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Structuring ethnographic data and widening accessibility


Structuring ethnographies, Widening access, Problems


Socio-technical systems analysis, development and maintenance are complex and difficult processes. These are made more problematic due to difficulties of communication and knowledge transfer between developers, managers and the various other stakeholders involved in the development of a system. In such a stituation, it is important that the full social and technical implications of any decisions must be fully appreciated before they can be acted upon. These are all particularly difficult tasks when dealing with complex, real-world systems where technical components are intertwined with the social, political and organisational factors.

Although it maybe be possible to perform verification and validation on individual technical components, it is much more problematic to investigate the interactions these will have with social and organisational components of real world systems. This is a very challenging problem since the interplay between technical and non-technical components is often very complex and the various human factors that are involved inject much variability and unpredictability into a system.

Ethnographic study can provide a viable solution to these problem by providing a mechanism for identification and collection and insightful information regarding the "lived" operation of the system. However, even with ethnography there are continued difficulties in providing easy access to the rich collections of information. The main cause of this is that this information is often present in a form and structure that is not suitable for all those who could benefit from access to it. In order to widen access to this valuable information, the following important questions must be addressed:

What structure is most appropriate for presenting the ethnographic information?
How might we go about performing the data restructuring?
How can we support the restructuring process?
What is the best way to physically store the data?
How can we best support access and exploration of the ethnographic data?

As part of DIRC, we have endevoured to try and answer some of these questions and meet the challanges posed by this particular area of socio-technical system development. What has become clear is that different approaches are required to structure ethnographic material for different purposes. In these pages we attempt to provide a brief overview of some of those that have proved most successful in our research and evaulation work. These include Scavenger which can be used to harvest ethnographic data, Strider which is a reconfiguration tool, Situation Modelling which is a design support approach and Patterns of cooperative interraction. More information about these can be found below.


Scavenger ethnographic harvester

Strider configuration modelling and analysis approach

Situation modeling

Patterns of Cooperative Interaction



Simon Lock (lock at comp dot lancs dot ac dot uk)


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