So, to start with the bad news.  Neither James or I were particularly surprised to hear this week that the ESRC turned down our application for Rescue Geography 2, working on the live redevelopment process in Kidderminster (see the ReWyre site for details of the work the council are up to).  Two of the five referees loved it, two thought it was good with a couple of issues which needed resolving and one refereee absolutely hated it, though their objections seemed pretty irrelevant/missing the point.  Ho hum, this is the way things go in academia, particularly with grant funding being slashed at the moment.  It’s a real pity, because we’d have really liked to work with Ken and his team on what’s going to be a really exciting regeneration project.  So it goes.

On the cycling side of things, everything seems to be progressing smoothly.  I hooked up with Dan last week and we agreed the details of the exhibition we’re going to do.  It’s kinda exciting to feel like you’re commissioning art – perhaps I ought to get myself some kind of salon and have gatherings of the bright and the beautiful for the drinking of absinthe and exchange of ideas.  We agreed that this should take place in May, partly to give us time to organise everything and partly so that the weather’s a bit better, which is pretty crucial for something which is primarily going to be held outdoors.  So I’ve given Dan the contact details of all the participants who ticked the box saying they’d be happy to take part in a photography project and I guess we’ll see what happens.

I’m giving this talk on Monday, just an in-house seminar thing, but it’s forced me to really have a good look through the data and see what’s what.  The main thing has been that it’s really forced me to get to grips with some of the higher functions in NVivo, such as being able to analyse stuff by participant characteristics (e.g. gender).  As a result I’ve managed to produced an awful lot of graphs (after an awful lot of swearing trying to work out how to tell NVivo what I wanted it to do).  Just a quick sample of the kind of thing:

A graph showing themes discussed against the gender of the speaker

To produce this I rescaled the actual number of times a theme was mentioned to correct for the fact that there wasn’t a 50-50 split of men and women in the sample, so the numbers on the left hand side are indicative rather than real – otherwise the fact that there were 17 men and 11 women in the sample would have made it harder to identify themes were women commented particularly strongly.  For this graph I’ve picked out specific themes that showed a significant skew towards women.  You can then drill back down into the quotes to see what’s going on, say for example on cycle infrastructure, participant 10 talking about how difficult it is for her to lift the bike up the stairs off the canal at University Station.

I’ve also produced this map

An example of how GPS can be used in a slightly dodgy way

which gives a good example of the ethical issues raised when using GPS with participants.  Clearly I can identify people’s houses from the GPS track (although I exclude these from the maps on the website).  This means that I can map participants homes against, in this example, the Index of Multiple Deprivation and use this as a proxy for social class.  Now at no point did any of the participants sign up for the GPS data to be used in this way so it would be incredibly unethical to take participant’s home’s IMD score and use this as one of the modes of analysis within NVivo.  This particular example isn’t so problematic on this project as most participants live close (i.e. cycling distance) to the Uni and most of the areas around the Uni are pretty uniformally non-deprived, but on a different kind of project it could be a pretty dodgy way to make certain kinds of assumptions about participants.  Obviously with the scale used on this map and the anonymity it’s just illustrating a point rather than bending any ethical rules, but these are the kinds of things you have to think about when engaging in these kinds of technological projects.


So in response to a message I sent around on the Birmingham University Bicycle Users Group, I’ve had a bunch of people get in touch as willing volunteers.  Thanks to all.  So my diary is full for the next couple of weeks with people who’ve agreed to talk and ride their way home while wearing bits of kit.

Actually, the University’s ethical review committee has yet to formally approve this, so it’s all very much under the radar.  They did get back to me and ask for clarification on some really minor points, so I guess it’s all okay.  If not, huge apologies to the three people who’ve already taken part – you’re clearly not properly ethical and for this I can only hang my head.

Anyway, yes, so there’s a couple of new maps up on the website and, just checking my email, the third participant has sent back a corrected transcript, so I’ll get that online when I’m back in the office tomorrow. 

I made a bit of a cock up of the first two in truth as the mic wasn’t properly plugged in, so we were recording off the built in mics on the recorder itself.  These are pretty good when you’re sat in a room, or even if you’re just walking, but swinging around as you cycle the recordings weren’t of great quality.  Then again it was a bit odd having got everything wired up properly for the one that was done last night.  This is because during most of the recording all you hear is vigorous breathing.  Partly, I’m sure, it’s because yesterday’s participant was working particularly hard (a 45 min cycle with heart rate peaking at 172bpm, which is properly hardcore), but even on a lesser ride I suspect it’ll still be a bit disturbing.  Usually you get participants hating the transcripts because they don’t realise how many ums and ers they put into their ordinary speech, but in this case I’m going to try to make sure they never hear the actual recordings because the panting makes for… ‘uncomfortable’ listening.

The maps produced are already kinda interesting.  It’s definitely a bit tricky to cycle and talk, so there’s not a huge amount of text in the first three – I don’t know if other participants will be a bit more loquacious.  Still, so far (aside from my not plugging the mic in properly) all the equipment has worked beautifully, even in yesterday’s torrential rain.  If only we’d gone into RG1 (Digbeth) knowing what we know now, we probably would have got better data for all that public money.  Still, the whole point of the project was learning how to do it, I guess, so that makes me feel less guilty.

On the subject of RG1, I’ve started thinking of the cycling thing as RG1.5 because James & I have put in another bid to the ESRC for what we’re calling RG2.  If we get the money (profoundly unlikely in the current economic climate) then we’ll get to develop and apply the RG techniques to a live regen project over in Kidderminster.  It’d be a three year project, which would allow us to key into the regen as it goes along, assuming we finally pull out of the current financial difficulties over the next couple of years.  Still we’ll see.

Currently doing a (badly drawn) comic book history of RG1 as part of an idea I’ve had for ages about telling the stories behind the research – i.e. how academic knowledge is really produced, rather than the half-truths we tell in research papers and grant applications.  The original intention of this had been to mock out a storyboard for what would be a photo essay, but everyone I’ve shown it to so far has really liked the (childish simplicity of) my stick figure drawings, so I guess we’ll try it as a comic book.  I bought myself a cheap drawing tablet to do this and I can honestly say that the terribleness of the drawings is entirely to do with my lack of artistic ability and not the limitations of the technology.  I may get around to posting up an extract of this at some point.

I may also post a picture of me wearing the RG1.5 equipment so that cycling  participants have a proper idea of what they’re getting themselves into.  Not sure about this though, as it might involve a shot of me topless wearing the heart rate monitor.  [shudder]  There are some frontiers that ‘public’ geography probably shouldn’t cross…