Fieldwork, Ethnography and Ethnomethodology - Related Papers

The first three papers in the list below discuss experiences with using ethnography to support systems engineering processes. These are the papers to read for a general introduction to the topic. The remaining papers mostly focus on specific ethnographic studies that have been carried out.

Moving Out from the Control Room - John Hughes, Val King, Tom Rodden and Hans Andersen

Ethnography has gained considerable prominence as a technique for informing CSCW systems development of the nature of work. Experiences of ethnography reported to date have focused on the use of prolonged on-going ethnography to inform systems design. A considerable number of these studies have taken place within constrained and focused work domain. This paper reflects more generally on the experiences of using ethnography across a number of different projects and in a variety of domains of study. We identify a number of ways in which we have used ethnography to inform design and consider the benefits and problems of each.

Hughes, J., King, V., Rodden, T., & Andersen, H. (1994). Moving out from the control room. Proceedings of the 1994 ACM conference on Computer supported cooperative work CSCW 94 (pp. 429-439). ACM Press.

Sociologists can be Surprisingly Useful in Interactive Systems Design - Ian Sommerville, Tom Rodden, Pete Sawyer and Richard Bentley

This paper makes a case, to system developers, for inter-disciplinary working and the involvement of sociologists in the systems design process. Our argument is based on the fact that effective systems must take account of the social context in which these systems are situated. The paper is based on our experiences of working with sociologists in a study of air traffic control automation. We describe the model of working which we use and which we believe allows effective utilisation of the skills of both disciplines. We then set out pre- cursors for effective inter-disciplinary collaboration and how people from radically different backgrounds can work in harmony. Finally, we discuss some of the problems of collaboration which are likely to arise.

Sommerville, I., Bentley, R., Rodden, T., and Sawyer, P. (1992). Sociologists can be Surprisingly Useful in Interactive Systems Design. Proc. HCI'92, York, September 1992.

Designing with Ethnography: Making Work Visible - Ian Sommerville

One of the main challenges that has come to face system designers in the last decade had been to accomplish an adequate characterisation of the social properties of the work settings into which systems have to fit. Grudin (1990:261) describes this as an "outward movement of the computer's interface to its external environment, from hardware to software to increasingly higher-level cognitive capabilities and finally to social processes". This is particularly apparent in the development of groupware and, potentially, thoroughly CSCW systems. While applications to support cooperating individuals and groups have met all the usual problems of interface design they also have to face up to the additional problems of designing systems which, to quote Grudin (1990) once again, "incorporate organisational and social knowledge".

Sommerville, I., Hughes, J., Bentley, R. and Randall, D. (1993). Designing with Ethnography. Interacting with Computers, 5 (2), 239-253.

Working Hard In The ‘Office’: An ethnomethodological study of on-line workshops - Jacki O'Neill, David Martin, Hasan Al-Matrouk

This paper presents a case study of two on-line workshops conducted using a real-time distributed, web based communication technology, OfficeHoursLive. The study is intended to introduce, ethnomethodology, a different perspective for studying CSCL. Ethnomethodogical studies place a particular emphasis on studying the details of situated activity as-it-happens. For the accomplishment of collaborative learning it is necessary that those involved can usefully interact with one another. Ethnomethodology, in its study of the detail of practical action and interaction provides a particularly useful way of understanding whether and how CSCL technologies support such action and interaction. The paper presents detailed analyses and highlights important issues both for the design of technology and the organisation of these events.

O'Neill, J., Martin, D., Al-Matrouk, H. and Wastell, D. (2002). Working hard in the 'office': an ethnomethodological study of on-line workshops. In Proceedings of the Conference on Computer Support for Collaborative Learning: Foundations for a CSCL Community (CSCL '02), Gerry Stahl (Ed.). International Society of the Learning Sciences 619-620.

Ethnographically-informed systems design for air traffic control - R. Bentley, J. A. Hughes, D. Randall, T. Rodden, P. Sawyer, D. Shapiro, I. Sommerville

This paper relates experiences of a project where an ethnographic study of air traffic controllers is being used to inform the design of the controllers’ interface to the flight data base. We outline the current UK air traffic control system, discuss the ethnographic work we have undertaken studying air traffic control as a cooperative activity, describe some of the difficulties in collaboration between software developers and sociologists and show how the ethnographic studies have influenced the systems design process. Our conclusions are that ethnographic studies are helpful in informing the systems design process and may produce insights which contradict conventional thinking in systems design.

Sommerville, I., Bentley, R., Rodden, T., Sawyer, P., Hughes, J., Randall, D. and Shapiro, D. (1992). Ethnographically-informed systems design for air traffic control. Proc. CSCW92., ACM Press, Toronto, 123-129.

‘Good’ Organisational Reasons for ‘Bad’ Software Testing: An Ethnographic Study of Testing in a Small Software Company - David Martin, John Rooksby, Mark Rouncefield, Ian Sommerville

In this paper we report on an ethnographic study of a small software house to discuss the practical work of software testing. Through use of two rich descriptions, we discuss that ‘rigour’ in systems integration testing necessarily has to be organisationally defined. Getting requirements ‘right’, defining ‘good’ test scenarios and ensuring ‘proper’ test coverage are activities that need to be pragmatically achieved taking account of organisational realities and constraints such as: the dynamics of customer relationships; using limited effort in an effective way; timing software releases; and creating a market. We discuss how these organisational realities shape (1) requirements testing; (2) test coverage; (3) test automation; and (4) test scenario design.

Martin, D., Rooksby, J., Rouncefield, M. and Sommerville, I. (2007). 'Good' Organisational Reasons for 'Bad' Software Testing: An Ethnographic Study of Testing in a Small Software Company. In Proceedings of the 29th international conference on Software Engineering (ICSE '07). IEEE Computer Society, Washington, DC, USA, 602-611.

