Estimated reading time: 8 minutes, 20 seconds

Envisioning Process: Paradox of Leadership & Participation for #rhizo14 CAE (Collaborative Autoethnography)

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes, 20 seconds

I’m torn πŸ˜‰ Between leading with what knowledge and experience I have, and saying it early and outright, thus imposing some sort of power. Once something is said by someone who is confident enough in themselves, it becomes more difficult for others to contribute.

When I finished my PhD, I promised myself I would start doing participatory research because I believe in it. I believe in the importance of highlighting participants’ voices, and I don’t believe in the divide between researcher and participant. If we’re researching our own practice, then I am a participant just like everyone else. I like doing research, but this does not mean that my voice is more important than the voice of others. I have experience doing qualitative research but I am not hung up on method, and I’m happy to keep challenging and questioning it.

In Simon Ensor’s blog post y/day he says (and I completely agree):

I am nothing worth much if I follow their instruction manuals.

And so I don’t want to necessarily follow instruction manuals on the method of CAE/AE – but I am happy to read a little bit more about it and see if any of what I find is useful, or if we need to name parts of what we are doing as something else. That’s totally OK, to have parts of it as CAE and other parts as some other thing, as long as we are clear that what we are doing is compatible with our goals, values, and our ways of seeing the world. And that’s complicated and complex when you’re working in a group.

I feel that since the idea of initiating this research came from me, and because I talk a lot, and have experience with qualitative research, people expect/want me to lead. Or if I don’t, feel like I’m being lazy or withholding knowledge… but it’s more that I hesitate to speak too early (you wouldn’t know it, right?) lest others feel silenced, or silence themselves.

Others (Keith and Simon in particular) have written beautifully on their blogs about some of the issues we need to keep in mind when writing a CAE, and they’ve also written about the process. What they’ve written in itself deserves to be put together and presented someday for others to read about, I feel.

But what the heck… it seems people are looking towards me for “next steps”, so let me explain what I am thinking anyway. But PLEASE feel free to disagree, change, etc. It’s not something I read anywhere, it’s just how I am thinking of doing it in the most democratic way possible… I am completely open to suggestions, and I have still not read the chapter in the book about coding, but I’m happy to do something different from what’s in the literature anyway πŸ™‚

Coding: step one: piloting “becoming a coder for #rhizo14 CAE”

I intentionally thought it would be good for each of us to code on their own first. I did not want one or two of us to decide on categories, then have others “follow”. It is totally alright that each of us sees a paragraph and codes it in an entirely different manner. That is the beauty of it. You can see a paragraph and with your eyes think it points to one thing, another person finds it pointing to another thing. That’s fine.

My idea was for each of us to give coding a try, using their own narrative and one or two others, and see which codes they come up with. As a start

Coding: step two: clarifying our own codes

This second step would be about each of us going back to our codes and trying to articulate what we meant by using them

3D puzzle
Image by JFeatherSmith via Flick CC-By-NC-SA

Coding: step three: “group negotiation of codes”

This third step involves some sort of group negotiation of what codes mean, and it might result in some codes being merged, some becoming sub-codes, others eliminated (doubtful) – it also might mean that we have different “frames” of coding in the sense that some people are looking for completely different things than others. The example of Keith and prepositions is one. I imagine also that some of us may be taking an interpretive lens, others a more critical lens.

I imagine that we might agree that every 2-3 of us would be parsing the narratives (of ourselves only for now, the collaborators on the authoring of the ELI paper, a temporary sub-group)Β for certain themes/codes. Not all of us need to do everything.

In-between coding: self-reflexive?

I wonder if others, like me, found themselves reflecting on their own experiences as they read the narratives of others? Trying to see which parts of “other” and “self” intersect, differ, etc.? I took some notes on that. I also think one could think up previous blogposts one had written to support certain points, rather than add them to the narrative (though that could work, too – the reason I say previous posts is that it makes sure that it is not my memory playing tricks on me: I had said this before, it’s not that I suddenly thought of it when reading the work of another – though that also has value).

[does that make any sense to others?]

Re-coding with negotiated codes

Next step I imagine after we’ve negotiated codes is what I said earlier: in groups of 2-3 to re-code the narratives with agreed upon codes. Each 2-3 would be working with some of the codes, not all, and this might mean those 2-3 might also end up writing that section in the results, after consulting with others. Not sure about this yet, as more power issues can come into play.

As we do the re-coding, I imagine us having questions in our minds we’d want to ask the person as we read their narratives and I’d like a chance to actually ask them those questions πŸ™‚ and add to the narrative again and code again.

It sounds like a lot of work, but I think if we want to make sure we bring out each other’s voices, we need to help each other make our own ideas clear, ensure less misunderstanding, etc.

