Cognition, Technology & Work

, Volume 7, Issue 2, pp 111–118 | Cite as

Understanding complex cognitive systems: the role of space in the organisation of collaborative work

  • Gabriella Spinelli
  • Mark Perry
  • Kenton O’Hara
Original Article


This paper aims to provide some insights about the role of space as computational resource in collaborative practices. Focusing on collaborative design activity within a consulting firm in the UK, this research employs ethnographically inspired methods to investigate collaborative work. The paper is organised in seven main sections: introduction, previous work, theoretical framework, research methodology, findings, discussion and technological implications. The introduction provides an illustration of the area tackled in this work highlighting the relevance of context in human behaviour. Considering a collaborative activity as a socio-technical unit of analysis, the literature review presents alternative approaches to information processing. Extended cognition is then introduced as theoretical tool. The methodological section illustrates the ethnographically oriented methods for the data collection. The findings are then discussed according to a twofold structure summarising the features that space has in collaboration: (1) conversational support and creation of narratives and (2) cognitive scaffolding. The discussion raises issues that transcend the observations of design activity and extend the debate to the analysis of collaboration. These considerations then contribute to a reflection on the design of new technology for group support.


Extended cognition Collaboration Computational artefacts Ethnography Space 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag London Limited 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gabriella Spinelli
    • 1
  • Mark Perry
    • 1
  • Kenton O’Hara
    • 2
  1. 1.School of Information Systems, Computing and MathematicsBrunel UniversityUK
  2. 2.Hewlett-Packard Research LabsBristolUK

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