Evidence-Based Library and Information Practice has published an open-access article as part of its EBL 101 series, titled “Research Methods: Design, Methods, Case Study…oh my!” in which the author talks about research design as the process of research from research question through “data collection, analysis, interpretation, and report writing” and the logic that connects questions and data to conclusions. It can be thought of as “a particular style, employing different methods.” In the way that evaluators love to discuss terminology, she then differentiates “research design” from “research method” and points out that research methods are ways to “systematize observation” including the approaches, tools, and techniques that are used during data collection. Asking whether a “case study” is a research design or a research method, the author concludes that “case study” is an example of a kind of research design that can employ various methods.
Archive for the ‘News’ Category
Colleagues at the National Library of Medicine Training Center notified the OERC about interesting new software that builds on social media to collect comments from communities of interest. It’s called IdeaScale.
The software is designed to support “crowdsourcing,” in which an open call is sent to a targeted group (a “community”) to participate in solving a problem or developing an innovation. With IdeaScale, people can post their ideas about an issue, and then others can cast a “like/dislike” vote and add comments. This tool provides an interesting approach to evaluation because you can get both qualitative responses and a quantified measure of interest in the community. The software can give evaluators a jump on thematic analysis of comments.
The Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Executive Office of the President of the United States have used IdeaScale to collect feedback from communities of interest. Here are links to their sites (now closed for comment):
One drawback, from an evaluation standpoint, is that the targeted group is largely undefined, so respondents are likely to be those who are particularly drawn to the topic and may not be representative of the community (or larger population). Comments from the more-engaged members of a community can be particularly helpful for needs and process assessment, but interpretation of the quantified “votes,” particularly for outcomes assessment, would require caution, such as checking findings against another source of data.
The other drawback is that people must sign up for an IdeaScale account to contribute ideas. A two-step process (setting up an account, and then contributing) can be a barrier to participation. IdeaScale does allow participants to open accounts through Facebook, Twitter, or other social media accounts. This might ease the participation barriers, but mostly for those who are comfortable with social media, which may further bias the data collected through IdeaScale. Still, it is an intriguing tool for the correct audiences and evaluation questions.
Here’s a link to the company website, which offers a demonstration video and a free subscription:
“We are losing our listening.” This is the way sound specialist Julian Treasure begins his TEDtalk called “5 Ways to Listen Better.”
If he’s correct, that’s bad news for those of us who conduct interviews and focus groups. With quantitative methods, we use data collection tools. With qualitative methods, we are the data collection tools and if we can’t listen, we aren’t valid or reliable.
If you aren’t familiar with TEDtalks, TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design; and TEDtalks are a series of 1000+ short video podcasts where highly creative people share “ideas worth spreading.” I heard Treasure’s TEDtalk on a public radio station the other day and realized it had ideas worth spreading to the OERC blog audience.
His talk includes some short, fun exercises for improving our listening skills, but his RASA acronym, about interpersonal listening, is particularly pertinent to evaluators using qualitative methods:
- Receive or pay attention to the speaker
- Appreciate by using verbal cues such as “uh-huh” and “I see.”
- Summarize periodically. (Sentences that start with “So…” work well.)
- Ask questions afterwards.
TEDtalks are available on the web. Here’s the link to Treasure’s presentation, which is less than 8 minutes long:
Did it seem a bit much when you had to wait for weeks (months?) for your IRB’s “exempt status” approval for that 5-item questionnaire assessing hospital librarians’ attitudes toward web-based learning? Well, take heart. The Office of Management and Budget convened a working group to review – for the first time in 20 years – the current federal human subjects review regulations. The Department of Health and Human Services has posted proposed revisions for public comment at http://www.hhs.gov/ohrp/humansubjects/anprm2011page.html. A recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine summarized proposed changes (source is listed below). Here are some of the highlights:
- Review processes would be eliminated for “exempt” projects. Such projects really are no riskier for participants than everyday activities like laundry or housework. Under proposed guidelines, researchers would be permitted to begin low-risk projects immediately after registering them, which would involve submitting a brief description to their IRBs. (In other words, no waiting to see if your IRB agrees that your project is “exempt.”) The group also proposed, for consideration, allowing competent adults to provide oral consent to participation in focus groups, interviews, and surveys. The term “exempt” would be replaced by “excused,” because low-risk studies would be excused from the review process but not exempt from the oversight described in the next bullet.
- Uniform data-security measures would be developed and enforced. While participants in “excused” studies face minimal risk from interventions, they can be harmed through inappropriate release of data. One huge blind spot in current human subjects regulations is a lack of uniform standards for data security. The committee proposes creation of uniform standards required for all projects, including low-risk ones. Institutions would oversee compliance with processes such as random audits of excused programs.
- Studies using secondary sources of data would automatically be classified as “excused.” Many publications and presentations that report evaluation data fit into this category. When we evaluate programs, our primary purpose is for program improvement and enhancement of services for our users. If we take evaluation data and analyze it for publication, it becomes a secondary source, meaning it was collected for program improvement and “recycled” for scholarship.
- Multi-site research projects will have one IRB record. When libraries from different institutions collaborate, their projects often have to undergo separate review in each participating institution. Multiple reviews sometimes force variation in assessment practices that can compromise studies but does not enhance human subjects protection, so the working group recommends “one project, one record.”