Puzzle image by Create Joy via Flickr CC-By-NC-SA


In qualitative research, there is often a level of “saturation” reached where you feel like you don’t need to ask any more questions, or asking them does not produce new data. I doubt this is possible for rhizo14, actually, but I think we can try to reach a phase where most of us are happy with our own story and how it fits with the rest? Like a puzzle, it might not necessarily fit with ease, but if it’s a large puzzle and we are just part of it, then at least we’ll have put together 6-8 pieces of the puzzle, with the rest full of gaps that we acknowledge.

I wonder if while coding we can make “connection points” to help us see if someone is referring to another person’s story or blogposts or whatever. It’s gonna get complicated coz some of these are not with people who are authors in the CAE (shaking my head, dunno what to do).



Deciding on themes Β & excerpts of narratives to publish for ELI/Educause

I expect that after we’re done coding again, and the 2-3 coders of each “code group” check they’ve coded things similarly/same, we can move onto exploring what the wider themes are that we want to share in our ELI/Educause paper, and which excerpts from the narratives of each of us would end up on the slides… which leads to…

Deciding on product

I think we’ll eventually have to come back to “how do we present this” and I suggest we think of multiple options: a visual option with clickability (something Sarah and I had thought of earlier, with others) – and that can include all narratives with some of the analysis of the sub-group there, and as more analyses of other combinations of authors are done, they can be included. These clickable things can points to our blog feeds for rhizo14, some of the makes people did, etc.

But also a relatively linear option that we can present about the themes. There can also be a visual with the themes, where people click on a theme and get to see all the quotes related to it, with links to blogposts. MAYBE. This could be cool for the ELI presentation so participants can try it out and see how the connections work and lead to each other.

Image by Onkel Wart via Flick CC-By-NC-SA (I call it distorted puzzle)
Image by Onkel Wart via Flick CC-By-NC-SA (I call it distorted puzzle)


Recognizing distortions, gaps, etc.

This is of course essential – that we try to make explicit all the ways in which our research is partial and what distorts it. This is the most difficult part of research, I think, and can be paralyzing to progress until you start documenting it and making it explicit. We’ve actually been doing this throughout, haven’t we? But we’ll do some more as we progress.

Also time to think of what to do next to address some of this – and the answer might not be more CAE, it may be something else. I hope it’s something else that preserves the spirit of participation in CAE, though.



What do others think? I’m just thinking aloud. I’m also still reading more on AE and have shared (on the google doc) my Diigo highlights and notes for the Ellis et al article that Simon’s been reading as well – I’ll share more as I go.

Thank you Simon for this beautiful quote:

β€œThe real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” ― Marcel Proust

5 thoughts on “Envisioning Process: Paradox of Leadership & Participation for #rhizo14 CAE (Collaborative Autoethnography)

  1. Thanks Maha.
    As i was coding, a number of questions came to mind:

    1. Are my codes/words mean the same thing to others?
    I guess this is a standard question for any coding process.

    2. How can i clarify what i mean by those codes?
    Do you have like interrogation sessions? I am wondering if a) coding the reflection of others, and b) being interviewed/interrogated would help to clarify my thoughts? Or would they lead to different things. It is kind of scary. Or perhaps it is ‘uncertainty’. And now that others have coded, and i have seen their codes, would my coding of their work be biased? Or would it be something else.

    I am entirely new to this.

    “I wonder if others, like me, found themselves reflecting on their own experiences as they read the narratives of others?”


    I would be kinda sad if we arrived at a common set of codes haha but then again that is what is expected (by others)?

    1. Hi Len, it would be very weird if we each individually came up with the same codes, but it would be normal to have some that either overlapped or meant similar things. The negotiation is to help us find common ground within that multiplicity.

      I think even if you don’t know when you’re coding your “sample” of 2-3 narratives what your codes mean, when you want to start coding more, you will need to clarify to yourself even what the codes mean, so you can decide what fits within them, and when you need a new code. I often create new codes as i go

    2. And to just add one more thing: traditionally, coding is done by at least two people on the same data: they agree on meanings of codes, then code separately, then compare notes and try to bring it all back together… So what we’re doing is (unfortunately?) not untraditional in that sense, except what’s unorthodox about it is that a. we are coding our own narratives which means the person who said something has a say over how it gets coded; b. as we code we can keep adding richness to what is already there because the participants are right there with us to answer questions, clarify points, etc., and c. We were all participants in the experience so we’re not hearing these stories as outsiders, we are insiders. The latter can be dangerous in the sense that we might understand details that are not explicitly there in the text, via our tacit knowledge; and that might be close to what the person intended to pass on, but it also might be colored by our own feelings/experience about the incident/thing and also about the actual person writing it or whom they are writing about. That’s something to bear in mind…

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