How I obtained some great data after creating a lot more work for myself

I have been very lax at updating this year. I would apologise, but I’m essentially writing this blog for myself, so I’ve only myself to be disappointed by. Anyway, on with the rest…

After my Upgrade, I started planning how to embark on some actual tailored original research. I planned I would need a research trip to Denmark to visit the national State Archives to see what I could uncover there about the decisions made by a key state agency – the Danish Arts Foundation – around the grants offered for translators (and perhaps authors). I discussed my plans with a contact at the Arts Foundation who suggested I meet with some of the key decision-makers themselves and interview them about their work. What an opportunity! The meetings were scheduled for the end of April. But then came the paperwork, and this dull but nonetheless important facet of the project is what I’m documenting here. NB for any newcomers: This is all obviously applicable in the UK (where my research is based and therefore where my ethics approval requirements had to be met) but data protection, copyright law, etc differ slightly around the world.

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Copenhagen in late April – my ‘commute’

My university – as all universities, I imagine – requires Ethics Approval for any research involving human participants. This could mean submitting a full ethics application for something as seemingly simple as a face-to-face survey of students on campus, or even perhaps any (non-anonymous) online questionnaires, as well as all the obvious scenarios that come to mind involving medical trials or sociological experiments.

So now I intended that my research would involve interviewing in person, one-on-one (or in fact one-on-many in one case). I intended to record the interviews using a digital audio recorder. Potentially a straightforward case, but I still had to complete and submit the ethics application form correctly and gain official approval from the chair of the university’s research ethics committee before embarking on any interviews. My ethics application form had to be approved and signed by my lead supervisor and Head of Department. My lead supervisor also had to use the university’s system to undergo a risk assessment. As part of the application I had to ensure I had appropriate information sheets and consent forms for the interviewees, and this was the part that took the most research to get right, but ultimately ensured I understood why the ethics application was an important part of the process. Incidentally, as you can imagine, this process took much longer than I initially anticipated, probably a few weeks or so piecing everything together!

Interesting aspects I had to work out:

Data protection

Data protection is to protect individual’s privacy; their right to a private life. That’s the privacy of the person being interviewed, but also of anyone else being discussed. To start off, I had to register my project with the university’s Data Protection Officer (an online process) and assure them that my audio files would be backed up to the university’s secure servers as soon as practical, and deleted from recording devices asap. It’s crap data protection if any ol’ person can find and listen to the raw recordings.

My plan was to interview people about their job role in their workplace, which on the surface should not present any data protection issues – after all, information about their job title etc is in the public domain, and we would not need to discuss personal or confidential matters. On the consent forms, I covered myself with the following statement, which demonstrates the reading up and subsequent thought process I had to go through when considering data protection (however in hindsight, it probably should have been slightly extended to explicitly cover ‘any personal data about you or anybody else‘):

Data will be held about the your name, job title, professional contact details, and the place and time of the interview. Interviews will be about the your work and therefore no personal data will be intentionally recorded, for instance I will not request information about your age, ethnicity, sexuality, and personal contact details. If any such personal data is inadvertently discussed during the interview, I will ensure it remains confidential by omitting it from the final report, unless I gain express permission from you to submit the full unedited transcript in my final report.

In the event, there was only one very minor occasion during the five interviews where I will have to adhere to this statement, and it makes for an interesting demonstration of why this stuff is important. In idle conversation towards the end of the meeting, the interviewer and I were chatting about {a person} and how we established that {the person} had probably lived in {a country} for a while on the basis that {the person} had had {a child or children} in {that country}. This part of the interview I will simply omit from the eventual transcript as it is not directly relevant for my research nor is it appropriate to to include such personal information when that person was not in the room to consent to this information being shared. Of course, this is only the kind of personal information that would naturally be shared all the time in conversation between two colleagues (e.g. me and the interviewee), but things get complicated once it’s recorded, and it’s not okay to reproduce this kind of conjecture about someone’s personal or family life, even if you think that the subject of discussion probably wouldn’t mind one jot! In addition, the more I think about this issue, I (and others, I’m sure) have concluded that it’s better to simply redact anything that might be considered personal information as it is risky, not to mention unfair to those involved, to break data protection protocol. Heck, even my heavily redacted statement up there makes me nervous as it is borderline identifiable in my opinion – it is near impossible to ensure anonymity in the very small field in which I am studying!

