Guest Blog:  Building an EMCA community at CADSS

Groups of EM/CA analysts have sprung up all over the world to share expertise, pore over data together, bounce ideas off each other and provide a sense of shared community. Here Simon Stewart gives an enthusiastic account of recent developments of the group based on the south coast of England.

Simon Stewart, Southampton

This post is intended to share with the CA community some of the resources and learning that have come from our group, CA Data Sessions South (CADSS), in its first 18 months.

We hope that this will be of interest to established CA practitioners, those developing in CA, as well as those who may be thinking of developing their own study groups, along the lines described below, and in the capsule accounts of worldwide groups listed here on the ROLSI blog pages. We hope that readers will join us for future data and developmental sessions, as well as special events.

From informal sessions to established group

The precursor to CA Data Sessions South (CADSS) was an informal reading group started by Simon Stewart and Mike Bracher in 2017. Simon was in the first year of his PhD in Health Sciences where he was using CA to analyse partner-involved clinical consultations, and Mike had a developing interest in CA as applied to Health Services Research and Medical Sociology. Initially, we met fortnightly to discuss chapters from foundational introductory texts (Paul ten Have’s Doing Conversation Analysis; Jack Sidnell & Tanya Stivers’ The Handbook of Conversation Analysis), as well as attending a local communication study group over at the nearby University of Portsmouth School of Psychology.

Two classics

These activities were helpful in developing a general understanding of the principles of CA; however, what was lacking was a forum for continued professional development in CA through sustained practice (i.e. doing CA within a community) in order to embed necessary analytic skills. This provided the impetus for establishing CADSS

Setup and moving online

CADSS was established in December 2019 with the initial aim to offer data sessions to a community of students, academics, and practitioners around the south coast of England. Starting with data sessions, presenters were invited to visit and present their data at the University of Southampton. Along with a mailing list, a Twitter feed (@CASessionsSouth) was established to make announcements for all CADSS activities. This was instrumental in raising awareness and building momentum for development of the community. After the inaugural session in January 2020, the first data session was held at the end of February 2020. This session remains our only in-person event as the COVID19 pandemic forced CADSS to move online

This shift allowed CADSS to grow beyond its regional origins into a global community of both established practitioners, and those new to or developing in CA. Involvement of participants in the latter group led to the development of a second stream alongside the data sessions; the developmental sessions, offering a space for participants to learn about and discuss core CA concepts. Due to the composition of the study group, these sessions also included discussions of applications of CA within health research.

Data and Development Sessions

Data sessions are held on the last Thursday of every month (with the exception of August, November, and December). CADSS arranges online data sessions through Twitter and a mailing list, inviting presenters from around the world, at all levels of development from those who are new to CA to fully established experts in the discipline. The configuration of the sessions allows for participants to contribute to the extent with which they are comfortable, knowing that while their contributions are encouraged and welcome, they will always be voluntary (this principle is restated at the beginning of each CADSS session).

Developmental sessions take place once a month in between the data sessions, offering participants opportunities to learn about and discuss key topics in CA. Each session makes use of two pieces of set readings: one that introduces a core concept in CA (for example, turn design), and another that has applied this concept to institutional practice. To guide learning and discussion, the sessions place emphasis (through discussion questions) upon three pillars of learning: firstly, understanding key components of interaction (e.g. intonation, pause, non-lexical utterances); secondly, how these operate in situ as conversational mechanisms to produce a phenomenon of interest (e.g. how turn design is accomplished through particular operation of components in a given context); thirdly, how these mechanisms operate in applied contexts within wider conversational contexts (e.g. interactions in healthcare settings, information delivery sequences etc.)

CADSS milestones – the first eighteen months

Data Sessions – At the time of writing CADSS has hosted sixteen data sessions and one end-of-year workshop. These sessions are typically well-attended with an average of 15 participants per data-session.

Developmental sessions – Now in its second iteration, this stream now follows a twelve-session format that includes special presentations from invited speakers to cover fundamental aspects of CA practice (e.g., data management, use of CA as a method within wider projects in health research). Since its inception, the format of the developmental sessions has also evolved, now comprising a lecture hosted via the CADSS YouTube channel, which attendees can access at any time prior to the session. This allows greater flexibility in engagement for attendees, and more time in the actual session for discussion and exploration of key topics. The revised session launched in May and is intended to run as a recurring series.

CADSS has also received institutional recognition for its work, in particular for the efforts of Lead Convenor, Simon Stewart (in leading development and conduct of the development sessions). Simon received an Associate Fellowship of Advance HE (formerly the UK Higher Education Academy) for the developmental programme, as well as a Doctoral College Award from the University of Southampton for overall establishment of CADSS as a study group. The convenor group were also enormously grateful to be included on the EMCA Wiki web site in June 2021 (http://emcawiki.net/CA_Data_Sessions_South), providing a persistent web presence within a key hub for the international CA community.

Future developments

CADSS emerged to address a need for a local community of practice in CA that would support ongoing development in the discipline. Eighteen months on, CADSS has established and sustained two streams to meet these needs, with development of each ongoing (feedback forms are circulated at the end of each session, with feedback driving future development).

At this stage, CADSS has three audiences: established practitioners (the focus of the data sessions); developing practitioners who may be new to CA, and considering how it might be applied to their research (the focus of the development sessions); and those who may not wish to train in CA as an analytic practice, but have interests its applications (e.g. healthcare professionals, those working in advice-giving organisations). Future development of CADSS currently focuses on this latter group, with joint sessions in development with other research groups in health. Our intention is that these events will offer opportunities to build links between the CA community and other areas in which their research may be applied, to share how CA has been applied to improve health care and institutional practices with researchers not yet familiar with CA, as well as providing a forum for CA practitioners to explore broader avenues for research impact.

We are grateful to our community for their support over the first eighteen months of CADSS and we are ever grateful to those that started their CA journey with us. We hope to welcome readers at future sessions in the coming months.