Gabber at the DEN Summer School

This year, Newcastle University held the annual Digital Economy Network (DEN) summer school, which brought together early-stage researchers from ten national universities who collectively contribute research towards the digital economy.

Having these researchers in one place provided an opportunity to capture their unique, yet shared experiences of being involved as a researcher in this network. However, current methods to support qualitative data collection are often led by researchers in a formal way (e.g. interviews and focus groups) or do not leverage the potential of digital technologies (national surveys), which are often time consuming to conduct at scale.

Snowball recruitment

Around the same time, I was undertaking research to explore new ways to utilize technologies to simplify the process of qualitative data collection. During which I developed Gabber, a mobile application (yes, another app for research) to capture conversations between peers using topics to scaffold conversations that they have experiences of and to publically share these for others to hear – perfect timing for a trial deployment at the DEN.

Gabber screenshotGabber has three stages to streamline this: (1) the interviewer inputs their friend’s details, including an optional photo/selfie if they desire, (2) they agree on and select a topic they want to discuss, and (3) they record and save the Gabber.

Gabber’s unique characteristics are its incorporation and combination of traditional qualitative research methods within technologies to examine their joint effectiveness. Peer-led interviewing was used to capture conversations between users, snowball recruitment was used to diversify and increase the spread of participation across social circles, and a process of consent through follow-up emails with participants was used to give authority and transparency over the data they jointly created.

Researching the researchers

Gabber was used at the DEN to capture the shared experiences of being a researcher by attendees, but what topics should be discussed, and who decides on these? Users should have control, and so prior to the event attendees were emailed and asked to propose topics that they would enjoy having conversations about. The most common responses were used and reduced to open-ended questions to elicit a breadth of discussions and ranged from: “what inspires your research” to “advice for new CDTs”.

Given the crammed nature a summer school program, is there really enough time to have a gabber? Over the two-day event, fourteen gabbers were recorded by attendees from eight national universities, with a majority choosing to discuss their research inspirations and family’s perceptions of their research.

Full consent to share the gabber created and to associate the optional photo was provided by all participants. This was surprising as a current challenge faced by citizens who contribute to or are involved in research is the attribution of the data they produce, and how they provide consent as the research project evolves. Gabber demonstrated the potential role of technologies to explore these challenges and to alleviate pressures facing researchers in these areas.

Gabber could be configured and used by researchers to rapidly collect perspectives from their participants, or by citizens to collect data for their own shared agendas, such as informing local policy.

This exploration into the role of digital tools to support and modernise qualitative research is an emerging interest of my own, which will involve further research and technology innovation. If you’re interested in collaborating or discussing how such technologies could benefit your work, then get in touch.

For more information please contact Jay Rainey.

Author: Jay Rainey

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