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Full title

Development of ethnographic methods in DIRC


ethnography, CSCW, HCI, design


An important feature of the DIRC project has been the deployment and development of ethnographic research methodologies. The central characteristic of ethnographic enquiry is the researcher's detailed observation of how work actually 'gets done'; the circumstances, practices and activities that constitute the 'real world, local' character of work. The defining feature of this kind of study is the immersion of the researcher in the work environment where a non-presumptive record is made of all aspects of the day-to-day work over an extended period of time.

In this way a 'thick description' is built up of the situated working practices. This focus on the 'situated' character of work and the related judgements and discretions routinely displayed in response to everyday contingencies, provides a method for identifying the subtle, unremarked, cooperative aspects of work that enable work to be accomplished. Although the emphasis is on the detailed, minute-by-minute description of events, ethnographic methods involve far more than 'mere' detailed description but bring a particular focus to the analysis of systems in use and thereby outline the 'play of possibilities' for work and design.

The 'ethnographic' turn has had a strong influence on system design, especially in the interdisciplinary fields of Human Computer Interaction (HCI or CHI) and Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW) but also in areas such asInformation Systems (IS) work. This is because computer systems are now typically associated with the way human beings are presumed to work in groups; the failure of more traditional methods to provide an adequately robust framework for avoiding uncertainty and error, and a move towards 'user-centredness'. Within DIRC, our ethnographies have primarily focused upon the study of work and settings for the evaluation of existing technologies and work practices or for which new technology is being designed with the intention of informing that design.

The DIRC project has contributed to a number of significant developments in ethnographic techniques:

1. Consideration of how to increase the design value of ethnographic analyses; how to move from ethnographic description to systems design - our work on 'Patterns' and 'Co-realisation'.

2. Evolving technical support for recording and analysis of ethnographic data - our work on Strider and Scavenger - tools for processing ethnographic data.

3. Developing methods for using ethnographic techniques in difficult or 'sensitive' settings - our work on 'cultural' and 'technology' probes'

4. Using ethnographies in ways complimentary to experimental investigation and statistical modeling - our work in decision-support tools for mammography.



1. C. Lebbon, M. Rouncefield and S. Viller, (2003) 'Observation for Innovation' In John Clarkson, Simeon Keates; Roger Coleman, Cherie Lebbon (eds) Inclusive Design: Design for the whole population. Helen Hamlyn Research Centre, Royal College of Art

2. Dave Randall, Liz Marr and Mark Rouncefield (2001) Ethnography, Ethnomethodology and Interaction Analysis Ethnographic Studies 6 Special Issue on Workplace Studies. University of Wales.

3. Mark Hartswood, Rob Procter, Roger Slack, Alex Vo, Monika Buscher, Mark Rouncefield, Philippe Rouchy (2003) Co-realisation: Towards a Principled Synthesis of Ethnomethodology and Participatory Design. Scandinavian Journal of Information Systems 2002. Vol 14 No 2.

4. Dave Martin, Mark Rouncefield and Ian Sommerville (2003) Informing the RE Process with Patterns of Cooperative Interaction. International Arab Journal of Information Technology 1 (1)

5. Dave Martin, Tom Rodden, Mark Rouncefield, Ian Sommerville and Steve Viller (2001). 'Finding Patterns in the Fieldwork' in Proceedings of ECSCW'01, Bonn. Pp39-58. Kluwer.

6. Terry Hemmings, Andy Crabtree, Tom Rodden, Karen Clarke and Mark Rouncefield 2002 ' Probing the Probes' In Proc. Participatory Design Conference, Malmo.

7. Martin, D., Rouncefield, M. And Sommerville, I (2002). Applying Patterns of Cooperative Interaction To Work (Re)Design: E-Government and Planning - In Proceedings of CHI 2002

8. Mark Hartswood, Rob Procter, Roger Slack, Alex Voss and Mark Rouncefield (2002) The Work of Co-Realization. In Bhattacharjee, A and Paul, R.J. (eds) Proceedings of the First International Workshop on 'Interpretive' Approaches to Information Systems and Computing Research. Brunel University ISBN 1 902316 27 4 pp 59-61.

9. Mark Hartswood, Rob Procter, Roger Slack, Alex Voss and Mark Rouncefield (2002) Information Systems and Workplace Studies: Observing the Contingencies of 'Just-in-Time' Production.In Bhattacharjee, A and Paul, R.J. (eds) Proceedings of the First International Workshop on 'Interpretive' Approaches to Information Systems and Computing research. Brunel University ISBN 1 902316 27 4 pp 67-69.

10. Karen Clarke, Guy Dewsbury, John Hughes, Mark Rouncefield, and Ian Sommerville (2002) 'Sore legs and naked torsos': Using cultural probes in dependability research' In Proceedings of the 1st DIRC Conference on Dependable Computing Systems, London, November 20th-21st, 2002

11. Hemmings, T. Crabtree, A.,. Rodden, T.,. Clarke, K. and. Rouncefield, M. (2002) Probing the probes: domestic probes and the design process. In Bagnara, S., Pozzi, S., Rizzo, A., Wright, and P, editors, Proceedings of the 11th European Conference on Cognitive Ergonomics, pages 187--193, Rome, September 2002. Instituto Di Scienze E Tecnologie Della Cocnizione Coniglio Nazionale Delle Ricerche

12. Mark Hartswood, Rob Procter, Roger S. Slack, Alexander Vo and Mark Rouncefield 2002. 'The Benefits of a Long Engagement: Some Critical Comments on Contextual Design' - Proceedings of NordCHI 2002. New York. ACM Press. pp 283-286. ISBN 1-58113-616-1.

13. Keith Cheverst, Karen Clarke, Guy Dewsbury, Mark Rouncefield, Ian Sommerville, Mark Blythe, Gordon Baxter, Peter Wright (2003) 'Gathering requirements for inclusive design'. In proceedings of 2nd BCS HCI Workshop on Culture and HCI: Bridging Cultural and Digital Divides.eds Gunter, K., Smith, A and French T. (2003) pp 65--71. University of Greenwich ISBN 1 86166 191 6

14. Clarke, K., K. Cheverst, G. Dewsbury, D. Fitton, T. Hemmings, J. Hughes, T. Rodden, M. Rouncefield, I. Sommerville (2003), "Cultural Probes: Eliciting requirements for Dependable Ubiquitous Computing in the Home", in the 10th International Conference on Human - Computer Interaction (HCI International) June 2003 Stephanidis, C. (ed) 'Universal Access in HCI: Inclusive Design in the Information Society' Volume Four of the Proceedings of HCI International 2003. Pp 329-333, Lawrence Erlbaum and Associates, London. ISBN 0-8058-4933-5

15. Andy Crabtree, Terry Hemmings, Tom Rodden, Keith Cheverst, Karen Clarke, Guy Dewsbury, John Hughes And Mark Rouncefield (2003) Designing with Care: Adapting cultural probes to inform design in sensitive settings. In Proceedings of OzCHI 2003, New Directions in Interaction: Information environments, Media & Technology, 26-28 November at the University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia. Pp 4-13.

16. E Alberdi, A A Povyakalo, L Strigini, P Ayton, M Hartswood, R Procter and R Slack. Use of computer-aided detection (CAD) tools in screening mammography: a multidisciplinary investigation. Br J Radiol 2005 78: S31-40S.


Mark Rouncefield (Lancaster)


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