The Role of Ethnography in the Design and Implementation of IT Systems

By Jesper Simonsen.

Published by The Design Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Ethnographic workplace studies in design tend to focus on the existing work practices either to inform the initial design of new information technology (IT) systems or as studies evaluating work practices after a system has been implemented and taken into use. However, ethnography may also prove efficient in identifying, analyzing, and evaluating changes in work practices that emerge from using the IT system as part of the design and implementation of this system. This is possible since the technical frameworks used for large IT systems are becoming highly configurable. This article presents an example from a case where a fully functional prototype of a large Electronic Patient Record (EPR) system was designed, implemented, used as a pilot study, and subjected to evaluations based on ethnographic observations. The case demonstrates how a new and important role for ethnography can be established as an integral part of iterative approaches to design and organizational implementation of large IT systems. The role of ethnography can be expanded from a descriptive role (describing existing work practices or the situation after a complete implementation) to a constructive role focusing on appropriating new IT to the work practices of the users.

Keywords: Ethnography, Workplace Studies, Design and Implementation, Large IT Systems, Participatory Design, Iterative Approaches, Electronic Patient Record (EPR), Large, Shared EPR Display, Pilot Study, Experiment, Evaluation, Emergent Changes, Empowerment, Nurses

Design Principles and Practices: An International Journal, Volume 3, Issue 3, pp.253-264. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.358MB).

Jesper Simonsen

Associate Professor, Department of Communication, Business and Information Technologies, Roskilde University, Roskilde, Denmark

My area of expertise is Participatory Design (PD) focusing on offering theories and methods for IT design in an organizational context. This research area also includes Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW), Knowledge Management (KM), Human Computer Interaction (HCI), and Computer Mediated Communication (CMC). I have since 1991 conducted research in collaboration with industry on IT design focusing on how IT designers can cooperate with users and their management especially relating to the clarification of goals, formulation of needs, and design and evaluation of coherent visions for change.

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