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Full Title

Corealisation: Design in Use


Corealisation, evolution, ethnography, design in use


CoRealisation aims to break down the barriers between IT systems design and use by bringing the work of 'doing IT' into the workplace.

Traditionally, IT systems design progresses in a number of phases. Although different methodologies have different ways of dividing up the task of IT systems design, most of them are based on the principle of gathering requirements, implementing the system and then rolling it out. This is how IT systems design is mostly done today, despite all the rhetoric about iterative or evolutionary systems development. The basic problems that IT systems developers face today are not of a technical nature but are concerned with building systems that match users' needs and expectations. Knowing what a system should do and how it relates to the activities of its users has become the main issue. However, it is impossible to have perfect knowledge of these matters before a system is actually designed, implemented and used.

CoRealisation aims to do something that other approaches so far have failed to do: to challenge the divisions of labour in IT design practice and to overcome the boundaries between IT systems production and use. It does so by respecifying design as an ongoing partnership between IT professionals and workers. The work of 'doing IT' is taken into the workplace where the system will be used and the expertise of the IT professional is thus made available to workers on a routine basis. At the same time, the IT professional is able to learn about the working practices and the contingencies of the workplace from direct observation instead of representations such as practitioners' accounts or ethnographic descriptions.

In addition, the CoRealiser makes her work accountable to workers, thus enabling them to engage with it. As accountability goes both ways, a shared understanding can be worked up (for all practical purposes) of what is 'going on' in the workplace and with regard to the IT systems used. This helps workers to make suggestions for the further development of the IT systems and related practices, thus overcoming the problem that 'users are conservative' as many PD practitioners have complained.

CoRealisation also calls IT professionals to taking on the invisible work of 'doing IT', of maintaining and operating working IT systems and to change their configuration in response to workers' changing practices. By broadening the concept of design in this way, IT professionals are put in a position where they are able to assess the merits of a system on the basis of practical experience instead on the basis of comparing its features to a specification document.

The close partnership between IT professionals and workers and their co-location at the site of use afford an alltogether different way of 'doing IT' that

overcomes the communication problem between design and designed-for practice

is responsive to user needs

maintains a close fit between systems and evolving needs

helps to make IT work accountable and thus to manage users' expectations

Within DIRC we have applied corealisation in a range of contexts. In particular in dealing with the effects of change and the need for intermediary systems between work contexts and large-scale generic software packages. The link below to our case study of an engine manufacturing plant is a good example of our approach.  Our main experience with the deployment of corealisations has been tha ability of the corealiser to track the trajectory of change in the local context in the organisation and cooperate with workers in the organisation to adapt computer systems and procedures to those changes.  From a Risk perspective corealisation provides a means to make a wide range of risks visible that are often ignored by normal managerial approaches to risk management and provides a mechanism for priooritising an managin those risks.


Link to the Corealisation site.
Link to the Engine Co Case Study (coming from A. Voss)


Mark Hartswood, Rob Procter, Roger Slack, Alex Voss, Monika Buescher, Mark Rouncefield, Philippe Rouchy. Co-realisation: Towards a Principled Synthesis of Ethnomethodology and Participatory Design. Scandinavian Journal of Information Systems, 14(2), 2002.

J. Dobson, C. Jones, R. Procter, M. Rouncefield, R. Williams (eds.) Inter-disciplinary Approaches to the Design of Dependable Computer Systems. Proceedings of the ACM Symposium on Applied Computing. Madrid March, 2002.

K. Clarke, M. Hartswood, R. Procter, M. Rouncefield, R. Slack, R. Williams. Improving Knife to Skin Time: Process Modelling and New Technology in Medical Work. Health Informatics Journal, 8(1), 2002. pages 41--44

K. Clarke, M. Hartswood, R. Procter, M. Rouncefield. The Electronic Medical Record and Everyday Medical Work. Health Informatics Journal, 7(3/4), 2002. pages 168--170

M. Hartswood, R. Procter, M. Rouncefield, R. Slack, A. Voss, R. Williams. Building Information Systems as Universalised Locals. Journal of Knowledge, Technology and Policy, 14(3), Fall, 2002.


Alex Voss


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