Stephen Jeffares, University of Birmingham
I have been recommending Watts and Stenner’s excellent book (Doing Q Methodological Research, Sage) to all my students and colleagues since it was first published in 2012. It is an important contribution to the literature, offering an accessible and informed guide of how to do a Q study. What seems to have particularly resonated with its readers is the “First draft crib sheet” (starting page 219/Appendix 2) that sets out a template for key data from each factor and those who load on it. The crib sheet can then serve as a reference aid for factor interpretation and the write up of the Q study. In part it is offered as a means to ensure more of a holistic interpretation of the factor rather than a partial focus on characteristic statements at the extremes of the array. On a +5/-5 scale, the crib sheet asks the researcher to list the +5/-5 statements, but then also all those statements that are higher and lower than in other factors. It is an alternative means of identifying distinguishing statements and one that avoids trawling up and down 40+ pages of a LIS file.
I do, however, find the structure of the crib sheet problematic. The template offered by the authors starts with a focus on statistical elements (eigenvalues and percentage variance) of loading participants (number loading, socio-demographic characteristics) rather than the characteristic and distinguishing statements. The intention is sound: to get a clear sense of whether the factor is viable, of its overall strength, and clues about the factor from patterns of people loading.
It is the promotion of statistical and socio-demographic data in the crib sheet that I find problematic. To start by focusing on eigenvalues, variance, the number of loaders, or whether they are male or female, risks confusing the purpose of Q as a means of identifying and distinguishing shared viewpoints. Although factor labels often take on a human form (“Warriors” “Pragmatists” “Lone Rangers”) the purpose of Q is to identify shared viewpoints, rather than groups of individuals. Therefore, interpretation should be led not by statistical observations or the characteristics of those loading, but by a holistic interpretation of the statements in the factor array.
When going about the process of interpretation we need to resist the temptation to look to see who has loaded until we have a working title for the factor. This suggests starting with the characteristic statements, focusing on what is distinguishing, and developing a working title. Only then should we turn to see who is loading – primarily to get interview quotes. The additional socio-demographic information is of secondary concern. To highlight that a factor is predominantly male or female, or that one factor is heavier than the other, risks implying a representativeness that cannot be claimed with Q alone. To quote Brown (1980: 192), “what proportion of the population belongs in one factor rather than another is a wholly different matter and one about which Q technique as such is not concerned”.
Therefore I offer thanks and congratulations to Watts and Stenner for their book and their crib sheet, but I appeal to its readership to invert the structure, to reorder the process, to focus first on the factor array before considering statistical or socio-demographic information, to put the Q sample before the P sample, to be led by the data rather than the metadata, to wait and sketch out the factor before leaping to see who has loaded.
Here is a 15 minute video where I set out what I mean by policy ideas and how we can understand their lifecycle in a digital age
Presented at the ICPP conference in Grenoble, June 2013.
If you are interested in finding out more you can read and download the paper.
What an exciting week. On Tuesday the Guardian Public Leaders blog printed a blog I wrote about hashtag politics.
The retweets have fluctuated all week. You can see the latest news here -
The 7 “tips” were drawn from the 8th and final chapter of my next book. I hope to write more about this and its progress in future posts.
Stay tuned at @srjeffares
Next week I am off to Grenoble to present a new paper at Session 3 New Ideational Turns, as part of panel 84 New directions in the study of public policy, convened by Peter John, Hellmut Wollmann and Daniel A. Mazmanian, the 1st International Conference on Public Policy, Grenoble, France, June 26-28. Friday 28 June, 8.30-10.30, Sciences Library Auditorium.
It is a draft paper – I welcome your comments or suggestions
This paper argues that the discussion of public policy online is offering new and exciting opportunities for public policy research exploring the role of policy ideas. Although considerable work focuses on political ideas at the macro or mid-range, specific policy ideas and initiatives are overlooked, thought to be “too narrow to be interesting” (Berman, 2009, p. 21) .This paper argues that the prolific use of social media among policy communities means it is now possible to systematically study the micro-dynamics of how policy ideas are coined and fostered. Policy ideas are purposive, branded initiatives that are launched with gusto; flourish for around a thousand days; and then disappear with little trace as attention shifts to the latest and loudest. At best, media reports will document that Birmingham’s Flourishing Neighbourhoods initiative has been “scrapped”, “Labour’s Total Place programme has been “torn up”, or the Coalition’s big society policy is “dead”. Save for a return to the policy termination literatures of the late 1980s, our impotence in conceptualising such death-notices reveals how little effort has been invested in understanding and theorising the lifecycle of policy ideas. In response, this paper conceptualises policy ideas, their life, death and succession. The paper draws on a case of the recent Police and Crime Commissioner elections held across England and Wales in November 2012, and the attempts of the Home Office to coin and foster the hashtag #MyPcc.
Acknowledgement: The primary research reported was funded by British Academy Grant – SG112101 The shape of ideas to come: harvesting and analysing online discussion about public policy. And University of Birmingham Roberts Fellowship 2008-2013. Heartfelt thanks to the research team: Gill Plumridge, Becky O’Neil, Tom Daniels, Pete Redford, Phoebe Mau, Diha Mulla, Misfa Begum, Sarah Jeffries and Osama Filali Naji for your empathetic coding, unwavering enthusiasm and crowd-like wisdom.
DOWNLOAD FULL PAPER HERE -
Twitter have an Iphone App called Vine. If Tweets are 140 characters, Vine videos are 6 seconds. People are still working out what to do with such an opportunity.
I decided to make a 6 second video showing the completion of an an online Q sort using POETQ. Please forgive the shaking.