Activity-Centered Design:

An Ecological Approach to Designing Smart Tools and Usable Systems

Activity-Centered Design の基本に関する共創・創発の場

Acting with Technology

Bonnie Nardi, victor Kaptelinin, and Kirsten Foot, editors

1. Tracing Genres through Organizations: A Sociocultural Approach to Information Design

Clay Spinuzzi, 2003

2. Activity-Centered Design: An Ecological Approach to Designing Smart Tools and Usable Systems

Geri Gay and Helene Hembrooke, 2004


Activity-Centered Design

An Ecological Approach to Designing Smart Tools

and usable Systems

Geri Gay and Helene Hembrooke

The MIT Press

Cambridge, Massachusetts


This book is dedicated to R. V. T., whose visionary thinking, generosity of support and encouragement, and youthful curiosity have enabled us to think big, take chances,and continue to do what we do best.



Series Foreword

Preface: Mediating Interactions


Introduction: Making the Case for Context-Based Design

1. Activity Theory and Context-Based Design

2. Understanding Perspectives: Social Construction of Technology

3. Creating a Sense of Place: Designing for online Learning Conversations

4. Blurring Boundaries: A Study of Ubiquitous Computing

5. Designing for Context-Aware Computing

6. Configural Analysis of Spaces and Places




Series Foreword

The MIT Press Acting with Technology series is concerned with the study of meaningful human activity as it is mediated by tools and technologies.

The goal of the series is to publish the best new books ― both research monographs and textbooks ― that contribute to an understanding of technology as a crucial facet of human activity enacted in rich social and Physical contexts.

The focus of the series is on too1-mediated processes of working, playing, and learning in and across a wide variety of social settings.

The series explores developments in postcognitivist theory and practice from the fields of sociology, communication, education, and organizational studies, as well as from science and technology studies, human-computer interaction and computer-supported collaborative work. It aims to encompass theoretical frameworks including cultura1-historical activity theory, actor network theory, distributed cognition, and those developed through ethnomethodological and grounded theory approaches.

This book makes the case for activity-centered design, employing activity theory as a base but also venturing into theoretical traditions such as configural analysis to localize the critique and design of particular technologies.

The analyses of technologies such as wireless devices and software

for museum and campus tours are rooted in activity theory, but each extends beyond the broad framework of activity theory to specialized theories dealing with, for example, educationa1 practice or the use of physical space ― exactly the way activity theory must be used in practice.

Activity-centered design is an exemplary application of activity theory, showing its use across a broad range of technologies the authors analyze and design.

The authors are specialists in computer-mediated communication, and they apply this lens expertly to their analyses. They provide a cogent critique of wireless technology in the classroom, based on detailed empirical findings.

Through careful analysis of logs and interviews, the authors

discovered serious problems of fragmented attention and the dissolution purposes of the technology. The authors draw together the threads of computer-mediated communication (CMC)analysis with activity theory in this analysis, observing that there is a “need for researchers to look at tools in relation to one another ― that is, to the relationship between face-to-face communication and mediated communication spaces and to the relationship among the different applications that are available through wireless communication tools.”

The authors expand notions of evaluation, observing that “evaluation activities are embedded in complex technosystems and cannot be isolated from the system under study.” They note that simple metrics, such as the number of hits on a Web site, may reveal little and that activity-centered analysis is necessary to achieve deeper understanding. The authors critique standard notions of user-centered design, urging us to adopt a framework

in which we consider the multiplicity of groups and individuals engaged in the use of technology. Most important, the authors provide candid critiques of their own technological designs, following their users in detail over time and getting to the bottom of their user experiences. This is something we can all learn from the HCI and CSCW communities.

This book returns many gifts to the reader. It shows how to apply activity theory fruitfully, offers new tools and perspectives for evaluation, and sets a standard for frank assessment of the tools that we design as they are used in everyday activity. The editors warmly recommend this book to you and welcome it to the Acting with Technology series.


Preface: Mediating Interactions

My first experience with using technology as a mediation tool occurred in l980. I was working on my master's degree at the time and had decided to use the new technology of portable video as an intervention tool to help resolve a community conflict in eastern Maine. I had grown up in this coastal region, so I knew it well.

Beginning in 1979, a number of Maine citizens had begun protesting the spraying of blueberry barrens by blueberry growers and the spraying of hardwood trees by pulp and paper companies. By the summer of 1980, the positions held by the protesters and the businesspeople (blueberry growers, processing factories,and pulp and paper industry) were polarized. The protesters felt that business interests controlled the major media outlets,which therefore did not publicize any positions that were against spraying,and also that state officials and regulatory agencies were not addressing their concerns about the dangers of pesticides. The long dispute had escalated to the point where the protesters were threatening to shoot down spray planes and helicopters and to use other means to stop chemicals from coming into the region. These threats led the two sides to a court battle in the summer of 1980.

Protesters were especially upset about a crop duster that had flown on a windy morning and sprayed 245T (a component of Agent Orange), which drifted onto gardens, onto trees, and into a river where 20 percent of Atlantic salmon spawned. In July, state officials flew to this community to reassure residents that the spray would not harm them, their food, or theirwater supply but these reassurances proved to be less than persuasive when an elderly woman offered the state officials a tomato from her garden、and no one would eat it.

