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Methods and Dissemination

The research will endeavour to understand the dynamics of databeses in a biodiversity context through ethnographic investigation. Within each database and associated software, the research will examine mechanisms designed to ensure data standardisation or, conversely, that allow for heterogeneity and flexibility so as to understand how a balance between standardisation/allowing for heterogeneity in biodiversity knowledge is played out through the new information networks. Using the results of ethnographic investigations the research will explore with the various actors concerned the possibility of thinking through the two different sets of practices, visions and expectations concerning the production, arrangement and use of biological data with a view to combining them in some fruitful form.

As will already be apparent, these databases differ in a number of respects and the focus of the research will be upon two interrelated themes: firstly, the ways in which each database, in different but sometimes related ways ‘constructs the user’ (Ackrich 1995): that is, how each database informs and shapes the knowledge making practices, visions and expectations held within the different constituents of the biological recording and conservation policy communities. Secondly, the research will investigate the tension between the policy-led drive to standardise and globalise biological data relevant for biodiversity policy, and the quite different set of motivations and expectations which drive the disparate and localised constituents of the community responsible for contributing biological records. In order to explore these themes, the research will select three different groups that align themselves to the databases:

  • Information Community Technology designers;
  • Data gatherers;
  • and data users.

The research will be divided into 3 phases: ethnographic, analysis and dissemination.

A) Ethnography

Ethnographic research methods will be employed during months 1-8 of the project. The researcher will spend the first 2 months of the project familiarising herself with academic (SSK, SCOT, Anthropology and Sociology of Classification/ Taxonomies/ ICT) and policy/grey biodiversity relevant literatures (CBD, NBN, BAP). The remaining 6 months of the ethnographic phase will be dedicated to using qualitative research methods (a combination of 10 one-one interviews followed by 3 focus groups) with individuals and institutions from the 3 domains. The rationale behind combining one-to-one interviews with focus groups will be to enrich and triangulate the information gathered from individual interviews in a focus group situation. Each focus group will gather together 6 individuals (including those previously interviewed) from each domain. This will allow for an iterative process by which the researcher will gradually feed back insights derived from initial interviews into further interviews and subsequent focus groups.

B) Analysis

Information derived from ethnographic research will be transcribed, processed and analysed during months 8 -10 of the project. This will be facilitated with the use of Atlas-Ti software when necessary (e.g. transcripts). The analysis will be interpretative and iterative, involving analysis and distillation of the contents of secondary source literature, interview and focus group transcripts and field notes.

C) Dissemination

The final 2 months (11-12) of the project will concentrate upon disseminating results from 8 months of ethnographic fieldwork (although dissemination opportunities arising prior to this will also be taken up). Dissemination will include the elaboration of a booklet relevant to the naturalist/policy user communities and the submission of at least one academic article to relevant sociological and/or anthropological journals.

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