Local GRAD school 2017 – lessons learnt.

The Spy Who Shagged Me

Last week, I’ve had the chance to attend the Edinburgh Local GRAD School among other PhD students from all over Scotland. The aim of this training was to give us some space so that we can become more aware of our personal and professional transferable skills.

There were a lot of group activities, some workshops, and plenty of opportunities to meet other PhD students to discuss our research or chat about PhD lives. The program was intense and challenging, and not much time was left on our own to reflect on all the activities we were involved in. However, there are a few lessons learned that I would like to share here, by sharing the insights of one particular exercise.

Just a widget

The very first activity we were asked to do consisted of creating an innovative widget, starting from the scratch. The only guideline we received was to create something which is useful to the society. Each group had 1 hour to create a prototype, that would be then presented to the rest of the entire group, allowing us to explain the concept (technical challenges, management issues, overall purpose, etc.). One hour is not much time when you need to create something new with people you hardly know and who come from different scientific fields.

Where do you start? How will you proceed? And how will you organise yourself?

Lessons learnt

Within a few minutes, we somehow all agreed that it would be more simple to focus on one problem that needs to be fixed (rather than creating something ‘out of the blue’).

  • Lesson 1: Defining a problem will help you discover the potential solution.

Instead of starting something too big (worldwide), we thought it might be easier to create something helpful for the (local) citizens of Edinburgh. One of the problems quickly identified was the issue related to lack of cycling routes in the city, and the danger it represents for all the cyclists.

  • Lesson 2: Think big (global),  but start small (local). If an objective must be SMART, then it seems more realistic to start with something feasible within your own environment (even if it is virtual). If the product if successful, it will become global.

We were asked to think “out of the box”, so we have. As none of us had a background in urbanistic studies, we simply came out with the idea that bikes should be able to fly (above the cars and crowded roads).

  • Lesson 3: Dream, and stick to your dream. No great inventions were ever made without dreaming, even if it looks crazy to the eyes of others. We are creators, therefore free to invent what we feel inspired by.

Somehow, our group split into two sub-groups: one that worked on the prototype (with the material provided by the tutors), and the other one on the presentation (explaining the benefits of our concept).

  • Lesson 4: Trust that each member of the group will eventually find its place to contribute in some way. Don’t let anyone isolated, each one has a precious gift to share. Let go of any egoistic personal desires. It is a group project, not a solo one.

We had only one hour, and therefore no time to make our prototype “perfect“, but the result was “good enough” to be presented to the rest of the main group.

  • Lesson 5: Always aim for the best, but remember that a product that is finished will always be better than an unfinished one, as perfect as it might be.



The presentation of our widget was clear and well spoken. Our bike prototype was rather clumsily cute and totally hand-made (with tapes, plastic cups, paper and wires). We gave it a name: Fly High. It won the 1st price.

This exercise was a wonderful example on how knowledge is co-created through social interactions, providing the perfect ground to enable collective intelligence. This was also a beautiful demonstration of the explicitation of tacit knowledge shared with one another, with the common aim of creating something new and useful to the society, with limited resources, and a lot of solidarity, essential to the success of any project.

Paper acceptance


I have just learnt that the abstract I have submitted to the i3 conference 2017 has been accepted by the committee. This paper, co-authored with my supervisors Prof. Hazel Hall and Dr Colin F. Smith, will discuss the concept of ‘Ba’ and tacit knowledge sharing in online environments, a topic I will present here on my blog in the next following days.

For now, I just meant to announce this good news 🙂


The exploration of the intangible


One of the most important stages of a doctoral study is the empirical work that enables us to collect data and gather results in order to hopefully help us answering with accuracy our research questions. To ensure the validity and reliability of the results, this empirical work must preliminary be based on a rigorous methodology.  The short paper that I have recently presented at the ISIC 2016 conference in Zadar, and which will be published next year in the journal Information Research, concerns the methods I’ve chosen to use in order to study tacit knowledge. It presents the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches adopted by researchers, and the pragmatic approach I have chosen to undertake the empirical work of my study.

The intangible nature of knowledge

Unlike explicit knowledge, which is visible, quantifiable and therefore more easily measurable, tacit knowledge is invisible, embedded in people’s minds & working practices, and therefore, more challenging to observe. Indeed, how do you measure what is inside the minds of people, which is then shared with others, and moreover online? Similarly to other cognitive or comportemental studies, it is not so much about measuring, but more about exploring and broaden the understanding of a phenomenon, by using the appropriate methods.

