Edging closer to applying for stage 1 ethical approval


Today’s meeting was exciting –  I think I’m nearly ready to submit my requests for ethical approval to Durham, following a few fairly small changes to the forms we discussed today.

I’m planning on submitting one request for the Practitioner Development Workshop I’m running as part of the ECSB 3E Conference in Leeds in May, and the other for the first stage of my actual real life planned doctoral data collection!

We also briefly discussed travel plans for the Threshold Concepts conference in Halifax, Canada this summer – Nicola mentioned some cheaper flights from Glasgow that I need to look into.

The other main points were regarding the ethics forms.

3E: What should I do if some people what to attend the workshop but don’t want to participate in the research study?  I could say that I would not record the session if some delegates were not willing to participate in the research study however Nicola felt that this was perhaps verging on coercion. I’m hoping there will be enough people to split them into smaller groups around voice recorders.  In this way, if there are some that don’t want to be recorded, I can put them together in their own small group/s and they won’t be disadvantaged in any way.

Another issue might be that the workshop attracts a large number of delegates – what do I do then?  Ray suggested a gold-fish bowl option might work, which lead us to agree that it would be important to get as much information about workshop attendance numbers from the organizers in advance, and to access the room before others to arrange the furniture as I would like to have it.  That all depends on where I am in the programme however.  I think I will save panicking about that until we are nearer the date of the conference.

Ray suggested taking sticky notes too, so willing participants could summarize their contributions at the end and I could collect these.

Nicola suggested including a one page summary of the whole doctoral research study in with this ethical approval application form, so the committee appreciated the context and didn’t think that this study represented the entire doctoral thesis.

Task 1 – Delphi Study: I need to add words around the use of pseudonyms and the state that the responses will be anonymous as well as rephrasing the part about not including information gathered in the process that might be harmful to anyone.  Ray suggested it would be better to refer to “candidate” threshold concepts, and refer to the initial interview questions as “outline” in case I wish to later modify them.

We had a more extended conversation regarding the wording of the participant information sheet.  How much information was enough to whet their appetite and not too much to put them off participating?

We also had a go at optimizing the introductory letter to the expert entrepreneurs.

My actions from the meeting were to make the changes discussed to the ethics forms and introductory letter and then pass to Ray for authorization, he would then pass to the ethics committee.  While I’m waiting for approval I can make a start on writing up part of my method chapter – this potentially could become a paper too.



Daylight robbery – ethical considerations

There’s been a big incident on Thornleigh Road this morning across from Starbucks at AC Silver the lovely jewelry shop this morning – police all over the joint and the road closed.  Hope they catch them.  I carelessly left my purse in the University Library yesterday but it was handed in intact by an honest person so I was happily reunited with it at lunch time today.  Far too much excitement.

I met with Ray and Nicola on Thursday last week at our usual time of 10:30am.  Prior to the meeting I had sent through

1) A revised study design reflecting our discussions on 21st January 2016

2) A request for ethical approval for my Practitioner Development Workshop accepted for the 3E conference in Leeds in May (11 – 13th) from Durham.  I received approval from Northumbria University.  And they are funding my attendance.

3) The declaration of informed consent for the entrepreneurs Task 1, an initial introductory letter to the entrepreneurs, and a draft interview script.

4) A request for ethical approval for the first stage of the data collection of my study with expert entrepreneurs.

5) A draft introductory letter to potential participants in task 1 (expert entrepreneurs) and potential interview questions for the preliminary stage of the Delphi Study.

