buy from this vendor again
Stimulus -> Shelf (First moment of truth) -> Self experience (Second moment of truth)
Google pointed out that the ubiquity of internet access has caused an upward trend in people (in a B2C and B2B context) after they had observed the stimulus, researching about the product/service to obtain more information before they made their first moment of truth decision; they call it the “Zero moment of truth” (ZMOT)
Stimulus -> Information (Zero moment of truth) -> Shelf (First moment of truth) -> Self experience (Second moment of truth)
Companies are now looking to the web as a solution; this should be done carefully as even using the web as a source of informing decision can lead to systematic biases (searching for what you want to see).
By analysing the zero moment of truth (sources from which customers are obtaining their information) and the first and second moments of truth of current/potential customers, (through what customers are saying online), DigitalMR serves to create an objective way to inform choices (the zero moment of truth) of decision makers of a company through tools such as social media listening, online communities and an array of other digital research tools.
 DigitalMR & ZMOT
So, fast thinking is all nice and good, deeply steeped in our evolutionary past, but when it comes to business, “system 2” slow thinking based on informed choices is the way to go, especially when dealing with big ticket decisions.
What is your view on systems 1 and 2 thinking? How many of your decisions are rooted in system 1 Vs system 2 Vs both? Please share your way of being part of the conversation during the zero moment of truth.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Save the dates! Upcoming tweet chats

There have been lots of interesting discussions and topics floating around about new social media in the social scienes. What better way to share than to host some tweet chats! See below for the dates and the topic we will cover for each tweet chat. All times are London time.

Tuesday 7th October, 2014 at 5pm: Representativeness of online samples

Including: What are the geographical inequalities in contributions across different social media platforms? What approaches can we take to address this? How can we weight twitter data? How can we learn about demographics of people on social media, such as age, gender, employment?

Monday 17th November at 5pm: Ready, set, research!: accessing funds and data

Including: You have an idea for a study, how do you go about funding it? What funding streams are available? What are the regulations/restrictions of accessing different streams? How do we get our hands on big data sets from the likes of Google and Twitter?

Tuesday 9th December at 5pm: The changing role of researchers of SM

Including: How is social media changing our identities as researchers, as people? How does this effect our work? How does this impact the field of social sciences?

Remember to include #NSMNSS in all your posts to help us capture all of the discussion. We will provide a transcript of the Tweetchat on our blog following the event.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

The future of social science blogging in the UK

Mark Carrigan is a sociologist and academic technologist and first wrote this blog post for his blog Contact Mark on Twitter @mark_carrigan

Earlier this week, NatCen Social Research hosted a meeting between myself, Chris Gilson (USApp, @ChrisHJGilson), Cristina Costa and Mark Murphy (Social Theory Applied, @christinacost & @socialtrampos ), Donna Peach (PhD Forum,Donna_Peach) and Kelsey Beninger (NSMNSS, @KBeninger) to discuss possible collaborations between social science bloggers in the UK and share experiences about developing and sustaining social science blogs over time. We didn’t do as much of the latter as I expected, though I personally found it valuable simply to voice a few concerns I’d had in mind about the direction of academic blogging that I’d heretofore been keeping to myself for a variety of reasons. The manner in which the audience for Sociological Imagination seems to have stopped growing over the last couple of years (unless I make an effort to tweet more links to posts in the archives) had left me wondering why I’d been operating under the assumption that the audience for a blog should be growing. I realise that I’d been working on the premise that an audience is either growing or it’s shrinking which, once I articulated it, came to seem obviously inaccurate to me. Considering this also raised questions about overarching purposes which I was keen to get other people’s perspectives on: what was the website for? To be honest I’m not entirely sure. After four years, it’s largely become both habit and hobby. It’s an enjoyable diversion. It’s a justification for spending vast quantities of time reading other sociology blogs. I’m invested in it as a cumulative project, such that even if I stopped enjoying it, I’d probably feel motivated to continue. I’m still preoccupied by how genuinely global it has become, something which feels valuable in and of itself. I’ve also had enough positive feedback at this point (I never know quite how to respond when people send ‘thank you’ e-mails but they’re immensely appreciated!) that all these other factors, essentially constituting its value for me, find themselves reflected in a sense that it’s clearly valuable for (some) other people as well.

