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Computer Supported Cooperative Work 11

Editors:Kjeld Schmidt
Publisher:Kluwer Academic Publishing
Standard No:ISSN 0925-9724
Links:www.wkap.nl | Table of Contents
  1. JCSCW 2002 Volume 11 Issue 1/2
  2. JCSCW 2002 Volume 11 Issue 3/4

JCSCW 2002 Volume 11 Issue 1/2

Introduction to the Special Issue on Activity Theory and the Practice of Design BIB 1-11
  David Redmiles
A View of Software Development Environments Based on Activity Theory BIBAK 13-37
  P. Barthelmess; K. M. Anderson
We view software development as a collaborative activity that is typically supported by a software development environment. Since these environments can significantly influence the collaborative nature of a software development project, it is important to analyze and evaluate their capabilities with respect to collaboration. In this paper, we present an analysis and evaluation of the collaborative capabilities of software development environments using an activity theory perspective.
   The discipline of software engineering (SE) emerged to study and develop artifacts to mediate the collective development of large software systems. While many advances have been made in the past three decades of SE's existence, the historical origins of the discipline are present in that techniques and tools to support the collaborative aspects of large-scale software development are still lacking. One factor is a common ''production-oriented'' philosophy that emphasizes the mechanistic and individualistic aspects of software development over the collaborative aspects thereby ignoring the rich set of human-human interactions that are possible over the course of a software development project.
   We believe that the issues and ideas surrounding activity theory may be useful in improving support for collaboration in software engineering techniques and tools. As such, we make use of the activity theory to analyze and evaluate process-centered software development environments (PCSDEs).
Keywords: activity theory, software development environments, software engineering
Steps Across the Border -- Cooperation, Knowledge Production and Systems Design BIBAK 39-54
  Christoph Clases; Theo Wehner
The computer support of cooperation and knowledge production across socially distributed activity systems has become an important topic in the context of the discourse on ''knowledge management''. The present article will draw on concepts of cultural-historical activity theory to discuss the problem of how the notion of ''knowledge'' is conceptualized and implicitly implemented in computer systems to support knowledge management, often neglecting the social embeddedness of knowledge production in everyday work practices. From the point of view of cultural-historical activity theory we would propose to look upon the generation of knowledge as a process embedded in socially distributed activities that are constantly being reproduced and transformed in and between specific communities of practice. We will present a model of cooperation that relates processual and structural aspects of joint activity. Methodologically, it draws on the analysis of unexpected events in the course of joint activity. Our model also proposes to use forums for co-construction to make visible different perspectives in the process of software design. The concept of cooperative model production is highlighted as a means to mediate, not to eliminate, differences of perspectives involved in the course of systems design. An empirical example will be given in which the repertory-grid technique is used to visualize similarities and differences of potential users' viewpoints and requirements in early stages of systems design.
Keywords: activity theory, co-construction, cooperation, CSCW, difference, knowledge, methodology, unexpected events, work psychology
Activity Theory and System Design: A View from the Trenches BIBAK 55-80
  Patricia Collins; Shilpa Shukla; David Redmiles
An activity theory model and a mediating artifacts hierarchy were employed to help identify the needs for tools for customer support engineers who documented solutions to customer problems, a knowledge authoring activity. This activity also involves customer support engineers who assist Hewlett-Packard software product users. The particular tools to be designed were knowledge-authoring tools embedded in the customer support tracking application suite, SupportTracker. The research analyzed the role of tensions between the elements of Engestrom's activity theory model. The research also explored the benefits of specific interpretations of Engestrom's refinement of Wartofsky's mediating artifacts hierarchy. The hierarchy contributed to the identification of desired characteristics of mediating artifacts, particularly tools. The findings included an interpretation of the ''where-to'' artifact concept as supporting an understanding of the entire activity system as an evolving entity. Specific interventions were used to achieve a positive impact on the evolution of the activity system.
