Short report on the SRA Annual conference 2012, by Emily Fu, TNS-BMRB
Building on the success of the two previous conferences the SRA has held at the British Library, this year focused on the potential opportunities and challenges presented by the increasing digitisation of the research world, and indeed of the social world. Over twenty speakers discussed a range of issues across a broad spectrum – both in terms of scale and methodologies, with workshops on data visualisation and collection, and various video, visual and audio approaches.
Certainly one message that came across strongly was that there is still no single definition or understanding of what the digital age means for social research, or consensus on what digital methods are. As Dr Grant Black and Yvette Morey stated, the important thing is to ensure you are using the right tools, and to ask yourself whether your research question really requires an answer from the mass of digital data that exists, even if it is arguably “too easy to collect to be ignored”.
Another interesting theme was that researchers are now armed with innovative data sources and methods, through tablets, social media and mobile, but also have novel opportunities for sharing information. Nick Leon and Annie Crawley demonstrated how video ethnography with young people at risk of becoming homeless was not only able to provide ‘thick data’ for analysis, but was also utilised as a poignant dissemination and campaign tool allowing the voices of the participants to be heard.
Alan Smith presented a further example of this in his fascinating talk on the ‘Visualisation of the 2011 Census’, where a combination of syndication with news websites and the provision of relevant, interactive tools for the wider public to engage with the data enabled the ONS to boost outreach by 1000%. It was shown that fairly simply shifts in ways of working that do not require huge time or financial investments can be successful in integrating these ‘digital practices’ into our research. This echoes one of Michelle Harrison’s closing points, that the implications of the digital age are incremental, a gradual evolution rather than a paradigm shift.
Editor's note: The event was followed by a drinks reception in the Conference Centre. Many thanks to the British Library for hosting the conference, and to Peyton Events for their high standards of catering and technical support. Emily's more detailed report will appear in the next 'SRA: Research Matters' magazine.
Photos: Mark Jenner, Ipsos MORI