Sunday, February 24, 2013

Upcoming Blogathon On Research and Data


Good morning.
“And the beat goes on..........................

Research and data collection have become front burner topics in our field.
As never before we are discussing:
  • What we should study and why.  Where should our research efforts lie?  What do we want / need to know that we don’t know?  What purpose does / should our research efforts serve?
  • Are our methodologies academically sound or suspect?  Are our researchers adequately / properly trained in scientific approaches?
  • What data is relevant and crucial and is the data collected reliable?  
  • To what extent are we guilty of data manipulation?  Do we use data that correlates results as indicative of causation?  
  • Does the field have an adequate understanding of how research is conducted and what application of the results can be made?
  • Is there adequate access to everyone of the literature on research?  Is there adequate access to the results of our studies and what those results reasonably mean?
  • Are our conclusions based on our research justifiable and defensible?
All data is subject to multiple interpretations - particularly in the social sciences field, and thus to an extent, all research is flawed and open to reasonable criticism.

In a February 18, 2013 Op Ed piece in the New York Times, David Brooks points out some of the more obvious problems with our reliance on data (thanks Randy for the forward).  Here are a couple of his points which are relative to our efforts:
1.  “Data creates bigger haystacks. This is a point Nassim Taleb, the author of “Antifragile,” has made. As we acquire more data, we have the ability to find many, many more statistically significant correlations. Most of these correlations are spurious and deceive us when we’re trying to understand a situation. Falsity grows exponentially the more data we collect. The haystack gets bigger, but the needle we are looking for is still buried deep inside.
2.  Data favors memes over masterpieces. Data analysis can detect when large numbers of people take an instant liking to some cultural product. But many important (and profitable) products are hated initially because they are unfamiliar.
3.  Data obscures values. I recently saw an academic book with the excellent title, “ ‘Raw Data’ Is an Oxymoron.” One of the points was that data is never raw; it’s always structured according to somebody’s predispositions and values. The end result looks disinterested, but, in reality, there are value choices all the way through, from construction to interpretation.”

We hear a lot in the headlines about "BIG Data" - defined on the IBM website as:  "Every day, we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data - so much that 90% of all the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone.  This data comes from everywhere.  This is Big Data."  The website goes on to suggest four dimensions to this phenomenon:

  • Volume - the sheer size of growing data available.
  • Velocity - the speed at which new data pours in.
  • Variety - the inclusion of all data - structured and unstructured.
  • Veracity - the diminishing level of trust in data on which decisions are being made."

(Who even comprehends what a quintillion represents?)  The point is that we are increasingly awash in data, and one of the more important decisions in research is becoming what data is relevant to one's purposes and what is not, how to qualify conclusions that may only be valid for a short window of time, and how to insure that the conclusions based on the collection and analysis of the data are reliable.

These are but a few of the questions that come to mind when we begin to discuss research and data collection - its background, status and future within our own field.  And while research and data collection, and its interpretation and application, are complex and properly the job for trained professionals, it is important for all of us in the field to understand some of the basic issues as they impact our universe.

Beginning next Monday, I will be hosting a one week Research / Data blogathon.  I have invited five experts in the field - all with stellar credentials and significant experience - to answer five questions on the topic of research / data collection.  I will post their answers to one question each day - Monday through Friday -  and have asked them to chime in (as they would like) to comment on the responses from each other or comments to the postings themselves from you.

Here is our panel:

Randy Cohen - Vice President of Research and Policy at Americans for the Arts. He publishes The National Arts Index, the annual measure of the health and vitality of arts as well as the two premier economic studies of the arts industry—Arts & Economic Prosperity, the national impact study of nonprofit arts organizations and their audiences; and Creative Industries, an annual mapping study of the nation’s 905,000 arts establishments and their employees. Randy led the development of the National Arts Policy Roundtable, an annual convening of leaders who focus on the advancement of American culture, launched in 2006 in partnership with Robert Redford and the Sundance Institute. In the late 1990’s, Randy collaborated with the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities to create Coming Up Taller, the White House report on arts programs for youth-at-risk; and the U.S. Department of Justice to produce the YouthARTS Project, the first national study to statistically document the impact of arts programs on at-risk youth. A sought after speaker, Randy has given speeches in 49 states, and regularly appears in the news media—including the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and on CNN, CNBC, and NPR.