Keywords: activity theory, communities of practice, customer support organization, field study, intervention, knowledge authoring and maintenance, mediating means, requirements engineering, software design
Realist Activity Theory for Digital Library Evaluation: Conceptual Framework and Case Study BIBAK 81-110
  Mark A. Spasser
A critical yet largely unexamined facet of digital library design and use is how library content is assembled and vetted, which in turn has profound implications for ongoing digital library usefulness and usability. This article presents a social realist evaluation framework for an activity theoretic case study of the Flora of North America digital library. Social realist evaluation is a relatively new evaluation paradigm, positing that outcomes follow from mechanisms acting in contingently configured contexts. Because this study focuses on the digital library content vetting process, a significant part of the present analysis concerns the publication subsystem of the Flora of North America digital library -- Collaborative Publishing Services -- and how problems related to its design and use facilitates our ability to explain the Flora of North America not only as a functioning digital library project, but as a contradiction-driven organizational form in expansive development. Activity theory is a philosophical and cross-disciplinary framework for studying different forms of human practices in a multi-level, stratified manner, developmentally in time and through space. This intensive case study of the Flora of North America digital library illustrates that while social realism, itself content-neutral mechanics of explanation, provides a real foundation for activity theoretic analyses of work and technology, activity theory supplies a conceptually and substantively rich vocabulary for explanatory reasoning about technologically mediated social practices, such as digital library assemblage and use.
Keywords: activity theory, case study, digital libraries, evaluation, Flora of North America, practical social analysis, realist social theory
Information Systems Development as an Activity BIBAK 111-128
  Mikko Korpela; Anja Mursu; H. A. Soriyan
Information systems development (ISD) is analysed in this paper as a systemic work activity, using Activity Analysis and Development (ActAD) as the theoretical framework. ISD is regarded here as the process by which some collective work activity is facilitated by new information-technological means through analysis, design, implementation, introduction and sustained support, as well as process management. It is a temporary, boundary-crossing activity which draws its actors, means, rules, etc. from two sides -- typically a software company and the IS user organization. ISD is analysed as a part of a network of activities, too, around software development and a computer-supported use activity. A theoretical framework and a pragmatic checklist are presented for studying ISD activities. It is argued that the activity-theoretical framework provides a theoretically founded but detailed and practicable procedure for studying ISD as a work activity in context.
Keywords: activity network, activity theory, information systems development, research framework
Articulating User Needs in Collaborative Design: Towards an Activity-Theoretical Approach BIBAK 129-151
  Reijo Miettinen; Mervi Hasu
This paper analyses the collaborative design of a high-technology product, a neuromagnetometer used in the analysis of the activity of the human cortex. The producer, Neuromag Company is trying to transform the device from a basic research instrument into a means of clinical practice. This transition is analyzed as a simultaneous evolution of the product, producer-user network and user activities. The network is analyzed as a network of activity systems. Each activity has a historically formed object and a motive of its own, as well as a system of cultural means and expertise. We use these to explain and understand the interests and points of view of the actors in relation to the product and the contradictions of the producer-user network. It is suggested that the emerging user needs of collective actors must be analyzed at three levels. At the first level, the use value of the product, its capacity of solving the vital problems and challenges of developing user activities, is characterized. The second-level analysis concerns the creation and development of the necessary complementary tools and services that make the implementation and use of the product possible. This task presupposes collaboration between several communities of the innovation network. The third level is the situated practical use of the product. In our experience, it is advantageous that researchers contribute with their data to a dialogue in which the user needs are articulated.
Keywords: activity theory, collaborative design, innovation network, user needs
Physical and Virtual Tools: Activity Theory Applied to the Design of Groupware BIBAK 153-180
  Morten Fjeld; Kristina Lauche; Martin Bichsel; Fred Voorhorst; Helmut Krueger; Matthias Rauterberg
Activity theory is based on the concept of tools mediating between subjects and objects. In this theory, an individual's creative interaction with his or her surroundings can result in the production of tools. When an individual's mental processes are exteriorized in the form of tools -- termed objectification -- they become more accessible to other people and are therefore useful for social interaction. This paper shows how our understanding of activity theory has shaped our design philosophy for groupware and how we have applied it. Our design philosophy and practice is exemplified by a description of the BUILD-IT system. This is an Augmented Reality system we developed to enhance group work; it is a kind of graspable groupware which supports cooperative planning. The system allows a group of people, co-located around a table, to interact, by means of physical bricks, with models in a virtual three-dimensional (3D) setting. Guided by task analysis, a set of specific tools for different 3D planning and configuration tasks was implemented as part of this system. We investigate both physical and virtual tools. These tools allow users to adjust model height, viewpoint, and scale of the virtual setting. Finally, our design practice is summarized in a set of design guidelines. Based on these guidelines, we reflect on our own design practice and the usefulness of activity theory for design.
