Boingboing blogs from… Leandra
Coding our research data in Leandra, 24 August 2017
by Simon Duncan, Boingboing Trainer and Project Worker
Hi everyone! It’s Simon back at the writing desk today! Those of you who have been reading our recent blogs about Boingboing’s work in South Africa and Blackpool might have been led to believe that Boingboingers lead a jet-set lifestyle, enjoying the bright lights of Blackpool one moment, then flying to South Africa the next. I’m here to dispel that potential impression by filling you in on some of the less glamorous happenings at the Boingboing office.
When we’re not co-productively researching resilience, domestically or internationally, we’re working together to do different tasks such as organising Resilience Forums, setting up training days, and generally ensuring Boingboing runs efficiently. Because of the recent work we’ve been doing in South Africa, we thought it would be interesting to tell you about how our primary co-productive research, investigating how young people who live in drought-affected communities are able to cope with drought related stress, is transformed from raw data into something which can be presented as a journal article. If you’re willing to journey with me over the next few paragraphs, I’ll be your tour guide across continents and time, explaining the research process.
Let’s take a trip back in time to April 2017. At the end of our day practicing and experiencing the activities that we would be doing with the Leandran co-researchers, we were divided into teams and each team was entrusted with a voice recorder. Professor Linda Theron told us in definitive terms that we should record everything that was said during the activities, to create a unique transcript for each group. It was essential that we record as much data as possible, because if it’s not on tape or recorded in an official way, we cannot use the information to answer our research questions.
On the first research day, the team rocked up to the community centre loaded down with voice recorders, phones with voice recording function, notepads, laptops and anything else that could be used to record data effectively. To anyone else, we probably looked like a multi-national group of trainee reporters, searching for our next scoop. Throughout the day’s activities we diligently recorded as much data as we could. In order to try and get more detailed information about what helps young people to be resilient in the face of drought-related stress, we asked follow-up questions such as ‘How does dancing help you to be ok when there is drought?’, with the aim of enriching our overall findings. With Linda’s words echoing in our ears we were extra careful with the recorders, and made sure everyone was heard as much as possible, despite the continuous bustle of activity in the community centre. Everything we collected was then uploaded to a shared, secure space in The Cloud.
Now let’s fast-forward a couple of weeks into mid-April 2017, when all Boingboingers were back on British soil. I was tasked with transcribing what was said on my recorder by my group. Meanwhile, the same thing was occurring on the other side of the world for the University of Pretoria Masters students. Transcribing the data can be laborious, but it was crucial to commit everything to paper as soon as possible, so we didn’t forget any of the context around what the Leandran co-researchers had told us. We all worked tirelessly to complete our transcripts. As an added safety measure, two transcripts were created for each group, so that they could compare notes and have a back-up plan in case one transcript went missing.
Now came the task of coding all the data. Coding is the process of finding and grouping mentions of specific words and phrases, into common themes across lots of data. In this case it’s the group of transcripts that altogether add up to over 200 pages of data. Before we could begin coding in earnest, we had to mutually agree a coding strategy, so that we would all be coding in the same way. After a meeting involving the magic of WhatsApp and Skype we all read a coding manual and watched how another co-productive project, with Canadian young people and Linda Liebenberg PhD, had undertaken the research process and coded their data. This really helped to inspire and motivate us to do the best job possible. If you’re a bit of a geek like me you can find the coding video and an example of how co-productive research and coding can be done on Linda’s website.
With the meeting completed, we all set to work picking through and examining our group’s respective transcript for mentions of words or phrases which answer the question, ‘Which characteristics of young people, and their families, communities, culture and physical environments, make them more resilient to drought-related stress?’ We also had to make decisions over whether to include or exclude codes based on the context of what was said. We would then copy those directly quoted words or phrases and put them into a table with the line that they came from in our transcript. This makes it easier for us to reference the quote and write articles based on those findings, if necessary. All I can say is thank goodness, we all got to share the coding. If one person had to do it alone I’m sure we wouldn’t be able to present any findings until at least 2019!
Speeding you into late May 2017, we had another meeting, utilising Skype and WhatsApp, to discover common themes which had emerged through the coding of our data. Themes we came up with included ‘adopting a non-drought focus’. Unfortunately, because the magic of technology is not limitless it was difficult for us to be as involved as we would have liked to in the conversation. However, it was wonderful to hear the Masters students’ cheerful voices again, which raised the level of excitement for our coming trip to Leandra in June.
With June 2017 came the most important part of the coding process, seeing if the Leandran co-researchers agreed or disagreed with what we had coded. This is known as Member Checking. Fortunately, the Masters students had used their creative talents and produced a beautiful handout which presented our findings in a bright, colourful and (hopefully!) engaging way for everyone.
We discussed the common strategies that the Leandran co-researchers used to counter the stress of drought, which they explained back in April. These strategies could be undertaken by them as individuals, by their family or the wider community. As we presented the different findings, we wanted to make sure that these were correct, so we continuously asked if they agreed or disagreed with what we understood them to have said.
Because of how packed the research days were, on reflection I feel that we should have built in more time to allow for the co-researchers to really examine our findings and see if the findings matched what they had said to us in April. Furthermore, being able to communicate with the Leandran co-researchers more regularly would have made our research process more stringent. As we agreed our coding, we could have asked the co-researchers about the best way to present these findings on paper and really focus on them taking ownership of their experience and data. This approach would have had the added benefit showing what we had come up with to the Leandran co-researchers earlier, so that when we came in June they would have had lots of time to form their opinions.
That said, it was great to see that even though some of the young co-researchers were nervous to engage in the co-productive process at its outset, they had become comfortable enough to challenge our statements directly and use lived experience as evidence which countered our original understanding. For me it was a great learning experience and I’m glad to have been there to witness and absorb it.
I’m pleased to have experienced coding and the whole research process. I hope my guided tour, across time and oceans has been interesting and informative. I better go and rest my typing fingers for now though. I hear that Angie may have some more transcription for me to do soon!
On Day 2 in Leandra, South Africa, as part of our Resilience to Drought project, Simon supports an image film-making workshop with young co-researchers exploring drought, led by Selogadi Mampane
If you’ve been following our Drought Resilience project you’ll know we’ve been in South Africa working with young co-researchers from Leandra. Naz supports the research process in a collaborative arts workshop, lead by Selogadi.
Selogadi Mampane travelled all the way from Pretoria to give the Resilience Forum a live preview of her arts activist approach for young people, which is being used as part of the Patterns of Resilience to Drought project taking place in South Africa.
This co-produced blog was based on the reflections of the University of Pretoria and Boingboing co-researchers who met with young people from Leandra, a small township in South Africa, to explore community resilience to drought from loads of different angles.
Lisa, Angie and Scott attended research events as part of our Patterns of Resilience to Drought project. Lisa reports from the Global Challenges Research Fund & Collaborative Research event, and the Arts & Humanities Research Council summit.
This theatre workshop focussed on “the self as a starting point” using mapping to explore, communicate, share and make sense of personal narratives in relation to wider issues of human security, such as drought.
People from the University of Pretoria, University of Brighton, Boingboing and Khulisa are collaborating on a project: Patterns of Resilience to Drought, exploring community resilience to drought in South Africa from historical and contextual perspectives.
The Cultural Awareness session was an opportunity to have an open discussion about some of the issues that come up around cultural awareness. Like an iceburg, a lot of what makes up culture are things that we often cannot see or are below the surface.
The expertise of young South Africans in coping with drought is being harnessed for this co-productive research project. Our team is working with partners to understand what enables young people to withstand, adapt to, resist or challenge these impacts.