Copyright

Again, a line on my consent forms does the talking here:

Copyright of the audio recording and eventual written transcript is jointly held between the interviewer and interviewee. In this case the researcher kindly requests that the interviewee agrees to transfer copyright to the researcher in order that the recording and transcript can be used for other related purposes, for instance academic journal articles or conference presentations. You can request to be consulted on every occasion this material is used outside the remit of this PhD research project, and the researcher will endeavour to do this.

Copyright is an important consideration as a researcher. I plan to transcribe most of the interviews for my PhD thesis, so I could have just gained consent to use the material for this purpose alone. But perhaps I’d also like to submit them in whole or part as part of journal articles or even book chapters. I don’t actually know yet, but I do know that if I hadn’t got express permission – a transfer of copyright, no less – from the interviewee at the time of interview, it would have been a hell of a lot more complicated to use the material in any other form in a year or so’s time. Maybe I’d even have to contact them again back-and-forth for some sort of permission, which looks less than professional and risks them overthinking it and withdrawing consent. My last line was to cover this kind of hesitation or reluctance (of which there was none, but you never can tell beforehand); no one has opted to be kept informed so far.

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Gaining consent in practice

I presented the information sheets and consent forms to interviewees at the start of our meeting. The participants kept the information sheet and one copy of the consent form for themselves; I have a signed and dated copy of the consent form from every person I recorded. None of the participants sat and read through both sheets word-for-word, but all had a skimread and broadly understood the purpose of the consent form – I explained it was necessary because I was recording the interview. Everyone was speaking to me in a professional capacity and they had already received information via email about the purpose and scope of the meeting, so really it wasn’t necessary for them to read all the information in depth as they consented by agreeing to attend the meeting, and as conversation got warmed up we always got round to discussing my research project and the purpose of this specific research trip anyway. I’m not trying to deflect accusations that ‘no one reads these things anyway before signing’ (because they did albeit briefly!), but it is just to reflect that it was a necessary formality that did not stilt the conversation – in fact, it provided a useful opener for me to discuss what was about to happen and make switching on the recording device a little less awkward – and it provided me with paperwork that ensures I can use the data in a different form in future, beyond the boundaries of my thesis.

Not me, but another Nelle living a parallel life in Odense

Not me, but another Nelle living a parallel life in Odense…

To brand or be branded? Some insights into Brand Denmark

Can a nation ‘brand’ itself? The imagery and stereotypes we, as Brits, think of when we talk about Scandinavia or, more specifically, Denmark have been built up over a long, slow stretch of time, interspersed with bursts of activity – for instance, the recent success of Danish TV programmes on BBC4 in the last few years.

I’ve enjoyed learning about the theory of Place Branding. Since coining the term nation brand and the Nation Brands Index, Simon Anholt (Places – Identity, Image and Reputation, 2010) has conceded that ‘competitive identity’ is probably a better term for the metaphor. In any case, unlike branding in a typical corporate marketing communications context, you cannot ‘do branding’ of a nation or change its perception via a snappy marketing campaign, a nation’s brand is earned rather than constructed (according to Anholt).

The Danish pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo 2010 is an interesting case study of Denmark’s self-branding when attempting to project and protect its image abroad. The Welfairytales theme of the Expo pavilion used two Danish icons: bicycles and the Little Mermaid statue (which was relocated from Copenhagen to China for the occasion). Ren & Gyimóthy (in their article Transforming and contesting nation branding strategies: Denmark at the Expo 2010, 2013) have written about some of the minor cultural misunderstandings which resulted. The pavilion’s imagery and activities may have been an exercise in ‘auto-communication’, Danes communicating the brand values they would like to project about themselves and not adequately allowing for cultural misinterpretations – for instance this is one of the phrases by everyday Danes used to decorate the pavilion:

‘Denmark is a little country where you can enjoy a cup of coffee while your child sleeps in the baby carriage outside the café’

Ren & Gyimóthy astutely remark (p27): “This well-known Danish idea of safety reflected in letting your child sleeping outside in public space is perhaps not easily grasped by middle-class people from a country with massive urban air pollution and a hot and humid climate”!