Keywords: activity theory, Augmented Reality, computer, configuration, co-located interaction, cooperation, design, graspable, groupware, objectification, physical tools, planning, social, Virtual Reality, virtual tools
Collaboration as an Activity Coordinating with Pseudo-Collective Objects BIBAK 181-204
  David Zager
A coalition is a collaborative pattern in which people must work together to accomplish a task, but where organizational constraints stand in the way of their making use of the coordination techniques that typically enable collaboration. Trinity is a software system that uses a virtual world to provide coalitions with synthetic coordination capabilities functionally equivalent to those that occur naturally in an organized collaboration. The virtual world functions as a pseudo-collective object since it plays the coordination role of a collective object. The design philosophy underlying Trinity is heavily informed by some of the fundamental concepts of Activity Theory. To illustrate these ideas, we will examine below the case of coordinating operational information for the coalition of people who maintain the stream of data coursing through a securities brokerage, describing along the way the relevant Activity Theory background and the architecture of the virtual world.
Keywords: coalitions, collective object, virtual world
NetWORKers and their Activity in Intensional Networks BIBAK 205-242
  Bonnie A. Nardi; Steve Whittaker; Heinrich Schwarz
Through ethnographic research, we document the rise of personal social networks in the workplace, which we call intensional networks. Paradoxically, we find that the most fundamental unit of analysis for computer-supported cooperative work is not at the group level for many tasks and settings, but at the individual level as personal social networks come to be more and more important. Collective subjects are increasingly put together through the assemblage of people found through personal networks rather than being constituted as teams created through organizational planning and structuring. Teams are still important but they are not the centerpiece of labor management they once were, nor are they the chief resource for individual workers. We draw attention to the importance of networks as most CSCW system designs assume a team. We urge that designers take account of networks and the problems they present to workers.
Keywords: activity theory, collaborative work, communities of practice, social networks
Activity Theory and Distributed Cognition: Or What Does CSCW Need to DO with Theories? BIBAK 243-267
  Christine A. Halverson
This essay compares activity theory (AT) with distributed cognition theory (DCOG), asking what each can do for CSCW. It approaches this task by proposing that theories -- when viewed as conceptual tools for making sense of a domain -- have four important attributes: descriptive power; rhetorical power; inferential power; and application power. It observes that AT and DCOG are not so different: both emphasize cognition; both include the social and cultural context of cognition; both share a commitment to ethnographically collected data. Starting with a description of the distributed cognition approach, it uses an example of a DCOG analysis to ground a discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of AT and DCOG as an approach to issues in CSCW. Finally, the essay considers what theoretical work is being done by the attributes of the respective theories, and whether AT, DCOG, or any theory developed outside the context of group work, will work for CSCW.
Keywords: activity theory, analysis, distributed cognition, methodology
Coda and Response to Christine Halverson BIB 269-275
  Bonnie A. Nardi

JCSCW 2002 Volume 11 Issue 3/4

Preface BIB 3-4
  Kjeld Schmidt; Christian Heath; Tom Rodden
The Problem with 'Awareness': Introductory Remarks on 'Awareness in CSCW' BIB 285-298
  Kjeld Schmidt
The Public Availability of Actions and Artefacts BIBAK 299-316
  Toni Robertson
This paper introduces and describes some concepts basic to a phenomenological understanding of human perception that is derived from the phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty. His account of the lived experience of the embodied subject, as the basis of both our experience in our world and our agency in our actions within it, is consistent with the focus on designing CSCW technology for flexible use that underlies so much of the recent work on awareness. My aim is to approach a complex and difficult body of work from the perspective of technology design in order to extract from it some relevant insights and theoretical principles that may, in turn, extend our understanding of what the public availability of actions and artefacts means in virtual space and how it might be supported. For Merleau-Ponty perception is active, embodied and always generative of meaning. This paper prioritises the relations between awareness, perception and the public availability of actions and artefacts because the challenge for designers of awareness resources for shared virtual spaces is that if people are to be aware of anything, then it has to be explicitly made available to their perceptions within those virtual spaces.
