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Context-Based Workplace Awareness

Concepts and Technologies for Supporting Distributed Awareness in a Hospital Environment

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Maintaining an awareness of the working context of fellow co-workers is crucial to successful cooperation in a workplace. For mobile, non co-located workers, however, such workplace awareness is hard to maintain. This paper investigates how context-aware computing can be used to facilitate workplace awareness. In particular, we present the concept of Context-Based Workplace Awareness, which is derived from years of in-depth studies of hospital work and the design of computer supported cooperative work technologies to support the distributed collaboration and coordination of clinical work within large hospitals. This empirical background has revealed that an awareness especially of the social, spatial, temporal, and activity context plays a crucial role in the coordination of work in hospitals. The paper then presents and discusses technologies designed to support context-based workplace awareness, namely the AWARE architecture, and the AwarePhone and AwareMedia applications. Based on almost 2 year’ deployment of the technologies in a large hospital, the paper discuss how the four dimension of context-based workplace awareness play out in the coordination of clinical work.

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  1. This is not to be mistaken for the concept of ‘Activity Awareness’ discussed in Section 3.4. We refer to ‘the activity of a person’ as a part of this person’s context while ‘Activity Awareness’ refers to maintaining an awareness of the progress of a specific activity, regardless of who is performing it.

  2. Note that the word ‘awareness’ is used in two very different ways here. In CSCW, ‘awareness’ is a human/social phenomenon that people posses; a person can have an awareness of people, activities, or artifacts. Within Ubiquitous Computing ‘awareness’ is a technical term; if a computer system is ‘context-aware’, the system is aware of its user’s context and knows, for example, where it is, who is using it, what activities in is being used for, etc. In this paper, we use the term ‘awareness’ in the former meaning. Hence ‘context-based workplace awareness’ is an awareness possessed by human actors about the workplace, but this awareness is based on information about context that is sensed through using context-aware technology.

  3. As discussed in (Bardram and Hansen 2004) the AwarePhone was first built as a stand-alone prototype and subsequently implemented as part of the AWARE architecture. Thus the need to create awareness systems such as the AwarePhone was a basic source of inspiration for the design of the AWARE architecture.

  4. The need to be able to specify priority for a given message was one of the reason for not using SMS messaging on the telephones but building our own messaging sub-system

  5. Note that here we are discussing privacy issues as they relate to the clinicians. However, there are also privacy concerns that relate to patients, since the system uses video in the operating room. However, this is not the place for entering into the issue of patient privacy, which merits a separate discussion; rather, our focus here is on workplace awareness amongst collaborating clinicians. On a more practical level, however, it should be noted that the cameras in the operating rooms were deployed in such a way that they did not show any part of the patient’s body but ‘shot’ over the operating table.


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We are indebted to Horsens Hospital for their great support and valuable input into this project and for letting us test out our ideas in a real-world environment. We would also like to thank Christian Jonigkeit, Martin Mogensen, and Mads Søgaard who were part of the team that designed, implemented, and deployed AwareMedia. This research was funded by the Danish Competence Centre ISIS Katrinebjerg, grant #108.

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Correspondence to Jakob E. Bardram.

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Bardram, J.E., Hansen, T.R. Context-Based Workplace Awareness. Comput Supported Coop Work 19, 105–138 (2010).

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