There is not much to write about today – which is a good thing as it was a productive day where we worked intensively on one task for a prolonged period. That task was starting to try to understand, at very accelerated speed, the significance of what we had learned during yesterday’s field visit to Nam Dinh. When we put this proposal into the British Academy, our two key aims had been to get to know how each other worked better, and to work towards a common methodology for understanding coastal societies in changing climates across very different contexts. On both of these counts, it has been hard work but we are getting towards our objectives.
Start time was supposed to be 9.30, but there were a fair few tired folk after the long journey to the coast, and it was nearer 10am by the time we got underway. Today’s topic was principles of data analysis and theorising, with an emphasis on rigorous qualitative research (although the underpinning principles of what we discussed are equally applicable to qualitative work).
First interesting discussion point about grounded theory – if we did that in Vietnam, we would fail our project report. This was a point of departure for us to talk about rigour, and about how to balance up the challenge of not closing down the research question too far with the very pragmatic need to understand sample sizes, techniques and theoretical/scholarly underpinnings as part of the academic process.
Our discussion was then cut short by a bizarre yet happy series of events. It transpired Dr Tung – who earlier in the day had been wearing traditional Vietnamese dress and carrying a large bunch of flowers – had been awarded a major science and technology prize. A cameraman came to film her speaking in our seminar. Several terrifying minutes of confusion followed from our end until someone explained to us what was going on.
After that it was time for lunch, and then the fun began. Fun involving writing ideas, points and observations from the field on Post-It notes, at least. Our objective for the afternoon was to do a kind of accelerated trial run of developing themes and ultimately codes from the data, with a view to understanding how one can start to make sense of complex data in a flexible yet semi-systematic way. Two hours of chaos followed, during which we all stuck our observations up on the walls and then worked together to group the individual observations – of which there must have been a good few hundred – into themes.
By 4pm (when we stop so everyone can beat the Hanoi traffic home), it was a bit rough and ready but we were starting to see some ideas emerging. Health issues, gender, knowledge, biodiversity, community. There is clearly still some way to go to refine these and focus them in, but the key point for all of us is to start to think through how we might go from describing what we saw in Nam Dinh – or indeed anywhere else we work on climate change and coastal communities – to trying to understand what the social dynamics are. Tomorrow, the last day, is when we’ll try to work towards refining these themes and seeing if we can think about where some concepts or future research directions might come from.
Thanks are extended to the British Academy for their support through the International Partnership and Mobility Scheme.