Keywords: awareness, Merleau-Ponty, perception, phenomenology, public availability
Configuring Awareness BIBAK 317-347
  Christian Heath; Marcus Sanchez Svensson; Jon Hindmarsh; Paul Luff; Dirk vom Lehn
The concept of awareness has become of increasing importance to both social and technical research in CSCW. The concept remains however relatively unexplored, and we still have little understanding of the ways in which people produce and sustain 'awareness' in and through social interaction with others. In this paper, we focus on a particular aspect of awareness, the ways in which participants design activities to have others unobtrusively notice and discover, actions and events, which might otherwise pass unnoticed. We consider for example how participants render visible selective aspects of their activities, how they encourage others to notice features of the local milieu, and how they encourage others to become sensitive to particular events. We draw examples from different workplaces, primarily centres of coordination; organisational environments which rest upon the participants' abilities to delicately interweave a complex array of highly contingent, yet interdependent activities.
Keywords: awareness, centres of coordination, selective aspects
Conventions and Commitments in Distributed CSCW Groups BIBAK 349-387
  Gloria Mark
Conventions are necessary to establish in any recurrent cooperative arrangement. In electronic work, they are important so as to regulate the use of shared objects. Based on empirical results from a long-term study of a group cooperating in electronic work, I present examples showing that the group failed to develop normative convention behavior. These difficulties in forming conventions can be attributed to a long list of factors: the lack of clear precedents, different perspectives among group members, a flexible cooperation media, limited communication, the design process, and discontinuous cooperation. Further, I argue that commitments to the conventions were difficult, due to the conventions not reaching an acceptance threshold, uneven payoffs, and weak social influences. The empirical results call for a specific set of awareness information requirements to promote active learning about the group activity in order to support the articulation of conventions. The requirements focus on the role of feedback as a powerful mechanism for shaping and learning about group behavior.
Keywords: articulation, awareness, conventions, empirical studies, groupware, shared workspace
Awareness, Representation and Interpretation BIBAK 389-409
  Matthew Chalmers
This paper discusses how representation and interpretation affect the degree and character of awareness afforded by computer systems: awareness of people and of information artifacts. Our discussion ranges from system design to theoretical concepts, and we focus on consistencies across this spectrum. We begin by briefly describing a prototype collaborative filtering system, Recer. This system tracks ongoing activity in the web browsers and text editors of a group of people, and offers recommendations of URLs and local program files that are specific to and adaptive with that activity, and that reflect patterns of earlier activity within the community of use. We then take a more general look at collaborative filtering, and compare it with two other approaches to engendering awareness of useful artifacts: information retrieval and software patterns. We discuss how each implicitly or explicitly involves collaboration, formalisation and subjectivity in its core representations. We then explore the artifact-centred approach to awareness that Recer represents, and relate it to the activity-centred approach more familiar within CSCW. We use this comparison in discussing, in more theoretical terms, how representation and formalisation affects awareness, interpretation and use. Our intention is to explore and understand the choices that designers have for the core representations of information systems, and the consequences for awareness that follow for users. We wish to relate such practical design issues to the more theoretical discussion in CSCW around concepts such as common information spaces, the space-place distinction, and the status of formal constructs.
Keywords: awareness, collaborative filtering, formalisation, hermeneutics, information retrieval, interpretation, path systems, representation, semiology, software patterns, space and place
A Descriptive Framework of Workspace Awareness for Real-Time Groupware BIBAK 411-446
  Carl Gutwin; Saul Greenberg
Supporting awareness of others is an idea that holds promise for improving the usability of real-time distributed groupware. However, there is little principled information available about awareness that can be used by groupware designers. In this article, we develop a descriptive theory of awareness for the purpose of aiding groupware design, focusing on one kind of group awareness called workspace awareness. We focus on how small groups perform generation and execution tasks in medium-sized shared workspaces -- tasks where group members frequently shift between individual and shared activities during the work session. We have built a three-part framework that examines the concept of workspace awareness and that helps designers understand the concept for purposes of designing awareness support in groupware. The framework sets out elements of knowledge that make up workspace awareness, perceptual mechanisms used to maintain awareness, and the ways that people use workspace awareness in collaboration. The framework also organizes previous research on awareness and extends it to provide designers with a vocabulary and a set of ground rules for analysing work situations, for comparing awareness devices, and for explaining evaluation results. The basic structure of the theory can be used to describe other kinds of awareness that are important to the usability of groupware.
