14. communication and collaboration models


Go into an office or other place where several people are working together. Try to note down in as much detail as possible what they are doing and when. Do this with different foci: focus on the direct interpersonal communications, focus on the shared objects such as a calendar or document, or focus on one worker at a time. Whilst collecting data and when ordering your notes, look for breakdowns and misunderstandings, and for implicit communication through objects. Look also at a particular task over a period of time, and note the number of interruptions as a worker performs the task, or the way a single task is contributed to by several workers.


This exercise is similar to Exercise 15.5. However, whereas the task analysis in 15.5 is quite structured, this exercise is not intended to produce the same form of precise task sequences, etc. The intention is to expose students to the vast range of social situations within a typical work environment. Recording techniques such as those described in Chapter 9 might well be used.

In particular, this exercise is a good chance to introduce the use of video or audio recording equipment if it is available. Students will soon learn how difficult it is to position a microphone so that it picks up more than one worker and so that recordings are not dominated by the sound of a typist. Similarly, they can gain first-hand experience of the problems of static camera positioning. If you are lucky, you may have access to multiple cameras and split-screen recording equipment.

Although such equipment can be useful, its lack is not a disaster. Many ethnographic studies use only a pencil and paper, with perhaps some audio recording. However, developing appropriate shorthand then becomes essential (see Suchman [334] for examples of appropriate notation).

Some forms of communication in the office can be quite subtle, perhaps 'overhearing' of conversations, or noticing when something is being written on a wall calendar. Developing an observant eye for such subtleties is largely a matter of practice.

Other exercises in this chapter

ex.14.1 (ans), ex.14.2 (ans), ex.14.3 (tut), ex.14.4 (tut)

all exercises for this chapter