How then, can one study such knowledge of intangible nature?

According to the literature, there has been a need for robust methodological approaches to studying the sharing of tacit knowledge for some time. The problem is that some of the methodological approaches which were initially intended to study explicit knowledge have also been applied to investigate the tacit characteristics of knowledge (e.g. explicit assets of tacit knowledge).  The risk of such approach is to overlook some essential elements which constitute the far more complex and multidimensional nature of knowledge. Consequently, this can create a bias towards exploring the nature of knowledge.

So what are the options for exploring the intangible?


The positivist approach

Some researchers favour quantitative methods – particularly  by attempting to model tacit knowledge sharing. These methods are usually based on large-scale surveys, some of which make extensive use of the Likert scale. (e.g. Borges, 2013; Lin, 2007; Tsai 2014)

Criticisms: as mentioned above, these methods which are designed to study explicit knowledge tend to overlook the multidimensional nature of tacit knowledge and the fact that knowledge is socially constructed. They also tend to focus on assets generated from tacit knowledge. Therefore, the risk with this approach is that the requirements of the research validity might not be met.

The qualitative approach

Researchers in knowledge management who take an interpretivist stance assert that knowledge cannot be studied objectively. They deploy qualitative techniques such as interviews, focus groups, and surveys, often in case study settings. These studies usually do not generate models, but instead provide nuanced understandings of particular aspects of knowledge management. (e.g. Murray & Peyrefitte, 2007; Neve, 2003; Whyte & Classen, 2012)

Criticisms: the risk by adopting such method, is to undertake a study with a limited population sampling. According to positivist researchers, this approach can bias the findings as they cannot be generalised.


The theorist Flyvberg (2001) states that on the contrary, a deep analysis through the generation of a single case study is valuable because it can contribute to the ‘collective process of knowledge accumulation‘. This ‘power of the good example‘ as he named it, holds the potential to broaden the understanding of a phenomenon.

The mixed-method approach

An increasing number of researchers opt for a mixed-method approach, although only 7% of studies that consider public sector knowledge management have chosen that solution.

Criticisms: some positivist scholars assert that qualitative and quantitative methods are incompatible since they are based on different ontological roots. It seems that some researchers (particularly in Social Science) would have a tendency to assume that such triangulation process provides a guarantee of robustness, with the hidden hope to be recognised as ‘scientific’ in front of an external audience.



For a pragmatic approach

Since I have a limited time to undertake this PhD (and limited funding), I do not have any other choices than making compromises. Also, I need to take into account the population I’m studying (in my case, employees working in public sector organisations using an online shared platform). The challenge here is to take into account these constraints, without challenging the validity nor the reliability of my study.

I have therefore opted for an approach adopted in practice: a research approach that deploys mixed methods for an inductive case study in order to extend the knowledge of the influence of online tools on tacit knowledge sharing.

The approach is qualitative, which is a dominant practice in KM research. Based on an interpretivist perspective, it reflects the philosophical stance of knowledge, which is socially constructed. It also takes into account the contextualisation of respondents profiles.

The method is mixed. For triangulation purposes, in order to enrich the data and broaden the possibilities of understanding the phenomena studied.

The research site is a case study. It is  a dominant practice in KM research, and allows a depth of analysis in a specific community.

The data collection consists of 4 activities:

  1. A cross-organisational online survey (completed)
  2. Semi-structured interviews (October-November 2016)
  3. Potential focus groups if the data collected will need to be completed
  4. The content analysis of documentation if it contributes to the investigation.



The justification of choosing a qualitative approach to study tacit knowledge stems from the empirical stance that knowledge is socially constructed, even more so when the object of the study is linked to social media usage. It does not deny the value of a positivist approach, nor exclude its usage of course. The point here is to emphasise that the design of a methodology is essential because its objective is to help us answering our research questions.

That was ISIC


The ISIC2016 conference that took place in Zadar, Croatia, is now over. It has been an intense and beautiful week, and I certainly feel enriched by all the discussions I’ve had with the several ISIC delegates I’ve met. Also, the numerous interesting speeches I’ve heard this week, allowed me to become more aware of the impressive variety of aspects which are studied in the field of Information Behaviour.