Keywords: awareness, groupware design, groupware usability, real-time distributed groupware, situation awareness, shared workspaces, workspace awareness
Supporting Public Availability and Accessibility with Elvin: Experiences and Reflections BIBAK 447-474
  Geraldine Fitzpatrick; Simon Kaplan; Tim Mansfield; David Arnold; Bill Segall
We provide a retrospective account of how a generic event notification service called Elvin and a suite of simple client applications: CoffeeBiff, Tickertape and Tickerchat, came to be used within our organisation to support awareness and interaction. After overviewing Elvin and its clients, we outline various experiences from data collated across two studies where Elvin and its clients have been used to augment the workaday world to support interaction, to make digital actions visible, to make physical actions available beyond the location of action, and to support content and socially based information filtering. We suggest there are both functional and technical reasons for why Elvin works for enabling awareness and interaction. Functionally, it provides a way to produce, gather and redistribute information from everyday activities (via Elvin) and to give that information a perceptible form (via the various clients) that can be publicly available and accessible as a resource for awareness. The integration of lightweight chat facilities with these information sources enables awareness to easily flow into interaction, starting to re-connect bodies to actions, and starting to approximate the easy flow of interaction that happens when we are co-located. Technically, the conceptual simplicity of the Elvin notification, the wide availability of its APIs, and the generic functionality of its clients, especially Tickertape, have made the use of the service appealing to developers and users for a wide range of uses.
Keywords: awareness, chat tools, Elvin, event notification service, tickertape
Provocative Awareness BIBAK 475-493
  Bill Gaver
Recently a number of systems have been designed that connect remote lovers, or strangers in an urban setting. The forms these systems take and the functions they serve may be unfamiliar, but they can be seen as extensions of awareness technologies to new domains. Awareness technologies have often been specialised to give information for particular work activities or relationships. Given that relationships in the home or in local communities tend to be different from those of the workplace, it is appropriate that both the form and content of information conveyed to increase awareness should be different as well. The systems described here, for instance, explore new sensory and interaction possibilities, use ambiguity to increase engagement, and address a wider range of emotional relationships than do most workplace awareness systems. They point to ways of extending notions of peripheral awareness to new domains on the one hand, and possibilities for new forms of workplace awareness on the other.
Keywords: awareness, design, emotions, everyday life
Integrating Awareness in Cooperative Applications through the Reaction-Diffusion Metaphor BIBAK 495-530
  Carla Simone; Stefania Bandini
The paper discusses the notion of awareness from the point of view of the design of a supportive technology. This perspective requires a deeper understanding of the ways and means people adopt to deal with awareness information as well as considering the integration of awareness tools with tools supporting other forms of coordination. First, we suggest to consider two types of awareness: by-product awareness that is generated in the course of the activities people must do in order to accomplish their cooperative tasks; and add-on awareness that is the outcome of an additional activity, which is a neat cost for the cooperating actors in relation to what they must do and is discretional in that it depends on actors' evaluation of the contingent situation. Secondly, we propose a reaction-diffusion metaphor to describe the awareness phenomenology and to take into account the two above-mentioned types of awareness integration. The model of awareness derived from the metaphor makes visible and accessible by different types of users a set of elemental primitives whose flexible composition allows them to construct the awareness mechanisms they dynamically need. These primitives are incorporated in a software module that can be used in combination with coordinative applications for sake of promoting awareness information. The main architecture of the module is presented together with its interoperability with the target application; moreover, a simple example illustrates how the incorporated primitives can be used to build awareness mechanisms.
Keywords: awareness modelm, cooperation, CSCW architecture, metaphors