Applying “sensemaking” (Dervin-style) to the world of communication research

Yesterday I attended the OU Department of Communication Sooner Conference. Attendees included regional undergraduate and graduate capital “C” Communication (I’m beginning to decode is considered like the capital “T” of Truth) students sharing their research and “ideas.” Our keynote speaker was professor Joe Walther, who I learned during a private lunch conversation was at one time an “uncommon” scholar. (Interesting.) The conference theme centered around computer mediated communication (CMC), which now is a hot topic. When Walther began looking at it some 20 years ago, it was not.

The World Wide Web revolution seems to have ensnared most, including shiny new researchers. To borrow from famous communication scholar Paul Watzlawick, “one cannot not communicate”—without technological mediation, I might add, that is for some of us lucky enough to be on this side of the digital divide. (Another issue for another post.) Indeed, notwithstanding the hotly contended debates over intellectual capital, pornography, diminished social skills, and just plain TMI, I believe good can come from leveraging new media.

I tried to make a small contribution in this direction with my Sooner Conference presentation. Although lacking a theoretical framework, my intent was to use a real-world experience to demonstrate how the participatory “read-write” web could be used in academic health care research teams. And even more so at my age, to perhaps inspire just-off-the-line researchers to see a different purpose for their thesis questions—more than scholarly research for the sake of expanding a theory, but also to help real people with real problems.

This is where my need for “sensemaking” comes in. Brenda Dervin has spent a lifetime helping explain how people make sense of their world, i.e.,  fill cognitive gaps by making sense of observed data. My current gap—real-world applied science vs. theoretical, academic research—is wide and cavernous. And it’s scary. On one side of the canyon, I see how communication research can alleviate some the ills of the world by applying principles of study results. On the other I see the legacy of academic research preoccupied with grooming new scholars, suggesting the outcome is sharing what they know with other scholars in peer-reviewed journals with high impact factors and at peer-attended conferences.

Thankfully, government funding agencies, e.g. the National Science Foundation, seem to be forcing a bridge. In 2007 the intellectual merit section of the NSF Grant Proposal Guide added “transformative/translational research” requirements to applicant proposals, asking “to what extent does the proposed activity suggest and explore creative, original, or potentially transformative concepts?” For example, in the field of medicine findings in basic research should more quickly and efficiently be adopted into medical practice and, thus, meaningful health outcomes—whether physical, mental, or social.

As I attempt to make my mark in health care by bridging my real-world experience with academic norms, I find myself struggling, trying to make sense of it all. My twitter moniker reveals that I am “Known to question the status quo. A holistic thinker. A knowledge sharing/collaboration evangelist. An empowering friend. Studying Health Communication.” I’m finding these renegade qualities challenge the espoused value of academia—nurturing thinkers and their “ideas.” Bringing my real-world perspective into the discussion is challenging “them” and me. It’s uncomfortable to say the least.

With encouragement from a handful of like-others I gain courage to continue my commitment to engage in this sensemaking. By, with, and through CMC I am determined to translate my future health communication research into helping people. Thanks, Dr. Walther, for showing communication researchers “methods” for looking at CMC attributes that lead us in that direction.


“Reality. Now that’s a concept!”

This famous quote by comedian (and philosopher, I might add) Robin Williams offers great insight as I embark on my latest journey—the pursuit of PhD in Communication from the University of Oklahoma Department of Communication.

Already I’m in full reality of just why one is designated as a “Doctor of Philosophy.” I’m knee-deep in theory construction, theory memorization, theory classification… theory of theory. The image I’ve chosen as the “trademark” of this blog, Raphael’s “School of Athens” has shown its appropriateness once more, as I’m delving into the thinking of our forefathers of philosophy and the ways in which they are intertwined.
My introduction into course work was M. Dues and M. Brown’s Boxing Plato’s Shadow—which serves as a plethora of basic communication history… its philosophers, it’s place in history. I might add that I was a bit disturbed when in the opening pages the authors referred to our field of study as “a field of renegades.” Given my history for churning the pot and questioning the status quo, however, I feel right at home.

Next on the menu was (is) P. Reynold’s A Primer in Theory Construction. As a new student in Dr. Kim’s Intro to Graduate Studies class, I have been assigned to review and facilitate a discussion of Chapters 3 & 4: Concepts & Statements. As all the new “concepts” swirled through my head I kept wishing there was a visual to help me put the interrelatedness of the basics of theory construction into learnable perspective. Alas, the Theory Construction Concept Map I created and linked here, based on J. Novak’s idea of concept maps, serves such a purpose. For my class colleagues, it will appear in full detail on my handout. My hope is that is assists us as we grow from novice scholars into accomplished ones.

