Saturday, 5 November 2011

talking, transcribing and reflecting

I started my research conversations this week. I'm calling them conversations because I see them as evolving and 'co-constructed' rather than fixed, formal interviews. It was great to get started, but (as I guessed) this also faced me up to some of the realities of collecting data. The idea of conversations with research participants would of course be different, my imagination could paint a picture just as I wanted (great for the control freak) and both the conversation and the visual 'mapping' out I had planned worked wonderfully from the word go. That's not been how it has been.

Unlike everyday conversations, these had a lot hanging on them. I see now that I may have even been waiting for those 'golden nuggets' of insight into professional identity - the short term 'banking' view of narrative research data - that's one... that's one.. Looking back, frustration (at the time and in transcribing) with sections I thought were less relevant was real. What made this even worse was my 'foreknowledge' - I knew these sorts of stories, or so it's tempting to think having worked and managed the sorts of settings these stories came from. 

What made it seem worse (for a short while) was the experience of transcribing. This is still 'work in progress' and it's painfully slow. Twitter friends using the #phdchat hashtag encouraged me to think of it as getting close to the data, but they also acknowledged that it's like climbing up a mudslide. I have been reminded how impatient I am, perhaps because I try to fit so much into my life and work and I've got high standards for myself. But it better to great, and NOW.

In moments of reflection, I've looked back at that 'banking' view of narrative data, and recognised that I have to see this as the start of a fairly long journey with these participants, and that moments of frustration and boredom (for everyone) as well as excitement are normal. Some of the things that seem irrelevant now may end up being important or even pivotal. It's necessary to knock those imagined conversations on the head and replace them with reality, which is and will be so much better. My participants are the best.

There is a contradiction here - I am totally comitted to these conversations being constructed together, and for them to evolve, but want them to 'work' straight away. This applies to the visual element - the visual 'map making' I've previously blogged about. I found out that the visual 'maps' for the sessions so far look at little less than the marlevous vision in my head. Firstly, it's all my work; and secondly they are depressingly linear. Perhaps the reason for this is because these are 'context setting' sessions and participants (unlike me) have not lived with this for a long time. I'll be putting my mind to how I can make this aspect of the conversation inviting, meaningful and practical. Perhaps it's fine that this 'eases in'. I take heart from the fact that I have worked well with people doing this in my mentoring practice, but to be fair to participants this is hard thinking!

In the meantime I will learn to live with a new rhythm of research now I'm mixing talking, reading, transcribing and note making.