Subsequent to my last supervision I was notified that I have had my paper proposal accepted for the Threshold Concepts conference in Canada.  Durham have agreed to contribute £400 and Northumbria have subsequently agree to foot the remainder of the bill.  As an insurance option, I had also approached Ernst and Young, and the conference organisers themselves, but haven’t heard anything back from either.  All the other funding options I’ve explored (Kauffman institute, Santander, Wellcome Trust, Leverhulme Small Research Grants) appear to exclude post-graduates or indeed any applications from individuals.
I also conducted a mini-pilot with three colleagues from Law, of the Triad Comparison visual data collection method that I plan to use in the 3E conference, which was incredibly useful and has meant my workshop will be much better.  This perhaps will enable me to include the data gathered from it as relevant research data for Task 2 – Entrepreneurship  Educators.
I’ve discovered that Northumbria subscribe to Vitae so I have enrolled on the distance learning programme Professional Development Planning for Researchers Online Course so I’ll start to go through that.
I’ve submitted a developmental paper with Michele Ruck (Enterprise Fellow) for BAM2016 (British Academy of Management) – Newcastle 5th to 8th Sept on Entrepreneurial Leadership.
I’ve been to a workshop on Phenomenology (3rd Feb) at Northumbria and one on Ethics at Newcastle (11th Feb).
I’ve met with Steve Gibson, Marketing Manager at the Entrepreneurs Forum http://www.entrepreneursforum.net/  to discuss the possibility of recruiting participants from their members for task 1.  The meeting went very well and Steve has already got back to me with a list of potential members that might be contacted.
We started the supervision by considering if the stages of data collection are dependent on and inform each other – as the proposal for 3E conference would appear to inform the 2nd task (Entrepreneurship Educators) and would be undertaken before I had completed the first task of gathering data from the expert entrepreneurs.  I suppose I am taking a rather opportunistic approach and wanted to keep my options open – if the data looks relevant and can be usefully included, I will.  If it doesn’t, I won’t.    Nicola and Ray’s questions led me to believe that the Ethics forms need some more work.  Although Northumbria have already given me approval, Durham need more evidence that I have considered all the potential risks and what I might do to address them.  Nicola was concerned that I was perhaps going to collect too much data; unnecessary data.  She suggested that I did not record the session, but just took field notes and asked participants if I could collect their completed templates.  In this way, participants who were not willing to participate could withdraw without jeopardising the exercise. I should also make it clearer that the study is exploratory work, like a pilot and part of a staged doctoral study design. Clarify the purpose of that phase and define the research question I’m trying to answer.
I’ve also just realised that the deadline for the full proposal for the conference organisers is March 20th, so I’d better get a move on!  The experience at the conference will be useful evidence of impact too for the Doctoral Study, as it will show evidence of engagement with providers and developers.  Perhaps if the workshop was videoed – this could provide evidence of impact, I should also think about creating something for the Threshold Concept website http://www.ee.ucl.ac.uk/~mflanaga/thresholds.html  .  Basically the idea is to create something that’s disseminate-able beyond the participants, and more than regular publishing in Academic Journals, where people might say “As a result of (that workshop) I redesigned my course” for example.
ACTION: Redraft request for ethical approval for 3E conference for Durham
We moved on to discuss the proposed pilot study.  I was proposing to conduct a pilot Delphi Study with members of the Entrepreneurs Forum.  Nicola was concerned that it was too big – and we wondered if you could pilot a Delphi Study?  She recommended I found more studies that had used the Delphi approach to see what piloting activities had been carried out.  She suggested maybe trying it informally with colleagues, perhaps on something completely different.  But we were not sure if was even possible to pilot a Delphi Study.  After some discussion, we agreed that perhaps it would be better to mix Entrepreneurs from the Ernst and Young Competition with members of the Entrepreneurs’ Forum, and not do a pilot. My objective should be to maximise participation.  If I get a bigger sample that I need – I need to consider my inclusion/exclusion criteria.  I might want to consider ensuring a cross section of industry sectors for example.  I would be taking a purposive sample, identifying key, expert respondents.  Perhaps I am talking about a strategic sample, an intentional sample, and it may end up as a convenience sample.  I need to read up on the various types of sampling approaches so I know what to call mine, as well as the relative advantages and disadvantages of the different approaches.
ACTION: Engage with the EY competition organisers to test the water on this exercise.
Ray and Nicola felt I needed a much shorter, snappier invitation script.
My tacit intent is to flatter my participants!  I must emphasise the need for anonymity, so explain the design of the study and how it is intended to work.  So the participants don’t unintentionally undermine it by broadcasting their participation.  I could do this by talking about “the strength of this approach” being centred on its confidentiality – that’s how a Delphi study works, it draws on expertise.  It’s important to keep identities private so a not to bias view points.  So the invitation letter needs to be simple and accessible with no obscure academic terminology.  Ray advised assuming my target participants were educated broadsheet readers.
We moved on to discuss the other Ethics Forms.  The main risk I hadn’t really explored in the application for Ethical Approval was the risk of unintentional disclosure of compromising information (e.g. legal infringements).  What if they put me at risk by confessing a criminal act?  Nicola and Ray directed me to the Statement of Ethical Practice of the British Sociological Society (which is excellent),
and the ethical guidelines for educational research published by the British Educational Research Association:
which is excellent too and perhaps more appropriate as I feel I am more likely to be recognised as an educational researcher, than a sociologist.
Nicola and Ray also mentioned the Singapore Statement of Research Integrity