The Internet offers an exciting way for Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) Communities of Practice to share what they know

Last Friday I was excited, once again, to share my knowledge about the ways in which social technology can be used for research collaboration. This time the venue was the 2011 OU-Tulsa Research Forum, which was held in conjunction with The University of Tulsa 14th Annual Student Research Colloquium. This combined effort of sharing research knowledge between two major Tulsa universities is yet another testament toward efforts of increased research collaboration.

My poster presentation—”Utilization of Innovative Online Social Technology for Community-Based Participatory Research”—was awarded second place in the Community Service track (led by OU-Tulsa researcher Chan Hellman).  The poster was a collaborative effort with Dr. Frances Wen, Director of Research at the University of Oklahoma School of Community Medicine, Department of Family Medicine and Principal Investigator for a Community-Based Participatory Research project focusing on older Tulsans’ ability to “Age in Place.”

As the desire and need for interdisciplinary research continues to grow, I feel fortunate that the foundations of knowledge management can be used to facilitate such collaboration. Internet-based social technologies offer a unique opportunity for such communication facilitation. I’ve said many times, the dawn of the Internet and an economy of knowledge can be a mark on history much like the Gutenberg Press.

Social technologies are ever evolving, and as researchers and stewards of new knowledge, it is our responsibility to keep abreast of new ways to share what we know.

Getting past the rhetoric of health equality through health communication

Looks like the way The University of Oklahoma-Tulsa School of Community Medicine is using Web 2.0 technology for faculty and resident biomedical research is some pretty novel stuff. The editors of Cases in Public Health Communication and Marketing saw my presentation at the CDC National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing and Media and have invited me to submit a case study about how we’re using wikis for research communication and knowledge management. Thanks to Doc Martens for introducing the technology some four years ago in our Masters of Knowledge Management class!!!! It takes visionaries like her to advance “better” (not best) practices in healthcare.

The more I get into the health communication field, the more I am surprised at how the crossing of communication, marketing and media with public health has been somewhat neglected. After all, what good is improved healthcare if no one knows about it? New technologies offer ways to share information, internally AND externally.

On the “inside” the days of long meetings and physically distributed minutes and reports is falling to the way side in favor of permanent, real-time documentation. I still believe in the water-cooler exchange, but my experience has shown me that getting something down in writing is the key to completing action items. Once a task or thought moves from tacit to explicit knowledge, somehow accountability creeps in.

On the “outside” hitting targeted “markets” of people can benefit from innovative health communication, including texting, increasing the awareness of health literacy issues, using ethnic media, conducting community based participatory research, and the like.

I’m excited about finding new ways to mobilize our nation to achieve health equity. Let’s get beyond the rhetoric!

CDC #hcmm10

Convergence 2010: Purpose, Programs & Partners.

Convergence KM and Health Communication: People, Process & Technology to get the right information to the right people at the right moment. Our charge… how to do this?!?

Is it using social media? Twitter? Blogs? Forums? Podcasts? Slideshare? Flickr? Delicious? LinkedIn? Vimeo? Wikis? I’m wondering… is today’s “technology” social media? According to RT @kayjayay @lisagualtieri @SLevineDC: “Best #hcmm10 insight of day from CDC: when novelty of social media wears off, evidence of behavior change will be needed.”

In spite of all the hype about using social media for mass communication to health care information USERS, I’m investigating its use for peer-to-peer health communication strategies. You can take a look at my Presentation Poster and handout materials at:

Is Social Media/Computing the New KM?

Certainly seems so. In addition to preparing a presentation about Enterprise 2.0, I recently listened in on PBworks webinar with Forrester Research Senior Analyst Oliver Young, who highlighted that the old KM was document-centric, and the new KM combines the old with a people-centric focus. Novel idea! And perhaps best facilitated with Social Media/Computing. Yes?

Wasn’t KM 1.0 “supposed” to focus on PEOPLE, process and technology? Perhaps web 2.0 technologies and OSS (open source software, like Drupal) offer new prospects for the accepting integration of KM into organizations that might otherwise be confused about the KM identity. Perhaps we can “sneak” it into the hallways and break rooms.

KM is definitely in an identity crisis, and I believe for all practical matters, has been in one in the US. Why is it that they get it in Asia and Europe? And why are employers in the US still all over the board about a definition for KM jobs? Do KMers fall into IT? HR? or any other number of acronyms? How does one specialize in KM when a successful KMer is a management generalist with the ability to pull diverse disciplines together in a cohesive strategy?

Continuing to ponder this and other ways to use new tools. Per a tweet today in the KM community: “RT @euan @vanderwal: From @nahumg: RT @lucian: Easier to give communities tools than to give tools communities. < spot on! #e2.0”

Using Enterprise 2.0 in KM

This… hot off the “press” (WordPress!) and ready for my KPM (Knowledge and Project Management) Symposium presentation Aug. 12 and 13 at the University of Oklahoma Tulsa campus.