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It’s hard to believe but all being well, from 1 February I’ll be a fourth year student. I’m hoping the PhD process will take around five years, so it’s well over halfway. I am now in the next stage of research. I plan to interview church leaders and interested parties over the next 9 months. The aim here is to understand what circumstances, opinions and attitudes are shaping the use, or not, of internet-based tools in many guises.

It’s probably a legacy of my first degree – Psychology, where I learned to calculate statistics on paper – that my inclination tends to be towards quantitative methods. Give me graphs, give me numbers, give me spreadsheets and I am happy. Therefore dealing with qualitative interview data is going to be a whole new learning experience. There will always be times when counting tick box answers is the most appropriate method of investigating a question. But it will miss subtle differences, and doesn’t allow the kind of ‘yes, but…’ answer that can be really illuminating. In particular, I want to talk to people with little or no experience of creating content online. So as long as I want real opinions, interviews are the way to go. This approach is also going to allow me the pleasure of meeting and talking with people I don’t know, and that is always an interesting part of life.

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I had a challenging but interesting conversation with a City vicar last week about my PhD work. I am currently recruiting volunteers for a round of pilot interviews to take place later in the year. That’s in the small window of time after completing analysis on the first phase of content analysis and coming up with the questions for the full interviews for 2011.

I used the now-revised poster I had prepared earlier in the year as a starting point for a discussion. In A4 format rather than A1, that would have been rather tricky to manipulate in the bar, I may have knocked my wine over.

There’s an awful lot of work already been done about the nature of authority and hierarchy on the internet and how Web 2.0 is breaking boundaries; I don’t need to rehash those arguments here, and it’s not the main focus of my work. (This is an interesting starting point) But there was one very interesting point that is worth recording here. That is that the way the Anglican church hierarchy works means that the person who stands in the pulpit and delivers a sermon is authorised in some official way (lay preacher/ ordination, that kind of thing). Which is completely not how peer-to-peer communication across the internet works. So, if we work from a model of official authorisation as being the only channel for communication, it is not surprising that there is little or no takeup of more democratic means of communication.

I’m writing this in a hurry and I am not entirely sure if I am clearly getting across the point that was made and how it was important – I possibly need to have the conversation all over again! I wanted to blog the moment though so I would not forget…