At 10 AM on 27 August, I had my half-time review. The aim with the half-time review is, as it is written on the Faculty of Medicine’s internal website:
…for the supervisors and the doctoral student to determine whether the project is progressing and achieving the results expected in the individual study plan established at the time of admission to third cycle studies. The review also serves to check the achievement of targets with regard to general knowledge and skills examined via the portfolio.
In other words it serves as a control mechanism as well as a supportive guidance in relation to the PhD project and its progress.
The reviewers were LR from Karolinska Institute and EW from Gothenburg University. A couple of months earlier I had sent them the required documents which included A brief overview of the PhD project, my Portfolio, an Abstract as well as my two article manuscripts.
The event was held in a classroom at Health Sciences Centre (HSC) as well as online. There were about ten persons in the room and an equal amount of people participated through zoom. While two of my supervisors (OJ & SI) and one of the reviewers (EW) where in the room, one of my supervisor (RL) and one of the reviewers (EW) joined online.
After SI:s introduction, I gave a short introduction (15 min) to my PhD project. This was followed by a session (1.5 hrs) during which the reviewers asked me questions and shared their views of my project, based on the documents I had provided them with and the presentation I had just given. Towards the end of that session the audience also had the chance to ask their questions. After that came a closed session with only the reviewers, supervisors and me which lasted for almost another 1.5 hrs. Here the focus whose more on the portfolio and on my personal achievement so far. In addition, the day after the half-time review I had a follow-up meeting (1.5 hrs) with my supervisors in order to discuss what was brought up by the reviewers and to decide upon the way forward.
What was the outcome?
The reviewers were focused and informed and their questions and comments were put forward in a clear and constructive manner. They had good chemistry between them too, even though they had never met in person. My performance as such was quite okay, I would say. At least I received comments afterwards from several persons that I had held a clarifying presentation and that I managed well to reply to the reviewers’ questions. However, the feedback and criticism that I received was, quite frankly, massive. It concerned general issues as well as issues related to specific documents and the individual studies. I will try to go through it here, starting out by the general issues.
Update research overview
The academic literature that I cited in all of my texts did not represent the state-of-the-art according to the reviewers. Thus, I need to update my research overview and find out what the actual knowledge gaps are in the adequate field(s) to which I aim to contribute. One suggested way of doing this, as put forward by one of the reviewers, was to identify 4-5 journals that I would be interested in publishing my manuscript in and then go through the articles from the last 3-4 years for those journals to explore what concepts and ideas were relevant, and identify what knowledge was still missing. Example of journals mentioned were Ageing & Society and Social Science & Medicine. However, in the follow-up meeting with my supervisors the day after the half-time review, this strategy was not considered sufficient. I should rather, they encouraged me, conduct systematic literature searches (for the individual studies as well as or the overarching kappa) to get to know the state-of-the-art. Before conducting such searches, I thus needed to decide on the key concepts that could then be turned into searchable words and phrases. This is likely to be a somewhat iterative process in which literature searches will give rise the new relevant key concepts and searches. In order not to be able to read so extensively, I was adviced to try to identify in my searches (systematic) review articles in the field, such as the article on Integrated Knowledge Translation (IKT) and other participatory approaches by Nguyen et al. (2020).
Identify, define and motivate the usage of key concepts
I was also asked to dig into adequate literature to identify and define the key concepts relevant to the phenomena being studied. In my current texts, I had the tendency to “throw in” various terms like knowledge and know-how in my texts, but not sufficiently clarify why those terms were used; how they related to the discourse; why they were important and how I defined and differentiated between them. Such questions were too often left unanswered. Four overarching concepts suggested to be central but not sufficiently elaborated in the current texts were knowledge, capability and representation in relation to participatory research. Also the terms citizens and professionals were commented.
Knowledge and knowledge theory was considered to be highly relevant for my PhD project and I was thus recommended to include such theory in my work. More specifically, I was suggested to relate existing knowledge theory to the participatory approches used in the studies; to elaborate on developing or creating knowledge, sharing knowledge, and on how knowledge is related to values. Furthermore, the reviewers emphasized that knowledge is an evolving, not static, phenomenon and thus that it is difficult to divide learning/knowledge. Another thing that was also accentuated was the importance of considering who the knowledge was for.
Capability (in relation to participatory research) was another concept that was suggested as relevant to study IV but also as a potential overarching concept for the whole PhD project.
The concept of representation was regarded as essential within the participatory research field, requiring a critical stance and problematisation. The question whether it was possible for someone to represent someone else was seen as at the core of what participation was about. Still the concept was absent in all of the texts produce so far.