Please note: No changes to federal policy have been made yet, so don’t stop following your institution’s IRB procedures. If you would like a more detailed, but readable, summary of proposed changes, please check out the following article:
Source: Emanuel EJ, Menikoff J. Reforming the Regulations Governing Research with Human Subjects New England Journal of Medicine, 2011 Jul 25. Available online at http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMsb1106942)
You can find a useful list of Seven Practical Steps to Create an Effective SurveyMonkey Survey at the SurveyMonkey Blog. More detail is provided for each of these steps, which, in general, apply to creating any survey (regardless of mode of creation and distribution). Briefly, here are the steps:
The Middle Atlantic Region’s focus group project, led last winter by Sue Hunter, recently received attention through two venues of the American Evaluation Association: at the 2010 AEA annual conference in San Antonio and on the aea365 blog. On November 12, Sue presented Using Appreciative Inquiry Focus Groups to Engage Members in Planning for the National Network of Libraries of Medicine Middle Atlantic Region. (Cindy Olney was a co-contributor to this presentation.) MAR used the focus group project, designed using appreciative inquiry methods, to collect network member feedback in preparation for its 2011-2016 proposal. The presentation highlighed the evaluation design and lessons learned about using the appreciative inquiry approach. The presentation abstract and PowerPoint slides are available here at the AEA Public Library.
In the run-up to the conference, AEA staff asked some presenters to submit blog entries about their conference presentations for AEA365, a tip-of-the-day blog by and for evaluators. On AEA’s invitation, Sue and Cindy wrote a blog entry that was posted here on November 5.
AEA kicked off 2010 with AEA365, a new blog featuring ”tips, cool tricks, and rad resources for evaluators.” Entry topics include computer-assisted logic modeling, time management tools, ideas for evaluation reports, and tools for visualizing and displaying data. The blog is available at http://aea365.org/blog/.
Slides and handouts from October’s OPEN (Oregon Program Evaluators Network) meeting are available at their web site in the “OPEN Past Events & Resources” section.
One of the OPEN Annual Conference afternoon workshops was “Groovy Graphics: Visual displays of Quantitative Information” from Elizabeth O’Neill and Ralph Holcomb of Multnomah County Aging and Disability Services. (Silly presentation title, not clear why they used it, they didn’t seem to like it, either)
The presentation began with a “Graphics 101″ review of some of Edward Tufte’s concepts about using graphics that “concentrate on the eloquent statement”:
- Show comparisons;
- Provide data at different levels of detail;
- Integrate information so viewers can understand it quickly;
- Provide documentation;
- Reduce clutter.
Every visual choice should convey a meaning. MS Excel provides a toolbox of fundamentals for us:
- Bar Graphs–avoid using the 3D option because it serves no purpose and simply adds visual clutter; typical axis choices are to make the x-axis nominal and the y-axis ordinal, interval, or ratio; horizontal bar graphs are especially useful in facilitating comparison of data to a benchmark;
- Line Graphs–typically the x axis is ordinal or higher and the y axis is interval or ratio;
- Scatterplots–for continuous data; both x and y are interval or ratio;
- Stem and Leaf charts–show mean, median, and mode in one glance (but I find them a bit hard to read);
- Pie Charts–for displaying many values of one variable.
The presenter stated that he is a “strong advocate of DDT”–meaning Dashboards, Drill-downs, and Templates:
- Dashboards provide quick groups of data presented simply (often featuring traffic signals in green, yellow, and red);
- Drilldowns (web pages where viewers can click on a word or a tab) are ways to provide more data with less clutter;
- Trendlines show patterns of data over time.
Sparklines are tiny graphs, charts, traffic signals embedded within text, showing lots of data in a small space. They provide very quick views of data within the context of a narrative, and can be produced with an add-on that can be purchased for Excel (they will be a standard feature in the next version).
Word clouds, such as those produced from Wordle, can be used in textual data analysis for counting the occurrences of words. In word clouds, word size matters–bigger means more–but word position does not–it’s random. So, conclusions cannot be drawn from word proximity. But, the presenter suggested that word clouds could be given to decision makers to help them generate hypotheses and could be used in generating “frequently asked questions” lists. Word clouds also have good potential for use as graphics for the fronts of reports.
Handouts and powerpoints from this workshop will be made available at the OPEN web site.
One of the OPEN Annual Conference afternoon workshops was “What Program Evaluators Can Learn from How We Performancy Auditors Do Our Work” from Gary Blackmer, Oregon Audits Director from the office of the Oregon Secretary of State. He referred to the 2007 Government Auditing Standards definition of performance auditing, pointing out that information resulting from audits is intended by use of those charged with governance and oversight to improve program performance and operations, reduce costs, and facilitate decision making. How does this differ from program evaluation? Auditors are required to follow the Government Auditing Standards from the Government Accountability Office (also known as “The Yellow Book”). Auditors are organizationally independent from the entities being audited; they do not negotiate scope, objectives, or access to data; and they always produce public reports. He pointed out that auditors make it a practice to spend one-third of their time conducting assessment and developing their audit plan, one-third gathering evidence, and one-third producing reports of findings. (Audience members generally agreed that evaluators tend to spend less time than that on planning and reporting.)
Published audit reports are typically intended to provide a window into an organization–a portrait for the public–with referrals to separately published working papers that provide details about methodology, data, and analysis. The speaker observed that bad news doesn’t travel up very well and we don’t get rewarded for doing things wrong. Organizations often only want to be assessed on things that can be controlled, leading to an emphasis on process rather than outcomes. Auditors sometimes have a more accurate view of “reality” than management and, emphasizing that there is always room for improvement in every organization, provide “bad news” (ie, suggestions regarding changes) in doses that can be tolerated.
Handouts and powerpoints from this workshop will be made available at the OPEN web site.