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Developing a Participatory Consultation Process for Quality Reviews: The initial stage of the European University Associations Quality Review of the Dublin Institute of Technology

Author - Aidan Kenny

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Qualitative Research

Qualitative research was operationalised in the following four phases:

(i) Presentations were given to each Faculty Board explaining the EUA requirements and the consultation process. This was followed by a request that Faculty Boards draft a two-page reflective response relating to the strengths and weaknesses of the six themes. This type of approach gave Faculty Boards the opportunity to reflect and identify strengths and weaknesses in a collaborative fashion, and then produce an agreed semi-structured draft document for inclusion in the appendix of the Self-evaluation report. The SC deliberately asked for a draft document, to give faculties the latitude to make changes as the consultation project evolved, with a reminder being sent to faculties to ascertain if they wanted to make any changes.

(ii) Faculty boards were also asked to nominate two staff members from each school who were not members of the Faculty Board to participate in a series of focus groups. This facilitated direct contact with another layer of staff. From this target population a sample group of 68 staff members was received (see Figure 6 for location and grade, accurate up to the end of December 04). Actual participation attendance figures are presented in Table 2.

The focus group sample design comprised of mix sampling, and participants with particular expertise were placed in a related theme. The main sample body was then divided on gender grounds and placed into a focus group. All potential participants received three emails (invitation with consent details, greeting card, and focus group procedures notice). They were contacted by telephone (messages were left on voice mail if there was no response). Six focus groups were formed: each one was given a specific theme and asked to discuss the strengths and weaknesses. Prompt sheets were developed in order to stimulate discussion (see Appendix 4 for prompt sheets). These sessions were moderated and recorded by two alternating groups of two postgraduate students. The same location was used for all these focus groups, with a duration of one hour, see Table 2.

(iii) Stakeholders were invited to select participants from their membership to take part in focus group sessions. Four focus groups were formed, and members from the following stakeholders were represented: academic staff trade union TUI, non academic staff trade unions AMICUS, IMPACT/SIPTU, students DITSU. These focus groups had the option of discussing some or all of the six themes in terms of the strengths and weaknesses. The selection of the sample group was left up to the individual stakeholders, the only parameter was that the sample be less then ten participants and that a gender balance should be considered.

The focus group sessions were moderated and recorded by a member of Academic Affair’s support staff and the consultation facilitator. Before each of these focus group sessions it was stressed that they should not be viewed as negotiation forums, the consultation process had no remit in that area. The draft transcript of each of these focus group discussions was sent back to the stakeholders to determine accuracy and seek any clarification necessary. Locations differed for each focus group; stakeholders suggested the most suitable venues for them, and duration varied from 1 to 2 hours.

The author notes that in some cases considerable informal communication was necessary to alleviate stakeholders' concerns relating to participating in the consultation process. From their previous experience they felt that DIT was not committed to operating an inclusive consultation mechanism and that trust was an issue. The author proposes that the root of this perception is linked to the immense change the institute went through during the faculty structure development, in essence a merger of six different organizations. Further the author draws the reader's attention to two theoretical perspectives for analysis of macro and micro issues relating to stakeholder/employees; Guba and Lincoln (1989: 51-57) `Stakeholders claims, concerns and issues as organisers' and Pate, Martin and McGoldrick (2003) paper “The impact of psychological contract violation on employee attitudes and behaviour”. Both of these sources provide useful tools to analyse stakeholders trust issues. However, this is outside the remit of this paper.

  Table 3: Stakeholder focus group schedule and actual attendance figures

The total focus group sample consisted of 45 staff and 23 stakeholders’ participants: total participants equal 71. The gender ratio was 2:1 male/female (profile is presented in Figure 7).


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