The project consists of a series of interrelated case studies of work, interaction and technology across a wide range of organisational environments. The aim of the project is to generate a body of findings concerning the use of new technologies in real world, work settings, and in particular to reveal the ways in which personnel utilise paper and screen based systems to support collaborative tasks and activities. These findings are relevant to the development and deployment of new technology and provide us with a distinctive approach to user-centred design.
The various settings in which the case studies are undertaken are selected to cover a wide range of technologies ranging from basic information systems through to advanced videoconferencing facilities. They are also chosen in order to cover a range of working environments and in some cases to capture settings which are undergoing radical technological change. The project began by initiating research in four different domains. These are: the Line Control Rooms of London Underground, which are currently undergoing major technological change; General Medical Practice, which is moving from paper based to computing technologies; Xerox Teleconferencing Services and a mid range CAD based Architectural Practice. Since beginning research in these four domains, we have also initiated studies of two new field sites, Morgan Grenfell Asset Management, and Reuters International News Agency. These new studies were initiated to further develop our analyses of the collaborative use of paper and screen based documentation within diverse organisational environments.
The approach adopted in the research draws from methodological developments in the social sciences which direct our attention towards the socially organised and interactional character of technologically mediated tasks and activities. Whilst all the studies involve conventional field work, the primary source of data are videorecordings of day to day work and interaction. So for example, in examining the deployment of information systems into general practice, we have undertaken extensive videorecording of medical consultations prior to and following the introduction of the new technology.
Videorecordings of actual work and interaction provide us with the opportunity of looking in detail at the ways in which personnel use various tools and technologies to accomplish their tasks and coordinate their activities with the contributions of others. The various studies have focussed in particular on the ways in which personnel orientate to the facilities and constraints embodied in certain media (such as screen based documents, or real time video images)) and the complex practices and reasoning they rely upon in utilising technologies in interacting and working with others.
Whilst a primary commitment of the research is to generate a body of empirical findings concerning the socio-interactional organisation of work and technology, with special reference to the use of paper and screen based documentation, we are particularly interested in identifying and delineating some (potentially) generic aspects of real time, 'object mediated' collaborative work. The aim is to use these findings to reconsider and respecify a number of the key ideas and concepts which inform more traditional approaches to understanding Human-Computer Interaction and currently permeate the design of new technologies. We are also committed to developing a body of research findings concerning organisational change engendered by the deployment of new technology, and to reveal aspects of the way in which personnel transform (tacit) practice and procedure in order to cope with and exploit new tools and systems. Finally, the research is also directed towards a methodological contribution, and in particular in delineating ways in which a detailed analysis of interaction within the work place may be embedded in a deeper understanding of the indigenous properties of specialised tasks and activities.
Alongside its scientific commitment, the research is also directed towards more applied and practical concerns. Whilst the body of empirical findings and the identification of generic features of object focussed collaborative work, can inform the development of guidelines for the development new technologies, especially those intended to support real time, document focussed collaboration, the research is also committed to a distinctive approach to user-centred design. In the longer term, the conceptual respecification and the our growing body of findings concerning the impact of technologies on working practice, will be relevant to the design, development and deployment of new tools and systems. In consequence, the research can contribute to productivity and quality in the design process, and provide resources to support the evaluation of potential and current markets.