'Dasein of the Times': Temporal Features of Dependability
- Karen Clarke, John Hughes, Dave Martin, Mark Rouncefield, Alexander Voß, Rob Procter, Roger Slack and Mark Hartswood

This paper is a modified version of a chapter in the PA2 ‘Trustbook’ (Clarke et al. Forthcoming) that uses our ethnographic studies of everyday work to illustrate sociological approaches to explicating some temporal features of dependability.

Clarke, K., Martin, D., Rouncefield, M., Hughes, J., Voß, A., Procter, R., Slack, R. & Hartswood, M. (2005). Dasein of the times : temporal features of dependability. In: 5th Annual DIRC Research Conference.

‘Colour, it’s just a constant problem’: an examination of practice, infrastructure and workflow in colour printing - David Martin, Jacki O’Neill, Tommaso Colombino, Frederic Roulland and Jutta Willamowski

This paper examines the work to control colour in graphic design and printing focusing on the reasons why practitioners do not implement ‘colour managed’ (CM) workflows. CM workflows should allow for successful transfer and reproduction of colour information from e.g. computer to print. However, the technical requirements – in terms of equipment ‘set-up’ and knowledge – prove to be beyond most of those working in the industry. We examine the reasons for this and the different cooperative practices that designers and print workers use in the ‘real-world’ to control colour. This paper contributes to studies of cooperative work and technologies by providing a critical appraisal of infrastructure and workflow as a means of supporting cooperative work in design and printing.

Martin, D., O'Neill, J., Colombino, T., Roulland, F. & Willamowski, J. (2010). 'Colour: it's just a constant problem.' An examination of practice, infrastructure and workflow in colour printing. From CSCW to Web 2.0: European Developments in Collaborative Design, Computer Supported Cooperative Work, Volume . ISBN 978-1-84882-964-0. Springer-Verlag London, 2010, p. 21

Reading as Part of Computer Programming. An Ethnomethodological Enquiry - John Rooksby, David Martin and Mark Rouncefield

This paper examines reading as done by programmers engaged in software development. Reading is an activity we feel should be of fundamental interest to studies of programming, but the practical achievement of which has not been closely examined. We give examples of programmers reading in pairs, and reading alone, and show reading in both cases to be explainable in terms of shared social practices. These practices are not determined by the code but nor are they purely socially constructed; rather they lie in the linkage be- tween the code and programmers’ ways of reading the code. We discuss (1) how features of day-to-day coding work create pertinent occasions for reading a certain piece of code, (2) how programmers order and expect there to be an or- der to code, and (3) how programmers have ways of analysing code in order to make sense of it. This is an ethnomethodological study that draws from ethnographic fieldwork at a professional software development company.

Rooksby, J., Martin, D. & Rouncefield, M. (2006). Reading as a Part of Computer Programming. Proceedings of the 18th Annual Workshop of the Psychology of Programming Interest Group (PPIG2006), September 7-8th 2006, Brighton UK.

Observations of the Scottish Elections 2007
- R Lock, T Storer, N Harvey

In the 2007 Scottish elections, an e-counting system was employed to manage the increased complexity of the Scottish electoral system. The elections were also the first to allow members of the public to register as election observers, accredited by the Electoral Commission. This paper discusses some of the issues that arose during observations made by the authors as observers, relating to the use of the new e-counting system.

Lock, R., Storer, T., Harvey, N., Hughes, C. and Sommerville, I. (2008). Observations of the Scottish elections 2007. Transforming Government: People, Process and Policy, 2 (2). pp. 104-118. ISSN 1750-6166

Some Ethnomethodological Observations on ‘Interaction’ in HCI
- Nozomi Ikeya, Dave Martin, Phillipe Rouchy

This paper tries to indicate how interdisciplinary work between ethnomethodologists and system design can be taken seriously. To do this, we proceed to indicate that our problem is not with engineering procedures but with the portrayal of human action and especially human interaction in the field of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI). We deconstruct the use of cognitive, information processing models of HCI and indicate how such conceptualisations are problematic and lead to a simplification of human action. As a result, we indicate that tools of ethnomethodological sensitivity provide more detailed and accurate analyses of work practices and technology. We consider the impact of replacing the cognitive HCI model with descriptions of work, action and interaction provided by ethnomethodological studies. We continue to provide some remarks on the ways in which such descriptions may form a useful resource for systems designers, by providing a better description of current socio-technical system operation, and by furnishing sensitivities, reminders and cautionary tales.

Martin, D., Ikeya, N. & Rouchy, P. (2002). Some Ethnomethodological Observations on 'Interaction' in HCI. In: First International Workshop on 'Interpretive' Approaches to Information Systems and Computing Research (SIG-IAM 2002).

Ethnography and the social structure of work - David Martin & Ian Sommerville

Achieving dependable systems design and implementation is now considered to be a process where attention needs to be paid not only to the technical system but also to the social and work environment into which the system will be placed. Dependability is seen as a property of the whole socio-technical system. Socio-technical systems comprise, holistically, computer based systems and the social systems of work of the people that work with, through and around those computer based systems. It is ac- knowledged that particular consideration is required to understand how well the technical system will fit with the activities of the users in the proposed setting (the application domain). For instance, highly dependable technical systems may be part of an undependable socio-technical system because they are inappropriate to the setting and users. This chapter discusses the relationship between the social structure of work and the technical structure of a system and the importance of understanding that relationship when designing dependable socio-technical systems.

Martin, D., & Sommerville, I. (2005). Ethnography and the Social Structure of Work.