Struggling with research and making small steps

Sunday night, I’ve just been to a tutorial at CHIIR on qualitative data analysis using the thematic analysis methodology. It set my mind alight, with ideas for what I’m researching – oh so slowly – it has made me wonder – what themes do I perceive in the data I have collected? I’ll need to go back to the data to check this – but for now, what themes come to mind? What do I remember? And why do I remember those particular things? Are they really the themes, or just my memory of the themes playing tricks on me?

What I remember most is the level of emotion in people’s responses – whether interviews, workshops, conversations or survey results. I think that is upheld in the data, based on the coding I have done so far… The emotions are positive (pride in achievement for example) and also negative (frustration, fear, anger, disappointment, for example), and my surprise has been at the range of emotion and at the volume of emotion displayed by people who have contributed. Emotion to tears.

“I didn’t want to say this in front of the others but…”

As well as the level and range of emotion, I see social pressure, peer pressure as a possible theme – pressures to conform, to disguise problems, to pretend that all is well. CAn this be the case? Can it be that an industry supposedly about fact, engineering, science is actually an industry about peer pressure, emotion and tangled reasons for decisions?

Is there a loop where peer pressure leads to fear of looking stupid – and then what happens? Does fear of looking stupid lead to more desire to learn, and more self devleopment…? or does it lead to avoidance, pretence, and perhaps backwards steps in self development? How much of this am I bringing in? How much is in the data? How much could I uncover by further data collection and analysis? Is this something to pursue? So I start to write in my diary:

“Software testers have a busy and engaged online and conference community, where they discuss many subjects. Among these topics are test automation and test tools. The on-line community discourse indicates a high level of confidence and success, skills building, and a “can-do” attitude. How close is that to the reality for testers who are not automation experts, who are not vocal on-line or at conferences?” The research I am doing – so slowly – is starting to indicate some potential challenges to the online perception, a greater level of emotion than I had anticipated and a negative peer pressure that prevents at least some testers expressing their concerns other than in a one-to-one interview, or as an aside in provate after a focus group/workshop. How do we listen to those are silent? How do we speak for those who are silent? How – most importantly – do we enable the silent to speak? When speaking in provate or anonymously, people speak to me of their fears, their lack of progress. In public they are silent, consenting. What level of safety do people require? What feels safe? When you enter the debate late, how do you catch up? How do you remind the earlier adopters how far ahead they are? And, if I as a tester with experience am reluctant to engage online, what is it like for others?”