Much of the early discussion at the meeting was about the limitations of metrics. It’s sometimes hard to know what to do with quantitative metrics of the sort that are so abundantly supplied by social media. What do they actually mean? Other people have seemingly had the same experience I’ve had of being provoked by these stats to wonder about what isn’t being measured e.g. if x number of people visit a post then how many people read the whole thing, let alone derive some value from it? We discussed the possibility of qualitative feedback, which is essentially what the aforementioned ‘thanks’ e-mails constitute, as something potentially more meaningful but difficult to elicit. Are there ways to pursue qualitative feedback from the audience of a blog? Cristina and Mark described their current project aiming to use an online questionnaire to get information about how Social Theory Applied is seen by readers and how the material is being used. Are there others ways to get this kind of feedback? Perhaps I should just ask on the @soc_imagination twitter feed? I guess the thing that makes me uncomfortable is the risk of slipping into a publisher/consumer orientation, given this is a relation so well established in contemporary society – I don’t see the people reading the site as consumers and I don’t see myself as a publisher. In fact I’ve found it immensely frustrating on a few occasions when I’ve felt people adopt the mentality of a consumer with me e.g. leaving a comment that “there’s no excuse for posting a podcast with such low audio quality” or “why haven’t you fixed the broken link on this [old] post?”. While I’d like to get qualitative feedback on Sociological Imagination, particularly more of a sense of how people use material on the site if it’s for anything other than momentary distraction, I basically have no intention of doing anything other than what I want with it, as well as leaving the Idle Ethnographer as my co-editor to do the same.

We also discussed a range of potential collaborations which we could pursue in future. One of my concerns about the general direction of social science blogging in the UK is that the LSE blogs and the Conversation might gradually swallow up single-author blogs – in the case of the former, the fact they often repost from individual blogs mitigates against this but I think there’s still a risk that single author blogging becomes a very rare pursuit over time, simply because it’s difficult to sustain it and build an audience while subject to many other demands on your time. I think the likelihood of this happening is currently obscured by academic blogging becoming, at least in some areas, slightly modish, in a way that distracts from the question of whether new bloggers are likely to sustain their blogging in a climate where their likely expectations are unlikely to be met by the activity itself. I like the idea of finding ways to share traffic and I suggested that we could experiment with aggregation systems of various sorts: perhaps framed as a social science blogging directory which people apply to join, at which point their RSS feed is plugged into a twitter feed that automatically aggregates all the other blogs on the list. Another possibility would be to use RebelMouse to create what could effectively be a homepage for the UK social science blogosphere (in the process perhaps bringing this blogosphere into being, as opposed to it simply being an abstraction at present). Chris Gilson suggested the possibility of creating a shared newsletter in which participating sites included their top post each week or month, in order to create a communal mailing which profiled the best of social science blogging in the UK. Despite being initially antipathetic towards it, this idea grew on me as I pondered it on the way home – not least of all because it could be a way to connect with audiences who are unlikely to read blogs on a regular basis. However while it would be easy to create prototypes of any of these to test the concept, it’s less obvious how they would work on an ongoing basis. The latter two would require a small amount of funding and/or someone willing to take on an unpaid task. Perhaps more worryingly from my point of view as someone who goes out of my way to avoid formal meetings in general and those concerned with elaborating procedures in particular, it seems obvious to me that some filtering criteria would be required (e.g. should blogs have to be continued past a certain point to join the aggregator? should there be quality criteria and, if so, who would assess them?) to ‘add value’ but I have no idea what these would be nor do I see how they could be fairly elaborated without a long sequence of face-to-face meetings that would likely prove tedious for all concerned. Perhaps I’m being overly negative, particularly since two of the ideas were my own, but I don’t see the point of writing a ‘reflection’ post like this and not being upfront about where I’m coming from.

We also discussed the possibility of longer term collaborations. Would social science blogging in the UK benefit from something like The Society Pages and, if so, how do we go about setting it up? I cautioned against overestimating the possible benefits of the umbrella identity TSP provides but I really have no idea. We discussed whether we should talk to the editors of the site in order to learn more about their experiences. I can certainly see the value in pursuing something like this and, as with the aggregators, it has the virtue of facilitating collaboration while retaining the individual identities of the participating sites – for both principled and practical reasons, I don’t want to collaborate in a way that dilutes the identity of the Sociological Imagination. Plus, even if I did, I’d have to ask the Idle Ethnographer and I suspect she feels even more strongly about this than I do. This discussion segued quite naturally into a broader question of how to fund academic blogging in the UK – framed in these terms, my initial ambivalence about pursuing funding melted away because I’d like nothing more than to find a way to fund blogging as an activity. My experiences at the LSE suggest this might be harder than it seems but we discussed this in terms of winning money to buy out people’s time to participate in these activities. I’ve always been an enthusiast for the LSE model of research-led editorship (as opposed to the journalist-led editorship of the Conversation, which I think leads to an often sterile product in spite of the faultless copy) so I’d like it if this possibility, as a distinctive occupational role in itself, doesn’t slip out of the conversation but it’s difficult for all sorts of reasons. I think it would also be beneficial to find ways of employing PhD students on a part-time basis, either for ad hoc assignments or work on an ongoing basis, given the retrenchment of funding and the congruence between the demands of a PhD and paid work of this sort. My one worry here is that the pursuit of funding undermines what I would see as the more valuable outcome of establishing blog editorship on an equivalent footing with journal editorship – given the latter does not, as far as I’m aware, factor into workload allocations anywhere, advocating that time for blog editing should be bought out risks preventing an equivalence between these two roles which I suspect would otherwise be likely to emerge organically over time.

