Thematic networks collect textual data and organize the information into a network diagram.
A challenge-based approach will bring together resources and knowledge from different fields, technologies and disciplines, including the social sciences and humanities. It will cover activities ranging from research to market, with a new focus on innovation-related activities such as piloting, demonstration, testbeds and support for public procurement and market entry.
Thematic Networks and the Socrates Programme – Erasmus
Thematic networks are one of the main innovations of the Socrates-Erasmus programme. They were created to address a strategic and forward-looking reflection on scientific, educational and institutional issues in the main areas of higher education. In general, a thematic network is a cooperation between departments of higher education institutions and other partners (e.g. academic organisations or professional bodies).
Normally, according to Pandit (1996), all countries participating in the Socrates-Erasmus programmes (EU, EFTA and candidate countries) must be represented in a thematic network. The main objective of the programme is to improve quality and define and develop a European dimension within a given academic discipline or area of study. Alternatively, it can address a topic of an inter or multidisciplinary nature, or other issues of common interest, such as university management or quality assurance. Cooperation within the thematic networks is expected to lead to results that have a lasting and widespread impact on universities across Europe in the relevant field.
All the thematic networks have embraced European integration and have had a very strong European dimension. In this regard, European cooperation has been raised at two levels:
Firstly, as a political issue, in which higher education has been called upon to contribute to the cultural, economic and technical construction of the Union.
Secondly, thematic networks have been a means in themselves to stimulate and, where appropriate, adapt higher education, improving its quality and effectiveness.
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Thematic analysis is a method of identifying, analyzing, and communicating patterns (themes) in data. Minimally organizes and describes the dataset in great detail. However, he also tends to go further and interpret various aspects of the research topic (Boyatzis, 1998). Thematic analysis is used in qualitative research and focuses on the examination of data topics.
This method emphasizes the organization and rich description of the dataset, going beyond the simple counting of phrases or words in a text and moving on to identifying implicit and explicit insights within the data. At this point it is important that we recognize our own theoretical positions and values in relation to qualitative research.
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We do not subscribe to a realistic and naïve view of qualitative research in which the researcher can simply “give voice” to his participants. As Fine (2002:218) argues, even a “voice-giving” approach “involves extracting unrecognized pieces of narrative evidence that we select, edit, and deploy to skirt our arguments.” However, we also do not believe that there is an ideal theoretical framework for carrying out qualitative research, nor an ideal method. The important thing is that the theoretical framework and methods conform to what the researcher wants to know, and that he recognizes these decisions and considers them as such.
Objectives of the Thematic Networks
The main objective of the Thematic Networks (RT) is to improve quality and define and develop a European dimension within a given academic discipline or area of study. Or with regard to an interdisciplinary/multidisciplinary topic, or in other matters of common interest (such as university management, quality assurance, etc.). This is achieved through cooperation between universities, faculties or university departments. This cooperation should also involve academic associations, scientific societies, professional bodies, other socio-economic partners of the public or private sector and, where appropriate, student organisations. Cooperation within the thematic networks is expected to lead to results that have a lasting and widespread impact on universities across Europe in the relevant field.
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Implementation of Thematic Networks
According to Martin et al (2012), the application of thematic networks is simply a way of organizing a thematic analysis of qualitative data. Thematic analyses aim to unearth the themes present in a text at different levels, and thematic networks aim to facilitate the structuring and representation of these themes. What thematic networks offer is the network as an organizing principle and means of representation, and makes explicit the procedures that can be used to move from text to interpretation.
Thematic networks systematize the extraction of:
The lowest order premises evident in the text (Basic Themes)
They resemble an endorsement in the sense that they are a statement of belief anchored around a central notion (the guarantee) and contribute to the significance of a supraordained theme. The Basic Themes are simple premises characteristic of the data, and by themselves say very little about the text or the group of texts as a whole. For a basic topic to make sense beyond its immediate meaning, it must be read in the context of other basic topics. Together, they represent an Organizing Theme.
Categories of basic topics grouped together to summarize more abstract principles (Organizing Topics)
It is an intermediate topic that organizes the Basic Topics into groups of similar issues. They are groups of significance that summarize the main assumptions of a group of Basic Themes, so they are more abstract and revealing of what happens in the texts.
Above-ordered themes that encapsulate the main metaphors of the text as a whole (Global Themes)
Global Issues are super-ornate themes that encompass the main metaphors of data as a whole. A global theme resembles a statement in the sense that it is a conclusion or a final beginning. As such, global themes group together sets of organizing themes that, together, present an argument, position, or statement about a given issue or reality. They are macrotopics that summarize and make sense of lower-order clusters of topics drawn from and supported by the data. Thus, global issues tell us what the texts as a whole are about in the context of a given analysis.
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Themes of the Thematic Networks
Thematic networks have three kinds of topics:
The basic topics are simple premises of the collected data that say very little on their own. As they group together, they begin to complement each other and form organizing themes.
Organizing topics bring together the basic topics into similar groups that form an argument or position on the situation.
Global Issues filter the organizing themes into a vision that summarizes the global issue.
Thematic networks break down textual data into manageable groups of patterns and themes. Explore the relationships between an idea or an issue from a micro to a macro perspective.
Advantages: explores multiple relationships between understanding an issue; analyzes complex data. It also allows categories to emerge from the data.
Disadvantages: it relies heavily on data collected with other methods. The overall topic can rule out nuanced data and the grouping of the information depends on the interpretation of the researcher.
Thematic networks and practical knowledge
Research results are often not sufficiently harnessed or incorporated into agricultural practice, and innovative ideas and methods of practice are not captured or disseminated. There is a need for greater cooperation between researchers, consultants, farmers/foresters and other actors in the supply chain. This is to stimulate the exchange of knowledge in order to optimize the use of resources and facilitate the transition to knowledge-based agriculture.
According to Attride-Stirling (2001), the activities of thematic networks include summarizing, sharing and presenting, in language easily understood by practitioners, existing best practices and research results that are close to being put into practice, but are not sufficiently known to practitioners.
To do this, the networks must have the participation of a wide range of agents that cover both science and practice in the specific topics. For example, scientists, professional groups, advisory services. The specific themes of the networks, which can be chosen “from the bottom up”, should contribute to more competitive and sustainable agriculture and forestry.
Thematic networks should focus on the most urgent needs of specific sectors, or on important or promising cross-cutting issues. Even when primary production needs to improve its links with the supply chain.
A comprehensive state-of-the-art description on the chosen topic should explain the added value of the proposal, the relevance of the topic and how it avoids duplication with existing or completed projects and networks.
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Attride-Stirling, Jennifer. Thematic networks: an analytic tool for qualitative research. London: Sage Publications, 2001.
Martin, Bella and Hanington, Bruce. Universal Methods of Design: 100 Ways to Research Complex Problems, Develop Innovative Ideas, and Design Effective Solutions. Massachusetts: Rockport Publishers, 2012.
Pandit, N. (1996) ‘The Creation of Theory: A Recent Application of the Grounded Theory Method’, The Qualitative Report 2(4): < http://www.nova.edu/ssss/QR/QR2-4/pandit.html>
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