Beneficence in research

I’ve joined our university’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) as an alternate member and received a copy of a member handbook to read to prepare myself. (1) I enjoyed reading through the handbook to get a refresher on the history of an IRB as well as to think through the mechanics of how an IRB functions. This book goes deeper than the human subjects training I’ve taken as a researcher, and the concept described in chapter 1-4 (Principles of the Belmont Report) that caught my attention and held it is beneficence.

Now sure, it’s common sense that I wouldn’t want to harm my human research subjects but I don’t think I’ve been prompted in my research career to consider what beneficence is really about, maximizing the potential benefit for my subjects. To consider: is there a way to design my future research projects that intentionally brings about good for my subjects as a direct result of participating in the research? This is a justice issue, at its heart, and the Belmont Report has a section specifically on justice, right after the section on beneficence (see https://www.hhs.gov/ohrp/regulations-and-policy/belmont-report/index.html#xbenefit). The concepts of beneficence and justice, and how they are enacted in the research process, are surely more nuanced than I am describing here. I wanted to share the idea with you so that may consider it in your own next research design. Let me know what you think, and how you imagine this may take shape in your own work.

(1) Amdur, Robert, and Elizabeth A. Bankert. Institutional Review Board Member Handbook, 3rd edition. 2011. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett.

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The meeting after a meeting

A challenge for managing a long-term project is making sure that all the parts keep moving forward. The way I’ve figured out how to do this best is to schedule a brief meeting (20 minutes) with myself after a meeting with project colleagues. I use the mini meeting to put in my calendar the project to-dos that were assigned during the meeting, to block time for tasks that need to be completed ahead of the next meeting. I also use the mini meeting to schedule the next group meeting; in the body of the meeting request I’ll put a brief summary of what we accomplished in the latest meeting and note the agenda for the next meeting. And yep, when I schedule that next meeting I’ll also schedule another mini meeting with myself right after it. I like to mark progress on the project’s Gantt chart, too, to keep an eye on the big project picture.

I’ve found that this kind of immediate organization gives me time to pause and reflect on the accomplishments of the project team at each step of the way, while everything is still fresh on my mind.

Do you have a similar or different strategy for keeping on track? I’m always interested to hear how people manage their time and team-work.

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New book on research skills, arriving next month

In late September 2017 a book I worked on will be published:
Luo, Lili, Kristine R. Brancolini, and Marie R. Kennedy. 2017 (In press). Enhancing Library and Information Research Skills: A Guidebook for Academic Librarians. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.

I’m especially pleased with the writing I did in Chapter 6, on disseminating research findings. The acquisitions editor said the chapter was a goldmine, and yes, flattery will get you everywhere! Here’s a couple of paragraphs from the start of the chapter, in a section titled, Telling Your Story:

Once upon a time you had a great idea for a research project. You honed your idea until it had an actionable research question, then you selected an appropriate methodology, gathered and analyzed data, and arrived at some findings and possible future research. All of those steps make a story waiting to be told. This chapter is designed to help you decide to whom you want to tell your story and where you want to tell it.

You should think of disseminating research results as having a conversation. If you follow along the academic literature surrounding your research topic, you will notice that in the past, a certain author had something to say about your (or similar) topic. Advance a few years and then a new author references that initial author, adding to or challenging the initial idea. Broaden the scope of that idea and add in more time, and there are multiple authors in the literature who have thought about and commented on a topic similar to yours. Those new authors are responding to ideas of the past, modernizing them, and thinking about them more expansively, effectively creating an asynchronous conversation. Now that you have researched in that area, it is your turn to contribute to the conversation.

If you are looking for a handbook on how to get started with or advancing your skills in library research, consider picking up a copy. It’s full of practical advice and positive vibes.

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Sparklines (and a depressing trend)

Last year I was lucky enough to take a one-day class with Edward Tufte, about presenting data and information. The course itself was wonderful and I got to chat with him for a little bit about challenges in presenting social network data. He signed copies for me of his books that came with the course. All in all, it was a visually inspiring day. In the class I learned about using sparklines (in Microsoft Excel) to show data trends. Within one cell on an Excel spreadsheet one can insert a mini graph that summarizes multiple cells of data.

I took the idea home and decided to track the costs of the library’s e-journal publisher packages over the years, to look at how it has changed. I’ll paste here the trend visualization for some of our packages from 2009 to present. What the sparkline allows you to do in this case is to get real depressed in a quick glance! It is clear that our package costs have escalated over the years, with a rare dip and hardly any leveling off. I don’t aim to solve that problem in this blog post 🙂 but wanted to show off how a small visualization of data can help the viewer quickly understand a general trend.

A sparkline in Excel, showing trends in e-journal package pricing trends

I wonder if you’ve used sparklines in your own work? I’m interested to think about how to apply this with different kinds of library data.

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Rolling with the punches while doing research

I recently picked up Allison‘s journal article because I was excited to read about the completed research project of one of the IRDL Scholars. Her project used the mechanism of vignettes to solicit feedback from library patrons about the words they use to describe the services that libraries provide. I wanted to look at the vignettes she ended up using, as well as read through her entire research design. She’s a good writer and it was an easy read, but that’s not what I want to draw your attention to: it’s the transparency of her process.

As I was reading through, I was nodding along during the introduction and literature review, and then arrived at the section on research need. There she states, “To reach faculty who were too busy to schedule focus groups …” and that’s where I thought, “Uh oh, something’s gone wrong.” My guess is that her original intent was to conduct focus groups with faculty but had no luck scheduling them. I understand, everybody’s busy. She didn’t throw in the towel, however, she came up with an alternate plan that she details in this section. Excellent.

I kept reading and ended up in the sub-section of methods, about sampling procedures. Again, “Uh oh.” Here she states that, “it proved more challenging than anticipated to find common times when dividing the groups by student status, so the author decided to mix the statuses in favor of getting more students in each session.” Wow, that could have totally thrown a researcher off her game, but in the article she stated the problem and how she resolved it. Now I’m really impressed. I read on.

In the results section she notes variation in her desired size of the focus groups (“due to illness and no-shows”). Yep, real talk. In the discussion section she states, “At the outset of this project, the author had hoped that user-centered design could help determine the best terms to use across a variety of demographics and disciplines.” So yeah, her original intent didn’t pan out. She continues, “While these results may not provide that, they do serve as a useful guideline when considering how to market and name services.” Heck yes, they do. She comments throughout the discussion about the stated preferences of the focus groups (preference for specific terms rather than general), and how that can affect decision-making in the future. She rolled with it, and we’re all the better for it.

She concludes by saying that, “While the results do not reveal an exact glossary or menu of terms, they do indicate some words to avoid, highlight principles to employ when naming and marketing services, and serve as a guideline for improved advertising and outreach efforts.” That’s actionable. Thanks, Allison, for being transparent in this article about your research design and thought process throughout the project.

Benedetti, Allison. 2017. “Promoting Library Services with User-Centered Language.” portal: Libraries and the Academy. Volume 17, Number 2. 217-234.

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