Professionals and Citizens
The reviewers found the usage of professionals and citizens clearer than the original “users” and thus stated that it was a good choice to change the terminology in that way. From the audience came a question on why I had chosen to study two such seemingly disparate groups within the frames of a single PhD project. I replied that I was so far not sure about the extent to which the groups were disparate. Rather, I explained, I saw many parallells between the two groups, and I had also noticed that sometimes it was even hard to separate if a person represented a certain group of citizens or professionals. Furthermore, I said that this subject was something I had planned to elaborate on in the upcoming kappa.
Realise that conducting research is a communicative act
The reviewers pointed out that doing research is not just about digging into literature and conceptualizing. It is also very much a communicative act in the sense that one is expected to participate and relate to the state-of-the-art discourse in the field(s), respond to reviewers of manuscripts and communicate one’s research in a way that at least in my case has to be understood by an interdisciplinary and even transdisciplinary audience.
Write in a more academic way
I received criticism on my writing style that was described as too descriptive or “too journalistic”, with a lack of reflection and meta communicaton. “You lay out but you don’t reclect”, one of the reviewers commented. Thus, onwards I need to use a more academic way of writing - stringent but exploratory - in which I not merely mention earlier studies but rather take the reader by the hand and by ways of argumentation guide her through earlier studies, emphasizing their strengths and weaknesses; illustrate with examples to show what I am talking about, and in this way elaborate on rather than simply describe earlier research leading up to the identified research . gap.
Motivate and make strategic choices
Linked to the criticism related to my writing style, the reviewers also pointed to the lack of explicit strategic choices made in relation to the participatory research discourse. Since I will not be able to cover to the whole area of participatory research within the frames of my PhD project, the reviewers explained that it is: 1) Unavoidable for me to identify my own position within the discourse and to argue from that point of view; 2) Necessary to take a stand in order to announce to which particular field I aim to make a contribution. As of now, according to the reviewers, it is hard to grasp what my focus is in the individual studies as well as in the PhD project as a whole. Explaining and declaring my beliefs as well as my intentions and aims is also a way of making myself and my own voice more visible in the text which is also part of increasing the transparency.
Link overarching aim to study set-up
The reviewers commented that there needs to be a bridge between the overarching aim(s) and the specific studies. Will they really answer the overarching aim(s)? I gave my view of how I perceived that the individual studies related to the overarching aim, referring to the table I had created in my introductory presentation. However, according to the reviewers this was not sufficiently elaborated. Furthermore, using many methods bears the risk of being superficial or only “scratching on the surface” as one of the reviewers put it. It was thus suggested to concentrate on one method, such as the Research Circle, to be able to go into “qualitative depth”. I explained that that was not an opportunity and maybe not even a wish but rather that the current set-up had advantages in that it offered opportunities to compare various methods. It was also pointed out that the degree to which the overarching aim(s) convincingly entail(s) the individual sub-studies, also depends on how and what the claims are. Thus, being more humble (and realistic) in what I aim to achieve, it is easier to build that bridge.
Issues related to specific documents or studies
The four first learning outcomes were considered the weakest and would benefit from elaboration according to the reviewers. Furthermore, rather than arguing that certain things “feel” more right, I was asked to write in a more formal, scientific way where I to a larger extent related my ambitions and doings to the relevant research field and to the learning outcomes of the doctoral studies. What was also considered to be missing in the portfolio were discussions about publication strategy; Such discussions I was told were essential in order to assure that the chosen journal is the suitable one for a certain manuscript. When it comes to the learning outcomes related to teaching, one suggestion from the reviewers was to link teaching to the pedagogic skills that will be required in study III when I will be part of the support team for the senior citizens in the housing accessibility project. In the follow-up meeting it was decided that rewriting the texts in the four first learning outcomes was not a priority but rather that this would be something to consider in future portfolio posts.
A brief account… (the future ‘Kappa’)
To provide the reader with an historical overview is important in the ‘Kappa’, linking various approaches and purposes together. I was suggested to make tables to overview the different research fields and also to illustrate the aims and research questions. Furthermore, I was asked to elaborate on outcomes and consequences. SI suggested that the Health Science is a field that is empirically rich but theory poor. This could be further elaborated in the kappa. I write that “the emergence of participatory approaches in research is varied and equivocal” but I don’t eloborate sufficiently on how. What is ambigious in earlier research? In addition, I was asked to give an explanation as to why ambiguity was a problem. Is there a right way to strive for, if not, isn’t it unavoidable or even a necessity that the field is equivocal?
Clearer narrative and aim of study
The manuscript needs a clearer narrative and focus. It is not clear to what field the study is contributing. How does it relate to earlier findings and what knowledge gap will it fill? I explained that I see the topic as public policy and urban planning. That the study suggest that the transdisciplinary framework could potentially be used as a means to frame the complexity of the problem in such a context.
