Chapter

Designing Socially Embedded Technologies in the Real-World

Part of the series Computer Supported Cooperative Work pp 341-356

Studying Technologies in Practice: “Bounding Practices” When Investigating Socially Embedded Technologies

  • Pernille BjørnAffiliated withTechnologies in Practice Research Group, IT University of Copenhagen Email author 
  • , Nina Boulus-RødjeAffiliated withTechnologies in Practice Research Group, IT University of Copenhagen

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Abstract

The idea of socially embedded technologies (SET) constitutes a new approach into ICT research, one which has emerged from the European communities of research on computer-supported cooperative work (CSCW). SET is based upon the fundamental assumption that we need new ways to conceptualize research on design, which takes into account peoples’ social practices without limiting the human interaction to an individual computer-user relation. People and practices are much more than their relationship with a technology, and thus the concept of “user” is problematic. We see ourselves as researchers who embrace the new agendas of SET, and in this chapter we will then explain approach and suggest ways for thinking differently about design. When studying technologies in practice, we ground our work within the CSCW tradition for workplace studies (Luff P, Hindmarch J et al (eds) Workplace studies: recovering work practice and informing system design. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2000; Randall D, Harper R et al, Fieldwork for design: theory and practice. Springer, London, 2007). In recent years, we have conducted research in the healthcare arena, studying patient tracking and triage systems in emergency departments (Bjørn P, Balka E, Health care categories have politics too: unpacking the managerial agendas of electronic triage systems. In: ECSCW 2007: proceedings of the tenth European conference on computer supported cooperative work. Springer, Limerick, 2007; Bjørn P, Burgoyne S et al, Eur J Inf Syst 18: 428–441, 2009; Bjørn P, Hertzum M, Comput Supported Coop Work (CSCW): Int J 20(1): 93), investigating the introduction of electronic medical records in primary and acute care settings (Boulus N, Managing the gradual transition from paper to electronic patient records (EPR). Master, University of Oslo, 2004; Boulus N, Sociotechnical changes brought about by electronic medical record. In: American conference on information systems, San Francisco, CA, USA, 2009; Boulus N, A journey into the hidden lives of electronic medical records (EMRs): Action research in the making. School of Communication, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, 2010; Boulus N, Bjørn P, Constructing technology-in-use practices: EPR-adaptation in Canada and Norway. In: Third international conference information technology in health care: socio-technical approaches. IOS Press, Sidney, 2007; Boulus N, Bjørn P, Int J Med Inform 79(6): 97–108, 2008), as well as studying the practices of monitoring patients with heart failure in a tele-monitoring setup (Andersen T, Bjørn P, et al, Int J Med Inform 80(8): e112, 2010). We believe the healthcare arena to be a perspicuous setting for studying technology as socially embedded since it covers heterogeneous work practices, varying technical competencies and complex organizational arrangements. We have conducted both single-site and comparative studies (Boulus N, Bjørn P, Constructing technology-in-use practices: EPR-adaptation in Canada and Norway. In: Third international conference information technology in health care: socio-technical approaches. IOS Press, Sidney, 2007; Balka E. Bjørn P, et al, Steps towards a typology for health informatics. In: Computer supported cooperative work (CSCW). ACM, San Diego, 2008), and all of this work took place in Canada, Norway, or Denmark. In each of these studies, we applied ethnographic methods to examine the collaborative and complex practices of the particular site, with the aim of developing theoretical concepts useful for describing and articulating practices while informing the design of technologies that support the local and situated practices (Schmidt K, The critical role of workplace studies in CSCW. In: Heath C, Hindmarsh J, Luff P (eds), Workplace studies: Recovering work practice and informing design. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1998). More recently, we have started to reflect on what these types of engagements mean for research and for practice, with the aim of continuously sharpening our research practices (Bjørn P, Boulus N, Action Res J 9(3): 282–302, 2011; Boulus-Rødje N, Action research as a network: collective production of roles and interventions. In: proceedings of the 20th European conference on information systems (ECIS). ESADE, Barcelona, 2012; Boulus-Rødje submitted).