A doctoral workshop

Prior to the conference, my colleagues Lindsey Jenkins, John Mowbray, Frances Ryan and I, have taken part in a pre-conference Doctoral workshop in which we had all been accepted after the submission of our applications. A group activity in the morning gave us the possibility to discuss and reflect on the PhD process, in a collective brain-storming. The rest of the day was dedicated to discussions that occurred in small groups, within which we could receive a direct feedback from our dedicated mentors (in my case Prof. Ivenka Stricevic and Prof. Ina Fourie). Their questions and comments were enlightening, as well as those coming from the other doctoral students.


The workshop (that was led by Prof. Theresa D. Anderson and Prof. Ross Todd), ended up with some time to reflect on the learning outcomes, and final guidance from all the mentors, including those provided by Prof. Coleen Cool and Dr Lynne McKechnie. I’ve particularly appreciated the one given by the latter, who invited us to embrace uncertainty in our research and enjoy it the same way dolphins swim. I guess that explains the reason why I’ve made several dreams about dolphins prior to the conference (!)

Speeches & food for thought


The three days conference that followed were so rich, that it is impossible to sum it up here. However, some specific events are worthy to be mentioned here. Such as the One Minute madness event during which we (all the doctoral students) had to present our research in front of the ISIC delegates. Not an easy exercise, but certainly well executed by all my colleagues.



The other one was, of course, the presentation of my paper, for which I will write a specific post right after that one. The only thing I would like to relate here is that the theme of tacit knowledge triggered some unexpected comments and questions, and certainly caught the attention of a few researchers…


But ISIC2016 was not only about speeches. It was also about meeting wonderful people from all over the world, all dedicated to explore and understand the informational world we live in.

photo-22-09-2016-09-09-44Many discussions occurred during the lovely coffee breaks we had throughout the day, but also during the events organised by the Croatian team: the post-doctoral dinner, the reception held in the old and beautiful place of the Barbakan restaurant, and the final dinner, in the harbour.

These meetings are as important as the speeches, if not more, as it is each time a rare and precious occasion to discuss your research with fellow researchers. When they happen in such beautiful settings, they let you with a positive emotional impression not easy to forget.

Zadar & food for the soul


Overall, it has been a wonderful experience. Of course, the fact that it happened in Croatia, is not negligible. It certainly contributed to the positive feeling of the entire experience, as I am a sincere admirer of this country for at least fifteen years.  I had never had the chance to visit Zadar though, and I was not disappointed. Everything that I know and love about Croatia was there: the gorgeous blue of the Mediterranean Sea, the shining green from the pine trees, the white rocks, and the wonderful smells.

Adding to that the fresh and tasty Mediterranean food accompanied by delicious wines from the area, you can only feel thankful. One thing was new to me, though: the amazing sea organ: this architectural and original construction was created by the artist Nikola Basic, who imagined a natural ‘organ’ being played by the waves of the sea. The joy of sitting there while enjoying the different sounds mysteriously coming out of this unusual structure, is difficult to describe, so I reckon the best way to understand it, is to experience it:




ISIC 2016

isi2016_logo_blue_smallOn Wednesday the 21st of September, I will be attending the Information Behaviour Conference ISIC 2016 held this year in Zadar, Croatia. This is because I will have the honour to present my 1st short paper co-written with my supervisors Prof. Hazel Hall and Dr. Colin F. Smith. The title of the short paper is: ‘Tacit knowledge sharing: the determination of a methodological approach to exploring the intangible.’ I will present it on Thursday the 22nd in the afternoon session ‘Context of information sharing’ hosted by Maija-Leena Huotari.

Three of my colleagues from the CSI will also be there: Frances Ryan, who will present her paper on Thursday morning, John Mowbray and Lyndsey Jenkins who will both present their research on an academic poster.

Prior to the conference, on Tuesday the 20th, my colleagues and I will be attending the pre-conference Ph.D. workshop with other fellow Ph.D. students. This workshop will give us the opportunity to discuss various challenges and issues we’re struggling with at the present stage of our research.

This is the 2nd time this year that I have the privilege to present my research at an international academic conference, after the IDIMC conference in January. I’m thankful to the School of Computing from Edinburgh Napier University for giving me the opportunity to participate in such important event, as it provides the best environment to discuss my research with other academics.

Last but not least, the fact that this conference happens in Croatia, a country that I love for almost 20 years by now, is a nice wink from Life. No doubt I will enjoy each minute of it.

