The third and final LIS DREaM workshop saw us all returning to Scotland for another visit to the Craighouse Campus of Edinburgh Napier University. First, though, I thought it would be useful to point anybody who isn't aware it towards the DREaM workshop web page. Now that the workshops are finished, it's full of information about all the different research methods that were discussed; including videos, audio, slideshows and interviews with all of the speakers. There was also plenty of discussion on Twitter, under the #lis_dream4 hashtag.
The three speakers covered the following topics:
Horizon scanning – Dr Harry Woodroof:
The first session, on Horizon Scanning, was an interesting overview of how to predict future trends using information that's freely available on the Internet. Horizon Scanning has become a key part of Governmental evidence gathering, which aims to move us beyond a reliance upon existing knowledge on which to base future policy. Harry presented two different techniques, as practiced by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory and the Horizon Scanning Centre respectively.
One of the most interesting points about Harry's talk was the way in which it harnesses the knowledge available on the Internet in a positive way. It's fascinating to hear that the Internet is providing a tool that many researchers are exploiting in imaginative and academically rigorous ways. Barring instances where commercially or politically sensitive information isn't available online, both the techniques relied entirely upon the interrogation of publicly available information.
Techniques from psychology – repertory grids – Dr Phil Turner, Edinburgh Napier University
I found Phil Turner's talk interesting for a different reason; his engaging overview of the theoretical background that led to the development of repertory grids: known as Personal Construct Theory, it emerged from a theory of psychology that concentrates on the concept of humans as scientists. It argues that each person creates their own theoretical framework in order to understand the world around them, and that we are also the effective embodiment of this framework. Repertory grids tap into this individual construct by asking participants to classify a number of carefully chosen objects by similarity and difference.
Phil also explained his own work with this technique, where he looked at individual attachments to objects in order to see whether people were more or less attached to digital objects, such as phones and laptops, than physical ones. I'd love to see further work to see whether the conclusions he found still hold true about born-digital objects such as MP3 files when compared to physical media!
Introduction to data mining – Kevin Swingler, Stirling University
Kevin's overview of data mining gave an excellent and clear overview of an extremely complicated process: using large-scale datasets to allow computers to 'learn' from existing trends in order to predict future behaviour, classify objects or cluster objects by similarity. While it's something that I wouldn't feel comfortable using in my own work, due to its considerable complexity, I did take away an overview of its possibilities and limitations as a methodology. Kevin also underlined a number of points that researchers working with any form of data should be aware of: data preparation is absolutely key to any research task, and his suggestions for cleaning, processing and assessing data for suitability are extremely pertinent to all data researchers. As the saying goes, "rubbish in, rubbish out."
Impact snakes and ladders: workshop exercise on links between research and its impact on practice,
We finished the day with some group work, considering ways to increase the impact of LIS research upon practice. For me, the importance of collaboration stood out across all the group discussions: not only between researchers and practitioners, but also within the profession itself. Hopefully some of the contacts and knowledge gained through this series of workshops will help with this process!
While this was the last workshop, there's still one more opportunity to be involved at the DREaM Conference at the British Library on the 9th July. I'm not sure yet whether I'll be able to attend, but I'll definitely be following online if not!
Finally, I wanted to say thank you to all the organisers for their hard work in making such a thought-provoking and informative series of workshops for us. The whole series was consistently engaging and well organised, and I hope that everybody involved got as much from them as I did.