Last week I attended a fascinating meeting with the Danish cultural attaché in the USA who gave me some further insight into Brand Denmark. Denmark does not have a cultural institute as such (nothing comparable with Germany’s Goethe Institut, for instance), but the cultural attaché at the Consulate General in New York still advises on 125 cultural project per month! They have had a radical rethink in the last ten to fifteen years. Following the Danish Wave events in 1999 – a two-month cultural festival initiated by the Consulate and Embassy, where Danish authors and artists were brought over to the US with negligible impact – they have become reactive, taking their lead from looking at an artist’s reception in Denmark and their focus on new and modern brand values, rather than the traditional ‘old’ icons (Hans Christian Andersen!). The Consulate General of Denmark in the USA now ensures all cultural events they support fit within four core brand values:

art – sustainability – children’s culture – film

An initiative by Scandinavian arts councils has been established to promote Nordic literature abroad as one brand. The ‘Nordlit’ collaboration presented a unified Nordic presence at the London Book Fair and Book Expo America – rather than each nation having its own stand, the Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and even smaller related countries e.g. Faroe Islands) shared a single stand. As wee and similar nations, they believe it’s beneficial to merge so they can cross-promote, utilising to their advantage the (probably correct!) presumption that many English-speaking readers and publishers cannot readily distinguish between the Nordic countries anyway, so why not cross-promote authors from the same region (“you liked this author, you might also like this author from more-or-less nearby”).

I look forward to investigating further how Brand Denmark is being created nationally and internationally by Danish cultural bodies, and how much impact this has had on the everyday British public’s perception of Denmark and Danishness. I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts, dear reader!

Wonderful Copenhagen

I am just starting a PhD in Danish-English Translation Studies, looking at the contemporary marketing and reception of Danish literature in the United Kingdom. Rather than write a blog post about everything I’ve done so far, I’ll start with what’s foremost in my mind right now – my recent trip to Denmark.

Borgen

Borgen

Last week I attended the Copenhagen Book Fair (BogForum), and took part in the translators’ programme (oversætterbesøgsprogrammet) hosted by the Danish Agency for Culture (Kulturstyrelsen), who are funding my PhD studentship. I am not a literary translator – although it is an area that interests me, and I have done some commercial translation – so I wasn’t sure how I’d find the whole experience. As it turned out, the visit was incredibly beneficial, in many ways.

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Primarily, I enjoyed meeting translators from different parts of the world. We all conversed in Danish (though it soon became apparent that nearly all translators who speak Danish also speak English! For some reason this had never occurred to me). It was really good to dive straight into speaking Danish again, it feels very natural when in Denmark and of course it’s so hard to keep it up when at home in London. I haven’t spoken Danish regularly in, well… probably since my final year of my BA in 2008, despite the MA in Translation Studies following straight after! It was also an excellent opportunity to meet and talk with Danish-English translators as many of them have worked on the titles I will be discussing in my research.

Politigården

Politigården

The programme featured some excellent events, including pitches with Danish publishers and literary agencies (great insight for me as someone who is not very familiar with the publishing industry), a meal at Christiansborg (the Danish parliament aka Borgen), a tour of the central police station (useful for translators of crime fiction but open to all participants!). Everyone involved was incredibly warm and welcoming, it was lovely to meet people from Kulturstyrelsen so soon into my research. I have been tasked with setting up a more formal Danish-English literary translators’ network, so I’m glad I had some useful conversations with Danish translators from Germany and Russia who coordinate similar networks. I was also able to have a rather lovely lunch meeting with one of my PhD supervisors (who currently lives in Copenhagen).

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The BogForum was fascinating. I’ll qualify that by saying it was the first book fair I’d attended! But I observed that there were many more families and little children than I’d expected, and it was clearly a cultural event not just a commercial schmooze-fest. It’ll be interesting to contrast it with the equivalent in London and maybe other places in future. To see a literary culture flourishing in a country where bestselling paperbacks cost at least double the average price in the UK is really something.

I must admit I was nervous before I went. The baby has only just turned one and we’re still breastfeeding – thankfully only once or twice a day, but we still had to think about the practicalities of that. We jumped straight from me never having left her overnight to being away for 4 days/nights in a row! But we were both fine, of course. In fact, the hotel was lovely and I rather relished being able to wake up at a time of my choosing to a breakfast someone had made for me and being able to potter around doing my own thing. I also wasn’t sure if I would ‘fit in’ with the events as a PhD student (as opposed to a full-time literary translator), but my fears about that were soon allayed.

So, I emerged at the end of the trip feeling both happier about my linguistic aptitude and very ‘at home’ in this area of research. Incredibly grateful for the financial and practical support from Kulturstyrelsen too. Now I just need to keep up the momentum!