My sense of the key issues facing the UK social science blogosphere:  
  • How to share experiences, allow practical advice to circulate and facilitate the establishment of best practice
  • Finding qualitative metrics to supplement the quantitative metrics provided by blogging platforms
  • Making it easier for new bloggers to build audiences and promote their writing
  • Experimenting with aggregation projects to help consolidate the blogosphere and share traffic
  • Finding ways to fund social science blogging (for students, doctoral researchers and academics)
  • Increasing the recognition of social science blogging as a valuable academic activity
  • Ensuring that social science blogging remains a researcher-led activity and doesn’t get subsumed into institutionalised public engagement schemes
  • Encouraging the development of group blogs as a type distinct from single-author blogs and multi-author blogs with designated editors

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

A student perspective on 'Qualitative Online Interviews' by Dr Janet Salmons

Ivett Ayodele is an undergraduate student at the University of Salford studying BSc (Hons) Psychology and Counselling. She tweets as @ivettayo and @salfordpcy1 and blogs here.  

I have accepted the challenge to review Qualitative Online Interviews by Dr Janet Salmons (2015) because I believe that as part of the next generation of psychologists, it is a great opportunity to familiarise myself  with the emerging methods of online interviews, which will surely become popular in the future. It is also a great chance to extend my knowledge of qualitative methods generally, while writing this post helps to develop my academic writing skills. My task is to give a student perspective on the book since a lecturer’s perspective has already been explored (see here).

Qualitative Online Interviews by Dr Janet Salmons (2015) guides researchers and students through the process of extending their research into various online settings and it gives guidance on ethical issues that can arise during online interviews. As the author puts it, “the purpose of Qualitative Online Interviews is to encourage researchers to extend the reach of their studies by using methods that defy geographic boundaries” (Salmons, 2015, p. xviii). The book is structured around the E-Interview Framework, a conceptual system which helps to understand interrelationships between the key elements of Online Interviews and aids the process of decision making throughout the research design.

As a first year undergraduate student, I have had the opportunity to learn extensively about quantitative research methods; however Qualitative Online Interviews by Dr Janet Salmons (2015) gave me the opportunity to extend my growing knowledge of qualitative methods. This learning journey ‘forced’ me to develop a complex picture of research methods and now I have a better understanding of both quantitative and qualitative methods; while  the benefits of mixed methods became crystal clear to me.

Qualitative Online Interviews (Salmons, 2015) gives a deep insight into specific ethical issues surrounding online interviews. The author took the typical ethical issues of research, such as informed consent or confidentiality, and placed them at the heart of online interviews. For example Dr Janet Salmons draws attention to the possible flaws in data protection in an online setting by pointing out that some companies who own the platform, where the data is stored, might not have adequate protection against unauthorized access.

The cover and the design of the book reminded me of my old school books; however I found that the simple design helped me to focus more on the text, rather than on the pictures and tables. I found this useful, especially as I was learning new concepts. For example, taking a position as an insider (EMIC) or outsider (ETIC) researcher was a new concept which helped me to appreciate the possible design flaws of a qualitative study, as well as the richness of it, compared to a quantitative study.

The detailed content page and the organization of the book helps the reader to find exactly what they are looking for; yet I found that this book works for me best if I read it first from cover to cover.

 I found the Researcher’s Notebook section and Discussions and Assignments at end of each chapter very helpful. The Researcher’s Notebook section encouraged me to think about each concept as a practical issue and therefore made it easier to understand and relate concepts to research methods. For example in Chapter 3 -Choosing Online Data Collection Method and Taking a Position as a Researcher- Salmons (2015) explains the main ideas of the chapter through her previous studies, which made these concepts to come “alive”.

The Discussion and Assignment section facilitate further learning by raising some questions in regards to each concept. For example in Chapter 9 (Preparing for an Online Interview), Salmons (2015) talks about the importance of Epoche –“ to approach each interview with clear and fresh perspective”- subsequently the Discussion and Assignments part encourages students/researchers to talk/think through the Epoche concept and raises the question, what could be done to clear our mind before an online interview?

The accompanying website is not as user friendly as I would like, however once I found my way around it, I felt that it is a great way to extend the learning experience for students. The website contains of a general resources and a student resources part.

The general resources section offers materials such as course outline with suggested assignments, learning activities, worksheets and media pieces. They are great for academics for planning a course or seminar on qualitative online interviews and they are also useful for students who want to build on their knowledge outside the classroom. The student resource part is broken down into the chapters of the book. In each chapter students can find the definitions of new terms on e-Flashcards, which is a great learning tool. Students can choose whether they would like to see the term or the definition of the term and learn new terminology while they are having fun!

Qualitative Online Interviews by Dr Janet Salmons has not only extended my knowledge about qualitative methods and online interviews but it also deepened my knowledge about ethical issues during online and off-line research. I would recommend this book to any undergraduate student and if someone chooses to conduct online research for their dissertation, I believe that this book is a must have!