Archive | May, 2016

Five Mixed Methods for Research in the (Big) Data Age


In this final post for The Person in the (Big) Data edition of Ethnography Matters, we provide a collection of five mixed methods used by researchers to shine a light on the people behind the massive streams of data that are being produced as a result of online behavior. These research methods use a variety of digital and traditional methods but they share one thing in common: they are aimed at discovering stories. As Tricia Wang wrote on EM back in 2013, ‘Big Data needs Thick Data’. While ‘Big Data delivers numbers; thick data delivers stories. Big data relies on machine learning; thick data relies on human learning.’ In the methods outlined below, researchers outline how they have made the most of digital data using innovative methods that uncover the meaning, the context, the stories behind the data. In the end, this is still the critical piece for researchers trying to understand the moment in which we are living. Or, put differently, the ways in which we may want to live but are often prevented from by a system that sometimes reduces the human experience rather than to enable its flourishing. – HF, Ed.

1. Real-time Audience Feedback: The Democratic Reflection Method

Democratic Reflection ToolDemocratic Reflection is a new methodological tool for researching the real-time responses of citizens to televised media content, which was developed by a team of researchers from the University of Leeds and the Open University in the UK as part of a larger research project on TV election debates. The research for the project began by developing an inductive understanding of what people need from TV election debates in order to perform their role as democratic citizens. Drawing on focus groups with a diverse range of participants, the research identified five key demands — or ‘democratic entitlements’ — that participants felt debates and the political actors involved in them should meet. Participants felt entitled to be: (1) addressed as rational and independent decision makers, (2) given the information needed to make considered political judgements, (3) included in and engaged by the debates, (4) recognised and represented by the political leaders, and (5) provided with meaningful choices that allow them to make a difference politically. In the next phase of the research, the research team developed a new web-based app (accessible via mobile phones, tablets, and laptops), which allows viewers to respond to televised debates in real time and evaluate them using a range of twenty statements based on the five democratic entitlements. An experiment using the Democratic Reflection app was conducted with a panel of 242 participants during the first debate of the 2015 UK General Election, generating a dataset of over 50,000 responses. Analysis of the data provides a valuable new way to understand how viewers respond to election debates: we can explore general patterns of responses, compare different individuals and groups, track changes over time, and examine how specific moments and performances during the debates may relate to particular responses. – Giles MossRead More… Five Mixed Methods for Research in the (Big) Data Age

Trace Interviews Step-By-Step



Screen Shot 2016-05-03 at 9.38.39 AMIn this penultimate post for The Person in the (Big) Data edition of EM, Elizabeth Dubois @lizdubois provides
a step-by-step account of how the trace interviewing process works. Trace interviewing is a method used to elicit a person’s stories about why they made particular traces on social media platforms and is a wonderful way of getting at the stories underlying the data. Elizabeth’s step-by-step will hopefully help others wanting to use a similar method in the interview process! 

Social media data and other digital traces we leave as we navigate the web offer incredible opportunity for discovery within the social sciences. I am going to take you step by step through the process of trace interviewing – an approach that helps researchers gain richly detailed insights about the social context of that digital data. For those interested in the why as well as the how, Heather Ford and I talk a lot about why we think the method is important and what types of things it can offer researchers (such as validity checks, information about social context, opportunities to join data sets from various platforms) in our paper.

The Study
I want to figure out how people who influence other people on political issues choose their channels of communication (and the impact of those choices). The only way to understand these decisions and their impacts, I think, is a mixed-methods approach. So, I draw on Twitter data for content and network analysis, an online survey and in-depth trace interviews. You can read more about the full work here.

Trace Interviews
Hey, so great to finally meet you in person. Welcome!
By the time I got to the interview stage my interviewee and I already knew quite a lot about each other. They had filled out a survey, they knew I found them because the use the #CDNpoli hashtag, and they had read a project description and signed a consent form in advance.

It was important to form a relationship with my participants well in advance because I needed permission to collect their data. Sometimes trace data is publicly available (for example, tweets made or the list of accounts a Twitter user follows). But, even when it is publicly available, I tend to think that giving your participant a heads up that you’ve got or will collect data specifically about them is a good call. The fact is, people don’t always understand what making a public tweet means.Read More… Trace Interviews Step-By-Step