Thursday, April 2, 2009

Ph.D., schmee-H-D

As I handed my web 2.0 co-presenter, Marc Smith, my new business card, I realized I had forgotten to include “Ph.D.” next to my name. My hard-earned qualifier that I was so proud to display on all previous business cards, all of a sudden invisible, even to me… I suggested it was probably better that way; Marc was shocked (horrified?). My justification—so often people see/hear Ph.D. and fear you’re going to be too theoretical; full of hot air:

…that your sense of time is warped; your awareness of the bottom line, null.

Ironically, one of the questions that came up at our session (echoed below in a comment from Neil Beam) was “Do you need a Ph.D. to heed [our] advice on going beyond buzz. Can a practitioner go it alone?” (paraphrased)

My answer: No you don’t; Yes you can!

By no means do I want to downplay my own background or denigrate the blood, sweat, tears, qualifying exams, torturous peer review process, or any other aspect of the training involved in earning a Ph.D., but in the same way you don’t need an MBA to be a CEO, or ‘do strategy’, a Ph.D. isn’t necessary to analyze a conversation.

You need a framework (a sound foundation), an open mind (open to letting the data speak), and a willingness to explore the depth of data.

As we discussed in our presentation, analyzing a conversation is about appreciating the context – realizing that there are several layers (As Marc would say, micro-meso-macro) to analyze for a comprehensive understanding:
  1. Signal – Finding the right means of detecting relevance
  2. Person – Digging deep into attributes/orientation of the individual producing the signal
  3. Role – Identifying, through patterns of communication, which role an individual plays in a community
  4. Ecosystem – Cultivating the appropriate balance of relationships, which form the structure of your network(s)
I don't mean to suggest this as the gold standard in frameworks for online conversation analysis-- it is simply one you can use systematically, that has some empirical support behind it. 

I would love to hear others and am open to feedback on this one. One area we toyed with including spoke more to the flow or dynamic of a conversation- a different take on the interaction between person and environment (now Role). I know Lithium has an impressive, empirical approach to Community Health in which they assess Liveliness within a community - this might fit in here. 

Please find our slides here and keep Marc's NodeXL tool in mind as you get started.

Thanks to everyone who came to our talk and especially to Jen Pahlka for coordinating the event and allowing us to make a few key last minute changes. 

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