Evolving Coders

This continues our series of student reflections and analysis authored by our research team.

Evolving Coders

Bridget Dickens

tPP is constantly evolving. Paging through the codebook and manual today, readers will see new additions that were not there two months ago. The final pages of the codebook log the various alterations made every few weeks. Given the complex and ever-changing nature of political violence in America, it makes sense that how we research the topic changes along with it.

The alterations made within the Fall term (September-December 2019) mostly center on the variables and values. “Hate Crime” being added as a new variable in September and the tactic value “Blade or blunt weapon” changing to “Other weapons” in late October are just two examples of the new modifications. While altering the project allows increased accuracy and organization, some issues have popped up. Just because text changes in the manual and codebook, it does not change everywhere else. Hundreds of cases need to be examined and fixed as well.

This process takes up time from members who are already concentrated on coding, checking, and adding new cases. It can be monotonous and sometimes things fall through the cracks. Improving our accuracy and efficiency during this process is essential.  Currently, most members perform multiple functions, with those on the steering committee having even more responsibility. Nevertheless, each person has their own preferences. I enjoy updating cases and source files to ensure they follow the correct procedure. However, my coding partner might hate this task; instead, preferring to add new cases. We would be working more efficiently with coders divided by tasks rather than the level of experience.

Rather than training new members in detail about all areas of the project, they would get a brief overview instead. From there, they could pick a role that they enjoy the most. Roles could be split between adding new cases, completing case starters, updating cases when new information is found on the individual or inserted in the codebook. When changes are made in the codebook, there would be a group of people devoted solely to ensuring the changes are reflected in our completed cases. This method is much more efficient compared to having information updated sporadically or by members who are already busy with other tasks.

While the mission of tPP remains constant, how we code cases does not. The tweaks made over time are designed to make tPP’s research more accurate and informative. As our work grows more complex, it is effective to change the roles and responsibilities of coders as well.

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