Date: Monday 20th February 2012

Location: Aytoun Campus, Manchester Metropolitan University

Organisers: HLG, LIRG, HEALER

Presenters: Andrew Booth, Alison Brettle, Vicky Robinson, Hannah Spring, Christine Urquhart

I attended the above conference and found it very useful. I shall briefly go through what was undertaken and then reflect on how it will benefit me. The theme throughout the day’s examples and tasks was ‘information literacy’ and this consistency aided understanding, but folk were allowed to use their own practical examples.

Research vs. Evaluation with Andrew Booth

This was the introductory/opening session that looked at the differences (and similarities) between research and development. The highlights were:

    • Research and evaluation definitions
    • Both can be used to market and inform services
    • Research and evaluation are not two singular choices but a spectrum
    • Both need ethics, governance and management, but may be different types
    • Often ‘objectives’ are the ‘breaker’ between the two.

These were brought together using an ongoing example which was built on step by step. I found this to really helpful in developing my understanding.

Developing Research Questions & Choosing an Approach with Alison Brettle

In a similar style to the first session, Alison introduced the concept of how to developing research questions and approaches. Topics such as: how to develop your topic; the need to narrow or exapnad your topic; types of studies (what, why how); and the compontents of a research question were all covered. I found it useful as it reinforced what I have recently done on my dissertation, but also highlighted a specific area of improvement.

Quantitative Approaches with Christine Urquhart

This covered the reasons for and against quantitative analysis, including a dislike of maths and it can be convincing and ‘neat’. The session then began to cover some of the major aspects of quantitative analysis including: hypothesis testing; t-tests; distribution comparisons; surveys and the use of confidence intervals; sampling (both large and small) and non-parametric testing. While it was very interesting and Christine was very engaging and certainly knew her stuff, I shall be honest and say a lot of it passed me by! There was some useful links to introductory statistics which I *shall* be checking out.

Qualitative Approaches with Hannah Spring

I was interested in this more than quantitative approaches as my dissertation is now using purely qualitative methods versus the original mixed methods approach I had planned. It was very similar in approach to Christine’s session introducing the concept and then looking at some of the specific strengths and weaknesses of qualitative analysis – including the fact that it is incorrectly viewed as the ‘easy’ option. It’s not. Ask my Saturday assistant who spent 9 hours transcribing her very first focus group for her undergrad dissertation! The session used focus groups as an ongoing example offering useful tips such as the optimal number of participants (8) and how to increase the validity of data. The session ended on ‘thematic analysis’.

Ethical Issues with Alison Brettle

This was probably the quickest session of the day covering the different aspects of ethics. As mentioned earlier on there are different approaches to ethics when undertaking research and evaluation, and this session focused mainly upon ethics within research including the need for it to be included at all stages; ethics within particular groups as well as a harrowing ethics stories from all the presenters and the dreaded 76 page NHS ethics page document! Ethics is not something I have really covered which I really should. This is most probably down to me getting my own way most of the time.

Group Work: Developing a Research Protocol

This was the longest session of the day, and in our tables case could have gone on till midnight! As it is described we were tasked with developing a research proposal from scratch, from title and context through to projected outcomes and ethical issues. It was useful, because it not only showed you how much effort and consistency is required to develop such a proposal but also the presenters then gave the possible challenges, issues etc. surrounding each ‘mock’ proposal. This allowed you to reflect on your own issues and how you may work round them. This could be workplace commitments or offering opportunities around a current conundrum.

Snakes & Snakes (what to do when things go wrong) With Andrew Booth (and everyone else)

Due to an overrun this became the end session. It was a light-hearted ‘closer’ in the form of ‘snakes and ladders’ (including dice!) that looked at typical and untypical issues – both positive and negative – that affect research.

Reflection/Conclusion

This was never going to answer all my work-based and dissertation research/evaluation problems and I never expected it to. I have in the above body of text, covered what practical aspects I am going to take away from this session. On a personal levelit enabled me to meet, communicate and network with ‘new’ people which is a developmental need for me personally. Another development need is my lack of contribution in these types of group sessions, something which I actively tried to do today. In the past 12 months, In the past 1 months, my confidence has begun to grow in group situations, which has always been an issue as it allows me to now share and contribute. It was a smallish session (less than 15) and it was very informal which I believe led to everyone (including myself) feeling confident enough to contribute when they felt they could. The atmosphere was very much a plus point of the session.

Overall, I would recommend anyone starting or unsure about research to attend this if they can. It was more about research than evaluation, but similarities were made at the very start to cover that.

Addition:

Upon further reflection, this event has led me to a pretty important decision. In January, my research topic for my dissertation changed quite signficantly. The importance of not doing something ‘half-arsed’ for want of a better term, has became clear. I am not bright enough to not fully commit. I am now aware that trying to force current work into this new topic will not do. I need to restart and re-focus my efforts. I don’t really have time to do this with everything going on – but it is my dissertation. Do I want to do it quickly and poorly or properly?

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