Thursday, 20 March 2008

Musings, methodology and planning

I spent Tuesday evening thinking about exactly what approach I wanted to take and reading the research handbook for tips on Masters research.

Research question
I've pretty much decided to more or less go for the question that Ross Parry suggested although I think I might omit the 'technical' bit. Not being a "techie", and because the work to create the BPMA Wiki was done by our web hosts, I'm don't think I could usefully contribute anything to this topic.

The title is therefore likely to be something like: 'Can Wikis really work for museums? The practical and conceptual challenges of Wiki technology for the BPMA'.

I toyed with idea of just look at one particular challenge - the key one that I'm facing at the moment with our Wiki - how to get people on there. I still haven't completely ruled it out as I think it would be a really good way of combining exactly what I'm working on at work with my MA. Plus I think there's quite a lot to say. The problem, I think, will be in collecting data. Contributions to the BPMA are still relatively infrequent. At the moment quite a few are prompted by me nagging people I know (for instance, the excellent post by my 89-year-old Grandmother about my Grandfather's experiences working for the Post Office! ) This would make it hard to get enough data together to create a representative sample.

With the research question above, I can consider a number of the key issues that the BPMA is currently facing or has faced at the start of our Wiki project:

  1. How to tackle legal issues like liability and the potential for abuse
  2. How do you get people to start using the Wiki - how do you market it? What ideas work best in prompting people to create content, what motivates people to contribute?
  3. The practical considerations - monitoring it, correcting errors, how much should you correct
  4. The more conceptual ideas - issues to do with trust (how much do we trust our users to write 'The Truth'?)
Data capture
I started having a think about the best ways to collect data. I think choosing 2-3 of the 'seeds' that I've come up with to prompt people to contribute, and just watching how they evolve over the next couple of months would make good case studies. I could use the '/diff' pages to log the kind of additions that people are making and look at issues to do with whether they're just adding content, or are actually altering what other people have put. It will be interesting to see how much the 1% rule comes into play.

As well as case studies I can use our stats package to analyse some quantative data i.e. which Wiki pages are most looked at, and of these, how many are editing content, rather than just viewing it.

For the more practical challenges, I think I may need to consult other museum professionals working on Wikis. Any volunteers or suggestions? I guess it would be a case of either meeting up with them in person and conducting an interview (probably only feasible if they're in London) or else filling in a questionnaire by email.

BPMA documents and my own experience will also form a large part of the data here.

A skeleton plan
I've started to think as well about a skeleton structure for my dissertation:
  1. Introduction
  • What are Wikis?
  • About the BPMA Wiki
  • How are Wikis being used, both generally, and specifically by museums and the heritage sector
  • What challenges will the dissertation consider in particular
  • Why is this subject important?
  • Methodology of the dissertation
2. Literature review
  • What are other people saying about Museums using Wikis and the challenges that they face
  • What are other people writing outside the sector about the issues I will be discussing?
  • What kind of wider work is out there about Wikis
  • Where does my work fit in to all of this?
3. Finding - presentation of findings from data capture

4. Discussion - discussion of findings

5. Conclusion

I had a brief period of worry that what I'm writing about isn't hugely new. Jonathan Bowen will discuss some of the specific challenges for museums using Wikis in his Museums and the Web Conference workshop this year. Other work has been done on case studies looking at how people behaved on two different Wikis used in a University context. People have looked at what motivates Wikipedians to contribute. So far, however, I haven't found an in-depth case study that looks at a museum's experience of using a Wiki. Also, it appears that at least some of the Museum Wikis that already exist are being used for internal purposes and not in the same way that we are using a Wiki. I hope that this will make my subject interesting and 'original' enough!


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