Thursday, 8 May 2008

Refining research question(s)

I sent a progress report to my tutor a couple of weeks ago and at the weekend I got his response back. It was generally really positive which was encouraging - he was impressed by my bibliography and thought that I was asking pertinent questions etc. He raised an interesting point on research questions though because he felt that my report didn't quite make it clear what my research question was.

I had been intending to steer clear of starting out to answer the question 'Should museums use Wikis?' Rather I didn't want this to be the focus of my argument. I have noted in my introduction that, although the topic might end up helping people make that decision for themselves. As I have mentioned before, the BPMA Wiki was not my idea and by being in a position to run with an idea without being too precious about whether or not it works puts me in an ideal position to write quite a balanced dissertation.

Instead I have been roughly working to the idea of writing about the practical and conceptual challenges for museums using wikis. In writing this I was lead to look again at the original title Ross suggested, and realised that it was 'Can wikis really work for museums? The practical and conceptual challenges of Wiki technology for the BPMA' - or something like that anyway, I've changed a couple of words. This leads me to re-consider the section that I've put in the introduction about not being steered by a should we/shouldn't we approach.

I think I perhaps need to have a think about what questions I've really been asking myself in my preparation. So here goes:
  1. What are the challenges?
  2. How can they be overcome?
  3. How are the challenges that have been identified by others relevant in a museum context?
  4. What type of Wiki pages/topics particularly appeal to a museum audience?
  5. How much work in involved in museums using Wikis?
  6. How do you go about getting people to use a Wiki?
  7. Is there an inherent contradiction if an organisation tries to lead on a Wiki when Wikis should fundamentally be egalitarian and democratic?
  8. How do audiences behave on a Wiki?
I think maybe my tutor is right that 'Should museums use Wikis', or, for the sake of argument, 'Can wikis really work for museums?' is quite a broad topic. He made some suggestions of other questions:
  1. do the risks/challenges to museums using wikis outweigh the opportunities?
  2. can a wiki demonstrably contribute to the achievement of a museum's goals/objectives/mission?
I don't think my data really lends itself to the second one, I've really been working around what the challenges are and how to overcome them. Plus I think Ross originally steered me away from a topic like this when I originally suggested something to do with whether or not a Wiki could stand in the sted of a physical museum site. He said that there was a real lack in the field of a sensitive and thoughtful exploration of museums and wikis. Reading back on my first post about my conversation with Ross, I noted that I wrote: 'He suggested that I treat it as a story of how the BPMA have got to the position we are currently at with the Wiki and the issues that have arisen.'

I'm aware that my mind tends to gradually identify patterns and arguments once I start writing but it occurred to me that it might be valuable to try and work out what I'd be arguing with the current direction I've been heading in. I guess you could summarise the kind of themes that are coming out of my work and my data at the moment as:

  1. Wikis involve a lot of hard work from the moderator
  2. It's often quite difficult to get people to start contributing
  3. Some topics work better than others in getting people to contribute
  4. It's very important to consider the target audience and then push it to them (many of our newsletter readers, for instance, don't have a computer so too much newsletter coverage is probably pointless!)
If I need a more refined question, there is of course still the possibility that I outlined in another previous post of looking only at one challenge - namely how to get users to contribute to a Wiki. But the disadvantages that I raised at that point probably still stand - we haven't got a huge number of contributions yet to build a case on.

I feel like my brain is like pea soup at the moment and I have to really dredge out any thoughts. I guess I kind of set out to just sort of do an exposé/case study of the BPMA Wiki but I do think maybe I need a more specific question to answer. I feel a bit anxious now that I might have been trying to address too broad a topic but I can't really think how to refine it for the moment... Watch this space, hopefully I'll get inspiration soon!


Blogger steeveegee1975 said...

How about... 'Is Web 2.0 worth it? Challenges vs opportunities in the BPMA Wiki project'

To be honest I don't think I'm academically minded enough to really know what to suggest as a good research question. However, IMHO, most of the phrases in the blog post I'm responding to seem to work very well and are all quite similar - although with subtle distinctions - you just need to decide which works best with the data you've gathered to date, I suppose.

You could bring in something about museums (i.e. the BPMA - or me! - in this specific instance) not fully understanding the world of Web 2.0 but trying to join it. In some cases this leads perhaps to underplanned, intentionally speculative activity such as commissioning a wiki...

However, the flip side to this speculative approach might be that a museum cannot come to terms with the possibility of surrendering intellectual authority at all and does nothing whatsoever with any kind of UGC - most likely in spite of mission statements all about public engagement with collections blah blah blah.

I don't think this is anything like your overall research question, but this tension, or institutional choice, between 'having a go' and fear of losing control/ fear of level of effort to actually develop engagement, seems interesting and relevant to me.

This is Sunday morning so this may not be as clear as I'd like! But, it is all influenced by a recent conference I went on about community engagement (not necessarily or primarily online, but even so it still seems to resonate with what you're writing about).



11 May 2008 at 09:33  
Blogger Rhiannon Looseley said...

Thanks Steve. That does make sense and I think while now I'm going to stick with my original question, I think your suggestion of 'Is Web 2.0 worht it? Challenges vs opportunities in the BPMA Wiki project' will probably be inherent in that. I definitely don't want to draw too negative a conclusion. To be honest, by August when I'll be writing up I think it will still be too early to draw any kind of final conclusion on the BPMA Wiki as it will still be in its first year. BUt I don't want to just focus on the negatives, I do want to talk about the positives, how some of the challenges have been overcome etc. In fact thinking about it, I might try and get the word opportunities into the title somehow - so thanks for suggesting it.

Also reminds me that I must get round to writing to you properly (with all the requisite ethics forms to say you don't mind being quoted) to get your feelings on exactly why the wiki was started. I know most of it but I'd like to hear it from the horse's mouth as it were.

Thanks again!

13 May 2008 at 10:19  
Anonymous Steve said...

I think you're dead right: the word 'opportunities' is important. I think what I was trying to get at in my last comment is that, one can research endlessly in advance and then wring one's hands at all the potential pitfalls of any new project, OR, you can go for it and figure things out as you go. All right, in ideal project management terms you'd mitigate risk with a proper review, but even so, I think the question remains: to jump, or not to jump.

In other words, your dissertation is much more interesting because the BPMA jumped. You could still write about this stuff, but at a further remove.


13 May 2008 at 10:31  
Blogger Rhiannon Looseley said...

True, and that then leads into all the themes that my post prompted on the MCG list a while ago about basically whether or not museums should be jumping. This will also be a theme of the UKMW08 conference in June which I hope to be attending so will all be useful stuff

Thanks Steve! :-)

13 May 2008 at 10:35  

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