6 May 2013

Tweeting Minarets: joining quantitative and qualitative research methodologies

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In the last post of the EthnographyMatters Ethnomining edition (edited by Nicolas Nova), David Ayman Shamma @ayman gives a personal perspective on mixed methods. Based on the example of data produced by people of Egypt who stood up against then Egyptian president and his party in 2011, he advocates for a comprehensive approach for data analysis beyond the “Big Data vs the World” situation we seem to have reached. In doing so, his perspective complements the previous posts by showing the richness of ethnographic data in order to deepen quantitative findings.

“Discovering how communities organize, grow, and communicate under times of distress is difficult even when technology hasn’t been cut. While many things surfaced on Twitter during the revolution, like the Hardees in Tahrir being used as a safe house, many questions were left unexplained or assumed to be the work of online social networking.

This is where ethnography matters–by surfacing what to look for in the big data and highlighting what might be salient trends and features despite not being dominant. And mostly, by identifying people’s motivations and giving a deeper understanding of why things happen. From there we can start to unravel the complex communication structures at play and define new metrics informed by human action. The effort is ongoing, as we surface what has been done and what we now know through, it still says we don’t know.

It’s not a race, it’s a partnership, a marriage. The goal isn’t to get to the end as quickly as possible but rather to work together over time and build a richer world. We should strive to find these links between the quantitative and qualitative, and leave the silos which have us fragmented as a research community.”

David Ayman Shamma is a research scientist in the Internet Experiences group at Yahoo! Research for which he designs and evaluates systems for multimedia-mediated communication.

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