I love running focus groups, both from a research and human perspective, but traditionally this method has been far from universally accessible. For example, traditional focus groups present important challenges for people with communication disabilities and disorders, which currently are over 10% of the U.S. adult population.
As someone who cares deeply about the inclusion of traditionally under-represented voices in research, I think there’s a lot that we can do to re-think methodologies to make them more accessible. In an article I published in the journal Qualitative Research earlier this year, I drew on my experience organizing, moderating, and analyzing focus groups to discuss low-cost, relatively straightforward, and flexible solutions to ensure that people with communication disabilities and disorders are equally as empowered as any other participant to contribute their perspectives, opinions, and experiences to these studies. While this article can only begin to scratch the surface of this issue, I hope it will help us start a conversation about how to adapt and innovate qualitative research in all fields to make it simultaneously more inclusive and more valid.
You can find the full article here (get in touch directly for a pre-print version, if you like):
Participating in focus groups can be challenging for people with communication disabilities. Given that more than 1 in 10 adults has a communication disability, focus groups that overlook their needs exclude a large part of the population. This research note makes a unique contribution toward creating more inclusive focus groups by discussing a variety of strategies employed in a recent study of political participation among Americans with disabilities that included a high proportion of participants with communication disorders. Universal design principles can support the “mainstreaming” of communication disabilities in focus group research, contributing to more inclusive and representative social science scholarship.
Paul Reilly (Information School – University of Sheffield) and I continue our collaboration on ethical challenges in online research with a new article about studying Facebook groups in post-conflict Northern Ireland in the journal Information, Communication and Society. In this article, we discuss the development of an ethical stance for the study of Facebook pages associated with the 2012 Belfast flag protests.
Paul Reilly and I recently presented a paper on the ethical challenges involved in researching social media protest in high-risk places at the “Protest Communication Ecologies” conference organised by the journal Information, Communication and Society together with City University and the University of Sassari (Italy). If you missed our session and would like to read more about our proposed typology of high-risk places and examples of ethical strategies drawn from research on Northern Ireland, you can find a copy of our presentation here.
My colleague Paul Reilly (Media and Communication, University of Leicester) and I will present a joint paper at the ‘Protest Participation in Variable Communication Ecologies‘ conference, which is organised by the journal Information, Communication & Society together with the University of Sassari and will take place in Alghero, Italy between 24-26 June 2015. This event will focus on advances in contemporary protest and more broad activist repertoires at a time in which ‘established’ and ’emerging’ forms of mass media increasingly interact, providing a range of actors with enhanced opportunities to influence public decision-making, but also challenging their traditional tactics.
Our contribution will examine the ethical challenges involved in carrying out research between ‘streets’ and ‘screens’ in unstable and potentially risky political contexts, using examples drawn from Paul’s research on the use of Facebook during the 2013 Union Flag protests in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Sadly, other work commitments have kept me from attending the 2015 International Studies Association’s Convention in New Orleans in person this week (this is after participation to another conference in NOLA in 2012 was cancelled due to a hurricane! I start to wonder if I will ever make it to the Big Easy?!). However, my co-author Dr Paul Reilly was there to present our latest joint effort, which focused on the popularity of populist parties in Italy (Five Star Movement) and the UK (United Kingdom Independence Party) among Google users during the 2014 European Parliament election campaign.
The poster, entitled “Populist and Popular? Tracking Citizen Interest in Anti-Establishment Parties with Google Trends”, can be downloaded here.
My paper on using Google Trends in academic research is out – thank you to the First Monday team for their super-quick copy-edit efforts. Here is the abstract, you can access the full paper (open access) by clicking here.
Search Engines: From Social Science Objects to Academic Inquiry Tools – by Filippo Trevisan – First Monday, 19(11)
This paper discusses the challenges and opportunities involved in incorporating publicly available search engine data in scholarly research. In recent years, an increasing number of researchers have started to include tools such as Google Trends (http://google.com/trends) in their work. However, a central ‘search engine’ field of inquiry has yet to emerge. Rather, the use of search engine data to address social research questions is spread across many disciplines, which makes search valuable across fields but not critical to any one particular area. In an effort to stimulate a comprehensive debate on these issues, this paper reviews the work of pioneering scholars who devised inventive — if experimental — ways of interpreting data generated through search engine accessory applications and makes the point that search engines should be regarded not only as central objects of research, but also as fundamental tools for broader social inquiry. Specific concerns linked to this methodological shift are identified and discussed, including: the relationship with other, more established social research methods; doubts over the representativeness of search engine data; the need to contextualize publicly available search engine data with other types of evidence; and the limited granularity afforded to researchers by tools such as Google Trends. The paper concludes by reflecting on the combination of search engine data with other forms of inquiry as an example of arguably inelegant yet innovative and effective ‘kludgy’ design (Karpf, 2012).
Just got news that the paper I proposed for next year’s International Studies Association’s (ISA) Annual Convention together with Paul Reilly (University of Leicester) was accepted. The title is “Populist and Popular: Using Google Trends to Track and Conceptualize Emerging Transnational Trends in Democratic Politics.” This study continues my working paper series on blending search engine data drawn from Google Trends with established political communication methods to explore emergent global phenomena in democratic politics such as the rise of populist parties and movements. Bring on New Orleans in February then, especially considering the pouring Glasgow rain outside my office window at the moment!
The paper I proposed for the 2014 American Political Science Association’s Political Communication Section Pre-Conference was accepted as part of a panel on methodological innovation in political communication research put together by Laura Roselle of Elon University. This work discusses the methodology that myself and colleagues at the University of Glasgow and the University of Maryland devised in order to compare online search trends in elections to relevant news coverage on ‘traditional’ media outlets as part of the on-going Voter Ecology project. My presentation will touch upon all the case studies involved in the project (the U.S., the UK, Italy and Egypt) and provide a detailed overview of the different roles performed by search engines in different electoral contexts. I look forward to being back in Washington, DC for this conference, having spent several months there in 2011 doing fieldwork for my PhD. The pre-conference will take place on Wednesday Aug. 27th at George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs. The programme can be found here.
My slides for the Glasgow Social Media Analysis, Methods and Ethics event are now available for download here together with all sorts of interesting materials from the other speakers. This was a great event that brought together Glasgow-based researchers from a range of fields interested in all things digital for the first time. If you’re based in the West of Scotland and would like to keep up with Internet research carried out in this area, the organisers have set up a dedicated mailing list, click hereto access.
The College of Social Sciences at Glasgow University has put together a free one-day conference on Social Media Analysis, Methods and Ethics. I will be talking about the ethical challenges involved in researching sensitive issues online and the need to ‘de-bunk’ some established methodological conventions in order to enable the development of ethically effective research designs that are fit to archive and analyse social media content. You can find a complete list of speakers and download the abstracts here. The conference will take place on Friday 25th April from 9:15am to 5pm at the Adam Smith Building, Gilmorehill Campus and anyone wishing to attend can register for free here.