Elaborate on relevant theory in introduction
The introduction needs to be deepened and expanded. I need to elaborate on earlier studies and bring in more theory about knowledge and expertise; on the similarities and differences between learning, knowledge and know-how, and how these concepts are linked to participatority; on the role of value and how it is linked to knowledge. I also need to elaborate more on what constitutes a wicked problem and link the study more clearly to transdisciplinary science. Boundary work is mentioned but not elaborated on, nor is it used in the analysis. Either exclude it from the manuscript or embed it better.
Findings seemingly rich but too flattened out
What findings were expected can be clearer. An illustration to provide the reader with an overview of the findings is also needed. Findings are seemingly rich, but too flattened out and descriptive. The quotes consists mainly of statements or arguments from single persons, and is not illustrating the actual discussion; Tensions, disagreements, laughs, amusement, interaction between participants are probably there but cannot be seen. Thus, I need to better “capture the dynamics of the RC”, that for example this person did not come through so much. As an example, the citizen representative is only quoted once. Is the quote is only there to assure that everyone gets cited?
Discussion not sufficiently linked to findings
After reading the findings, one cannot come to the conclusion of existing silos that is mentioned in the discussion. In other words, the link between findings and discussion needs to be clearer.
Conclusion needs to be clarified
In the conclusion I need to clarify what kind of theoretical and practical contribution this is. Furthermore, I state that aspects are “intertwined in a complex matter”, but is not clearly explained anywhere how.
Decision to change journal to submit to
Considering the feedback from the journal as well as the feedback received at the half-time review, it was decided at the follow up meeting that we will not resubmit the manuscript to the journal Housing Studies, but instead submit the manuscript to a special issue of International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. The deadline for submission is 31 December 2020.
I was suggested to provide the reader with better explanations and motivations as to why this was an interesting and relevant phenomenon to study. Furthermore, a qualitative analysis in form of a focus group was suggested as a complement in order to strengthen the study, not least considering the low response rate (29%). In this way it would be designed as a two-step study. This idea was further discussed in the follow-up meeting with the supervisors were it was decided that this would potentially be done within the frames of the panel study. However, considering the limited time frame of my PhD project such a study was decided not be part of my PhD project and thus not included in study II. Additionally, I was asked to write more explicitely that the Kylén et al. study referred to was the actual study protocol, which was not obvious according to one of the reviewers.
The reviewers asked about the motivations behind the ‘mass experiment’ and what potential (theoretical) contributions I saw in the citizen science project as such. I explained that the main motivation from a scientific point of view was the unique opportunity it offered to collect a very large data set in a short time period. However, it was later pointed out by SI and OJ that I did not mention that citizen science projects from a more general perspective can be seen as a communication strategy to raise awareness about what research can be about; that it is not necessarily something abstract and dead-serious, but rather can be fun and deal with everyday problems that people can relate to. Furthermore, I could also have added that the ‘mass experiment’ methodology and the usage of the digital tool, offered opportunities to discover new things for example about inter-generational research co-operation. At least one of the reviewers found that the ‘mass experiment’ set-up was “research-driven” rather than truly participatory, and thus suggested that when engaging so many people, “open up” and do something “exciting” for example let school pupils write about older peoples’ housing environment. However, I explained that considering the design of it and the way it was organised, we had limited possibilities to change the overall set-up at this point.
The reviewers found that study IV offered an opportunity to make a good (theoretical) contribution. In order to do so it required a thorough research overview. Furthermore, using an adequate existing theory could help frame not just this individual study, but also the thesis as a whole. However, the question they posed was what theory that could - and ought to - be. Some of the theories (and concepts) suggested by the reviewers that could be of relevance here were: Normative process theory, Capability theory, Implementation science and Sustainable new practices.
- Find out what rules apply to the new journal we aim to publish mauscript I in in and email the co-authors about them.
- Notify Housing Studies that we do not intend to publish the article there.
- Define key concepts
- Systematic literature review
- Rewrite manuscript based on feedback from reviewers and the updated knowledge from the literature searches
- Focus on finalizing the results
- Email co-authors the questionnaire and ask them to mark the questions they regard as consituting ‘willingness’
- Clean the data
- Conduct the analyses
- Define key concepts
- Systematic literature review
- Discuss literature search with Oskar who has done such a similar search some time ago
- Finalize manuscript
Use the portfolio onwards to situate myself in relation to the research field and the learning outcomes.
Start writing the kappa after submitting the two manuscripts
Formulate an ethical application during autumn-winter 2020⁄21
Start considering relevant theories and study set-up during 2021.