My first paper


Less than two weeks ago, I have received the confirmation that my first (short) paper (co-authored by my supervisors Prof. Hazel Hall and Dr Colin Smith) was accepted for the ISIC conference 2016. This is such a good news! Not only because I will be able to present it myself during the conference, but also because it will be published in the review ‘Information Research‘ next year, in 2017.

It is quite a weird feeling to realise that one day, my name will be ‘searchable’ in the academic databases under the field ‘author’. I guess I’d rather get used to it…

This said, I’m looking forward to attend the ISIC 2016 conference which is dedicated to Information Behaviour. A research area that I had only discovered while studying in 2009 for my Master in Information Science at the EBSI (University of Montreal), as at the time, it didn’t seem to be very know in the European french-speaking Information Science schools.

My paper covers methodological approaches regarding the study of tacit knowledge. A topic that I will address in my next blog post.

A priceless time of prizes

I have started this year by winning the Best Poster prize at the IDIMC 2016. IDIMC awardSix months later, I find myself being awarded of two more prizes! I don’t want to be over optimistic, but we are only half through the year…

In May, some of my colleagues and myself have organised the School of Computer PhD Conference, giving the opportunity to most of the PhD students to communicate about their research. The 1st year had the constraint to present their research in a ‘1 min. madness’ format, the 2nd year had to keep the rhythm to present theirs in a 20×20 presentation (20 sec./slide), and the 3d year through a more conventional 10 min. presentation.

As I’m in my 2nd year, I was in the group of the 20×20 presentations. Needless to say that I had no idea how I would manage to limit my speech and my slides in such a limited time (the slides run automatically, so after 20 seconds, you don’t have the choice to proceed with the next one). The 20×20 presentations are actually known as Pecha Kucha, (a Japanese term meaning chit-chat), which have first become popular in the creative fields, until its popularity extended to the academic world. The point is to present a topic in very short time (6.6 min.) based mainly on images (as there is no time to read a text).

SocPhD 20x20 prizeTo say the truth, I was quite reluctant to present my research in such a way. Not so much because of the constraint to use that many pictures (which I usually appreciate), but more because of the limited time that was imposed on us. Moreover, this format fits well to people who are at ease with storytelling and speaking in front of an audience…so if that’s not your case (…), the exercise can be even more challenging. Not impossible though. The proof is that I’ve unexpectedly won the 3d prize of the best 20×20 presentation! Not bad for the non-native English speaker that I am after all.

This prize has been won alongside my colleagues John Mowbray (2nd best prize of the 20×20 presentation), Frances Ryan (1st prize of the 3d year presentations), and our 1st year colleague Lyndsey Jenkins for the 2nd prize of best poster.

SoC Phd 20x20 prize picture
From left to right: Hazel Hall, Iris Buunk, Frances Ryan



In June, my supervisor wisely invited me to present once again my academic poster at the Edinburgh University Research day. As I thought it would be a nice opportunity to discuss my research with fellow researchers, I brought it without being aware that the posters were also awarded besides the numerous presentations that we had the chance to enjoy during the day. To my surprise, I heard my name being called during the Prize ceremony, for having won the best poster Principal’s Research Excellence Awards 2016!

Principals research excellence award

I’ve been told that I have implicitly become an academic poster advisors (!) …a status that I’m very glad to endorse if I can be of any help to any colleague who might need some advice in that matter.

In six months, I have won three prizes, two for my poster, and one for the presentation of my research. This is certainly not an outcome I had forecasted when the year 2016 started. I can only be thankful for receiving such recognition for my work, as it contributes to be more trustful on my abilities to progress with my PhD.

This gain of trust, is the real priceless prize of all.

Catching up


Source: nomadicexpeditions.com

Sometimes, life is so intense, that it is impossible to catch up with the update of a blog.

This sounds like a bad excuse for not having written for such a long time, right?

Life is always intense, we are all busy, we ‘never’ have time, our schedules look like a Kandisky painting, and our mailboxes are close to zero (how do you spend your time?) or close….to be shut down (what are you doing with your time?).

Anyhow, this message is an interlude to let you know that I will soon publish quite a few fascinating stories about my research and my PhD life, that, as you now understand, wasn’t boring, nor empty like the Gobi desert.