The value and benefits of research are vitally dependent on the integrity of research. While there can be and are national and disciplinary differences in the way research is organized and conducted, there are also principles and professional responsibilities that are fundamental to the integrity of research wherever it is undertaken.


Honesty in all aspects of research

Accountability in the conduct of research

Professional courtesy and fairness in working with others

Good stewardship of research on behalf of others


    1. Integrity: Researchers should take responsibility for the trustworthiness of their research.
    2. Adherence to Regulations: Researchers should be aware of and adhere to regulations and policies related to research.
    3. Research Methods: Researchers should employ appropriate research methods, base conclusions on critical analysis of the evidence and report findings and interpretations fully and objectively.
    4. Research Records: Researchers should keep clear, accurate records of all research in ways that will allow verification and replication of their work by others.
    5. Research Findings: Researchers should share data and findings openly and promptly, as soon as they have had an opportunity to establish priority and ownership claims.
    6. Authorship: Researchers should take responsibility for their contributions to all publications, funding applications, reports and other representations of their research. Lists of authors should include all those and only those who meet applicable authorship criteria.
    7. Publication Acknowledgement: Researchers should acknowledge in publications the names and roles of those who made significant contributions to the research, including writers, funders, sponsors, and others, but do not meet authorship criteria.
    8. Peer Review: Researchers should provide fair, prompt and rigorous evaluations and respect confidentiality when reviewing others’ work.
    9. Conflict of Interest: Researchers should disclose financial and other conflicts of interest that could compromise the trustworthiness of their work in research proposals, publications and public communications as well as in all review activities.
    10. Public Communication: Researchers should limit professional comments to their recognized expertise when engaged in public discussions about the application and importance of research findings and clearly distinguish professional comments from opinions based on personal views.
    11. Reporting Irresponsible Research Practices: Researchers should report to the appropriate authorities any suspected research misconduct, including fabrication, falsification or plagiarism, and other irresponsible research practices that undermine the trustworthiness of research, such as carelessness, improperly listing authors, failing to report conflicting data, or the use of misleading analytical methods.
    12. Responding to Irresponsible Research Practices: Research institutions, as well as journals, professional organizations and agencies that have commitments to research, should have procedures for responding to allegations of misconduct and other irresponsible research practices and for protecting those who report such behavior in good faith. When misconduct or other irresponsible research practice is confirmed, appropriate actions should be taken promptly, including correcting the research record.
    13. Research Environments: Research institutions should create and sustain environments that encourage integrity through education, clear policies, and reasonable standards for advancement, while fostering work environments that support research integrity.
    14. Societal Considerations: Researchers and research institutions should recognize that they have an ethical obligation to weigh societal benefits against risks inherent in their work”
These sorts of documents are appropriate inclusions as Appendices of my thesis.  I could point out to participants that I reserve the right not to include something that could be harmful to me or them.  This could also be accommodated by a data checking step – i.e. allowing participants to review interview transcripts or summaries before analysis to check they are happy with what has been recorded.  So it’s important to highlight to the ethics committee this step of “member checking” – to overcome the problem of any of the participants telling me something that compromises me or them or others.  This could be particularly pertinent when looking for examples of some typically entrepreneurial behaviour – say risk taking.