Sunil Iyengar - directs the Office of Research & Analysis at the National Endowment for the Arts. Since his arrival at the NEA in June 2006, the office has produced over 20 research publications, hosted several research events and webinars, updated the NEA's five-year strategic plan, and revised a federal survey about arts participation. Some of the NEA’s most recent research includes: Time and Money: Using Federal Data to Measure Performing Art Activities (2011); Arts Education in America: What the Declines Mean for Arts Participation (2011); Live from Your Neighborhood: A National Study of Outdoor Arts Festivals (2010); and Audience 2.0: How Technology Influences Arts Participation (2010). The office also has published such reports as Artists in the Workforce 1990-2005 (2008), To Read or Not to Read: A Question of National Consequence (2008), and The Arts and Civic Engagement: Involved in Arts, Involved in Life (2007). The Office of Research & Analysis maintains the Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, America's largest periodic survey of adult involvement in arts events and activities. The nationally representative survey has been conducted five times since 1982, in partnership with the U.S. Census Bureau. In 2009 and 2010, Iyengar and his team reported summary results from the 2008 survey, along with findings on specific arts-related topics. The next survey will occur in 2012. Significantly expanded, it will reach a population twice as large as in prior years.  For a decade, Iyengar worked as a reporter, managing editor, and senior editor for a host of news publications covering the biomedical research, medical device, and pharmaceutical industries.  He writes poetry, and his book reviews have appeared in publications such as the Washington Post, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, The American Scholar, The New Criterion, and Contemporary Poetry Review. Iyengar has a B.A. in English from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Bryce Merrill - WESTAF's senior associate director. He helps guide WESTAF's research effort and other projects. Previously a research fellow at WESTAF, Merrill co-authored a study of Denver’s burgeoning music scene with Director of Research Ryan Stubbs. The study, Listen Local, has been used to improve city-level support of music in Denver and has also led to the creation of a Denver Music Task Force. Merrill is a musician and an active volunteer with Girls Rock Denver. He earned a doctorate in sociology from the University of Colorado Boulder, specializes in research about art and music, and has published research in academic and popular media outlets. Merrill co-edited a volume on music and society, and he is currently a co-editor of an international volume on social theory. He is an associate faculty member at Royal Roads University, where he teaches a course in advanced research methods.

Margaret Wyszomirski - Faculty Professor - Department of Arts Administration, Education and Public Policy, Ohio State University.  Wyszomirski is a faculty member of both the Department of Arts Administration, Education and Policy and the John Glenn School of Public Affairs. She has served as staff director for the bipartisan Independent Commission on the National Endowment for the Arts, as director of the Office of Policy Planning, Research and Budget at the National Endowment for the Arts, and as director of the Graduate Public Policy Program at Georgetown University. She joined the faculty of the Federal Executive Institute of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management in 1988. Professor Wyszomirski has been on national advisory committees for a Foundation Center analysis of arts funding, for the economic impact study of arts and tourism conducted by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and for the National Center for Charitable Statistics. She was a founding member of the Research Advisory Committee of the American Council for the Arts, and was chairman of the steering committee for the 1997 American Assembly on "The Arts and the Public Purpose." She is currently chairman of the Research Task Force of the Center for Arts and Culture in Washington, DC.

Elizabeth Currid-Halkett - associate professor at USC’s Sol Price School of Public Policy. She teaches courses in economic development and urban policy and planning. Her research is in economic development with a particular focus on art and culture research. She is the author of The Warhol Economy: How Fashion, Art and Music Drive New York City (Princeton University Press 2007) and Starstruck: The Business of Celebrity (Faber & Faber/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010). Currid-Halkett’s work has been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Salon, the Economist, the New Yorker, and the Times Literary Supplement, among others. She has contributed to a variety of academic and mainstream publications including the Journal of Economic Geography, Annals of the Association of American Geography, Economic Development Quarterly, the Journal of the American Planning Association, the New York Times, Harvard Business Review and the Times of London. Currid-Halkett received her PhD from Columbia University.

I am deeply grateful for each of these leader’s participation in this blogathon, and hope you will all follow along each day next week and learn from their perspectives and experience.  I would like to especially thank Bryce, Randy and Anthony Radich in helping me formulate (what I hope are intelligent) questions and for helping me in organizing this effort.  And while any such effort can hardly be dispositive of all there is to say on the topic, I hope this effort will contribute to the wider discussion.

Have a great week.

Don’t Quit
Barry

2 comments:

  1. Thanks, Barry. In a striking case of serendipity, I just published the video and a partial transcript of my talk from back in November about the state of the arts research field and some potential responses to the opportunities and challenges you identify above. I'd love to get some dialogue going with this estimable group.

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  2. Thank you for organizing such a great panel. Data (especially big data) is very tempting and attractive but, as you note, subject to spurious interpretation. The key, it seems, is in asking the right research questions from the onset rather than succumbing to the tempation of the available data (eg, "ooooh, with this data we may be able to find out how many people between 18 and 24 went to the ballet last year"). As Thomas Ward wrote in an article in 2004, "doing
    something creative often requires people to construct, formulate, or otherwise define the problem or task to be accomplished."

    I recently asked a colleague who is a program officer for the NSF, "What do you look for in a two page research precis?" She replied, "A clearly articulated research question." Before we begin to look at existing data or gather new, we need to be asking the right questions.

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