From shadow to limelight


I’ve just came back from the IDIMC conference held by the Centre for Information Management at Loughborough university, as mentioned in my previous post. This was the first time I was attending an academic conference where I could finally present my research in an official academic environment, as the scientific poster I had submitted to the Committee last October was peer reviewed and accepted for being part of the official programme.

The theme of the conference was ‘Exploring our digital shadow: from data to intelligence.’ The programme included several presentations and workshops from researchers, guest speakers and PhD students covering various aspects such as Information behaviour, Big data, Learning organisations, Virtual competences, or research methods to name a few. My colleagues John Mowbray and Frances Ryan respectively and brilliantly presented their papers on Social networking and employment, and on Personal online reputation.


Exposing our research

Photo 13-01-2016, 09 44 25In academic conferences, poster sessions typically occur during lunch or refreshment breaks, when delegates have time to discover each one of them and discuss their content with their authors, (who usually stand nearby), which allow them to make comments or ask questions.

This time is very precious as it gave me indeed, the opportunity to explain my study to researchers, but also talk about the hesitations I still have at this stage of my PhD. There were some really interesting feedback that gave me the opportunity to point out the weaknesses, but also the strengths of my study.


5 minutes madness

Besides the traditional way to display our work, we were also given the opportunity to present our research through a presentation called ‘5 minute madness‘ during which each PhD student could present their research to the audience, with or without slides, but no longer than five minutes… This was the only chance I had to present mine to all the delegates at once, so I’ve tried to make it a bit fun and visual with the aim of attracting people to discuss my work.

Needless to say that I had a stage ‘fear’: firstly, I’m not used to talk to a public of academic researchers, and secondly, I’m not used to express myself in English in front of a public that I don’t know (I’m more at ease at teaching students). In short, I was out of my comfort zone; but this is what it takes if I want to learn how to be a researcher myself (!) Anyhow, I survived. Several delegates did come to view my poster and discuss my research, with a cup of tea or a cookie in the hands, which added to the friendliness of the meeting 🙂

Knowledge visualisation

I must say that I’ve really enjoyed the process of doing a poster, that I find very similar to the one of building a course, when you own a rather huge amount of knowledge that you would like to share, without much time or space at your disposal to do so. 09AThere is therefore no other choices than being extremely concise, yet clear and specific if you want to make yourself understood. It is also a creative way to share knowledge that I find very enjoyable (I’m personally very sensitive to the beauty of design). I feel therefore thankful to have had the opportunity to present my work in such way.

Over the moon

When I discovered the programme of the conference, I found out that there would be prizes for the best paper, best poster and best ‘5 minute madness‘. I knew that my poster was  fairly good, but I didn’t know how good would be the others. Many were really interesting, and gave me the opportunity to find out about the research of other PhD students in the field of Information Science. Some of them looked really ‘advanced’ and complex to me, and made me feel like an ‘absolute beginner’ (to stay in touch with this week’s cultural reality) when I would compare them to the early stage of my research.

CYnbFUAWsAQqibFTherefore, despite the fact that I knew I had my chances like anybody else, I was still honestly surprised when I heard my name for the prize for the best poster (!) and frankly, it felt good to hear <)

This joyful moment was enhanced by the fact that my colleague Frances Ryan won the prizes for the best paper and the best ‘5 min. presentation’! Basically, we (the CSI team from Napier University) swept all the prizes! 🙂

Needless to say that our supervisor, Prof. Hazel Hall* was proud of us. A compliment that we gladly returned to her, regarding the chance we have to be supervised by her.

*[Update: you can now read her post “An award-winning trip to #IDIMC 2016” about this event.]


A glow in the shadow

The theme of this conference was about exploring our digital shadow. For me it has become symbolically a way to shyly expose myself to the limelight of the academic world. My eyes are still a bit blinded by it, but I’m confident that the more I’ll have the chance to expose myself to such challenging circumstances, the closer my time to shine will come.

Flickr MMT Public Domain





My first conference


The New Year 2016 starts really well: I’m about to present my first academic poster at the (IDIMC) – namely the International Data and Information Management Conference – which also happens to be my first International Conference,  at Loughborough University, in the UK.

The conference theme is quite fascinating to say the least: ‘Exploring our digital shadow: from data to intelligence’. I’m definitely looking forward of exploring this kind of shadow, and hope that my humble poster will contribute, in a very modest way, to shed a light on the world of data, knowledge and intelligence.

I will report on the conference on my next post, so stay tuned!