Another aspect of data collection I need to consider is if I want to allow public access (including me) to my data after publication.  It’s normal to keep data for 5 years following PhD publication.  I need to define “password protected” and which University system I am talking about – I need to make it clearer that I’m a member of staff at Northumbria University.  I also need to make provision to store the data somewhere else too, to facilitate transportation and back up data.  I need to think about the process of data capture (perhaps off site) as well as  interim data storage.  How will I provide adequate protection for the data in all these circumstances?
We moved on to discuss the intricacies of the Delphi Study in more detail.  I am confusing the terms “list” and “questionnaire”.  I think I am going to be asking some questions (via interview).  I will generate a list of statements which encapsulate potential threshold concepts from the answers.
Then I will ask participants to rate the “threshold-ness” of the statement, and rank them according to their respective importance to the study of entrepreneurship in Higher Education.  So the confusion comes because I am asking participants questions about a list…We considered whether it might be simpler to send a questionnaire out in advance – online?  or to perhaps ask a more general question to start with from which attributes, skills, concepts, personal competencies, personal qualities and knowledge could be deduced.  For example, “Of all the entrepreneurs you have met, which do you most admire and why?”  As the researcher, I am the one that is most likely to be identifying the Threshold Concepts.
We discussed feedback to each individual, and why I felt I needed to give it.  I  definitely need to rephrase this, as I only wanted to ensure I kept the door open to potentially going back to contributors if they had said something I didn’t understand or wanted to hear more about.
I am looking to be able to extract a list of concepts from each interview, condensing down what the individual said.  Ray related an anecdote about the man who started the Fender Guitar company, then asked me what potential Entrepreneurship Threshold Concepts I might deduce from it.  It was clear to me that I straight away went for concepts of effectuation to explain and frame what I had heard.  In  the Delphi Study, I realise I will not be able to exclude existing theory, but I will be using the literature to frame my analysis. This is because I find the notion of effectuation useful and interesting and it will therefore influence the interviews and my analysis of the responses.  It’s not grounded theory.  I should make a virtue of it.
Instead of transcribing the interviews, I will send my interpretation of the interviews to the respondents for their checking of them.
I think that the threshold concepts for entrepreneurship are to do with cognitive processes, ways of thinking about things.  Ways of Thinking and Practicing (WTP) together with the affective element.  “An entrepreneur is a person who does things like this…” and get to identifying their psychological characteristics.  Also consider ways of decision making (Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman)
When considering the practical details of the Delphi Study, my study creaks a little (a lot) around the edges.  So for example, rather than saying, “I will follow up the interview”, I should say something more gently so there only an implication of a small, brief, quick possibility of leaving the door open to revisit them.  And this should also be clear to the ethics committee.
In the Delphi Study I need to indicate more clearly the time commitment required by the participant at each stage.
Maybe the pilot I need to do is of the interview stage only – say with two people – pilot the process.  I need to give more thought to how I handle the data coming in and look at a few more Delphi Studies, talk to someone who’s done one.  The following people were recommended:
Professor Carolin Kreber

Professor of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, Education, Community and Society (ECS), , Tel: +44 (0)131 651 6668, Location: St John’s Land (Rm 4.13)

?Steven McKendrick (Newcastle)
Going back to the Practitioner Development workshop at the 3E conference, maybe it would be enough to gather field notes and ask a Threshold Concept question at the end?  Use sticky notes, just take photos, and not do live recordings.  Be aware of gathering unnecessary data, I don’t need to anything that isn’t making a direct contribution.  Perhaps it could constitute another study?  Perhaps I should scale it down.


ACTION: Rethink details of Stage one of the study and redraft ethics forms