The problem of grouping

Quantitative analysis

The object was to collect 200 stories, and through reading all of them maybe to find some revelation.  But the geeky side of me couldn’t resist some analytics.  So immediately after each interview I rated each person on eight quantitative scales.  Ranging from how confident they were in their opinions, to how personal their ‘god’ if any was and how active they were in their pursuit of any relationship.  The ratings were subjectively assigned by me based on our conversation.  But as with the interview I was most concerned with the consistent application across people rather than the specific accuracy of any particular rating.

How do you group people ?

Once I had collected all my interviews, edited, indexed and tagged them, I wanted to put them into chapters for a book but found that they didn’t fit into the old religious groupings.  Maybe it’s a factor of us growing up in a multi-cultural world where we live in a largely secular society and are exposed to different faiths through our family and friends.  The traditional divisions of Jewish, Catholic, Agnostic etc just don’t neatly apply once you listen to what people really believe.  Yet there are common themes running through peoples stories.  So the question of how do I group them came up.

Statistical Clustering

Going back to my methodical process, the first thing I did was to recruit the help of a statistician.   Being in New York I contacted the stats department at Columbia University and got the help of a great graduate statistician who ran cluster analysis on the data to see how people would fall into groups.  Then analyzing the tags and content of the groups I came up with some subjective descriptions.  That was all well and good, but it is a bit dry and a bit out of synch with the whole personal ethos of the project which is about the people.  So then I looked to see if there was any grouping that came about from people reading, rating and tagging the interviews.  That produced some of the themes that run across interviews and helped in organising the book into chapters.

If you’ve read this far you may want to  Just sign up and read some interviews and rate them on how much they resonate with you.  These are all the raw interviews, the final book will contain a subset of edited interviews for easier digestion.


Posted in Groups and Themes, The Process