Research progress: lessons, strategies and moving onwards

My research supervisor recently reminded me how big of a year it has been for me. I have been so ‘head down, bum up’ this year, focusing on completing this darn Masters thing, that I failed to realise this myself. Somewhere in between becoming my own professional and finding my voice in the research space, I’m currently completing my next research project.

Firstly, a bit of a catch up.

Reflecting on my experience with my last research project in evidence-based library and information practice (EBLIP), I learnt an incredible amount.

(I haven’t yet closed the door on this project as I’m polishing up a journal article for submission with my supervisor who will be co-author. Exciting stuff!)

Valuable lessons from my first research project include:

  • Research always takes longer than intended. I could put in place the most beautiful Gantt chart (and I love a good Gantt chart) but in reality, it would not be able to foresee or make allowance for all the hiccups, the hurdles, the tantrums or the times when I’ve just wanted to throw it all in. I’m behind in my schedule for this project already, but I’ve learnt that the plan I’ve put in place is flexible, it’s a guide. I’ve just gotta roll with it, allow myself to absorb, process and keep going.
  • Just friggin’ write! Oh. my. goodness. The number of times I’ve wanted to look down at myself and scream FFS, just write anything! It’s not that I didn’t want to write or complete the assessment requirements. I was afraid to. I was afraid of not doing the literature justice. Or my ideas justice. Or that my writing wouldn’t be perfect. This anxiety reflected in my writing being overly complex at times. I would also jam too many ideas into the one sentence or paragraph. I wanted to make sure I covered it all! My lesson here is writing is a form or method of processing the literature, ideas and thoughts. I’ll need to remember this when I write up my literature review very soon.
  • Keep a safe space. My research journal has assisted me to be more aware of my progress, which made execution of the research project much better than what it could’ve been. I’d recommend this strategy to anyone. The journal helps me to nut out an approach to a problem or hurdle, come up with next actions to get through a tough spot and to record notes on meetings and general progress.

Another strategy I have employed this semester is keeping a project notebook. This is in addition to my online research journal. There is just something about hand-written notes and scribbles. This is an approach I developed in my role at work where I use my notebook as a bit of a journal in itself, documenting my time, tasks, projects I’ve worked on, notes from research, etc. For research purposes, I can see how my thinking has developed over time. I have also recorded the books I’ve needed from the library, literature search strategies and anything else related to my research I jot it down. I keep a pile of scrap paper on my desk at work. When I’ve scribbled an idea, I’ve pasted this into the notebook. I have my project schedule glued in. I review it every week and I record when a task has been completed. Basically, this little notebook keeps everything together.  (Oh, and it helps when the notebook is pretty. I grabbed a pack of three A5 notebooks from Kikki K.)

So what’s the research project I’m up to this time?

Well, I’m looking into innovation in archival institutions. Publicly funded, Australian archival institutions to be precise. I want to understand what it looks like, how it’s taking place and in what areas of these organisations. I want to know what’s happening right now, what are the conditions like in these organisations for innovation to happen, and I want to explore influences associated with innovation, such as drivers and pressures. I’m seeking to capture a snapshot of current innovation efforts. I only aim to scrape the surface. I have to do all this in a semester after all.

I hope with the evidence generated by this small scale study will assist archival institutions to set reasonable objectives, further embrace innovation and communicate and negotiate expectations with their stakeholders. Archival institutions are not there to make money. They exist to serve a social purpose. Archival institutions are not there to satisfy shareholders. These organisations have a number of stakeholders who will have their own ideas of what innovation is, which may be completely different to the organisational environment, characteristics and capabilities. That is why I believe it is important to understand how innovation relates to this context.

I’m currently in the throes of doing the literature review and I await with bated breath for my ethics approval to come through. Data collection and completing the literature review are my next big tasks for this research project. And I have so much share on this topic. Stay tuned.

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