As an earnest graduate student who was exploring the effects of using video as a mediation tool in this community conflict, I met separately with state officials, some of the leaders of the protest groups, and representatives of the businesses and explained the proposed plan. I would teach the protesters and businesspeople to videotape messages that I would then show to the other participants. I assured protesters, factory owners, and growers that they would control the messages and that nothing would be shown without their permission. Finally, I told them that I was attempting to remain neutral because I needed to gain the trust and participation of both sides to encourage communication and dialogue.

Looking back on this experience, I am amazed that two such polarized groups agreed to participate in the video mediation process. The portability of the video tool meant that I was able to talk with people in their own familiar environments, and the medium allowed them to control the messages. 0n some level, both parties felt that they had control of the process.

After the first few rounds of making and viewing tapes with these groups, I wondered whether the process was actually making the situation worse. Each side seemed to want only to express and reinforce its own point of view. The growers and owners did not want to change their practices, which continued to frustrate the protesters.

After six weeks, I realized that I was becoming an unofficial expert on the controversy. People on both sides starting asking me for information that I had gathered from the articles, papers, and other documents that I was collecting for my research. I was the only source for various government and unofficial publications about the relevant herbicides and pesticides and the standard regulations for their use. Although I struggled to remain neutral about the situation, my research indicated that some of the

practices that I observed were questionable. 0ne morning, for example, I saw a plane empty unused chemicals onto the edge of the airstrip that bordered a river, thus potentially polluting the river and the ecosystem that it supported.

A major turning point in the controversy occurred when after one court Session, the wife of a major blueberry grower asked whether the growers' wives could join their husbands at the next viewing of the protesters' tapes.

At that viewing session, the wives asked their husbands whether any of the protesters' concerns were valid: Did the husbands not care about the health of their children and grandchildren? Were any of the organic methods for controlling weeds and pests viable? Shouldn't they look into it? The permanency of the video recordings allowed new audiences to bring new or fresh perspectives to the same dialogue.

Through the easily used and accessible technology of the video mediation Process, each side on the pesticide controversy could present its position fully, develop multilevel understandings of the other side's concerns, and come up with constructive solutions. Eventually, representatives from both sides of this highly charged issue were able to meet face to face.

Using technology tools to enhance communication and to develop

shared understandings has been a sustained interest of mine for over twenty years. Even as media technologies have changed greatly, the underlying issues of access, participation, creativity, and control regarding communication technologies have remained remarkably the same. And as my colleagues, my graduate students, and I research the uses and designs of technologies, we continue to be intrigued by the fundamental challenges and possibilities of context-based design of mediated environments.

Geri Gay

Ithaca, New York



This book represents the combined efforts of many researchers and designers who have worked in the Human-Computer Interaction Group at Cornell University from 1990 to the present. In addition, a number of agencies,foundations, and individuals funded the interdisciplinary research, evaluation,and design studies described in this volume, including IBM, IBM-Japan, Intel, the National Science Foundation, the AT&T Foundation, and the Mellon Foundation. In particular, we would like to acknowledge the following individuals for their contributions: Tammy Bennington, Kirsten Boehner, Jenna Burrell, Hichang Cho, Nicholas Farina, Laura Granka, Michae1Grace-Martin,Julian Kilker, Kiyo Kubo, Jae-shin Lee, Tara Panella,Wendy Martin, Joan Mazur, Robert Rieger, Amanda Sturgill, David Sturgill,

Michael Stdanone, and Jeff Yuen.

We also thank Kirsten Boehner, Jeffrey Hancock, Deborah Trumbull, And Joseph Walther for reviewing the manuscript and making many helpful suggestions for its improvement. A special thank-you goes to Nathaniel Stem for creating the “wire guys” that appear on the cover.


Introduction: Making the Case for Context-Based Design

This book documents our efforts toward articulating what we consider to be a significant shift in human-computer interaction (HCI) design. We are convinced that the shift from user-centered design to context-based design corresponds with recent developments in Pervasive, ubiquitous computing networks and in the appliances that connect with them, which are radically

changing our relationships with personal computing devices. Additionally,this shift signals a “coming of age" of theoretical frameworks such as activity theory (Kapetelinin, 1996; Leont'ev, 1978; Nardi, 1996a, 1996b; Vygotsky, 1962; Wertsch, 1991) and social construction of technology theory(Pinch&Bijker, 1987), which attend to the sociohistorical contexts of technology use and human activity

One shift that we have observed is from a focus on human-computer interaction to a focus on human interaction that is mediated by technology in context (Nardi, 1996a, 1996b). We use the concepts of activity theory and related theories and methods to help ground and illuminate ongoing interactions among the uses of computer systems, the practice of design, and the evaluation of designs. With this coming of age, we believe that it may be time to develop models that specifically support both research and development and to support empirical, contextual investigations of

human-computer interactions in the ubiquitous computing environments enabled by these networks.

In this volume, we report on the research that we have completed on the use of technologies in everyday contexts and over time. We implement new methods for understanding users' behaviors and motivations as they interact with technology in context, and we then apply these findings to the design of new technologies. We develop the following main points in this


User centered to user involver Where once we focused on what

we thought users should do, we now begin the design process with

an understanding of what people already do. Users need to be involved at the grassroot level of the design process, and designers and researchers need to attend to the situations in which tools will be used.

Laboratory to context Within this particular theoretical ecology, the emphasis on understanding specific needs and behaviors of individuals has evolved to an emphasis on understanding the activities and the meaning of those activities in social and networked contexts.

Technology that is introduced into an organization or environment

changes that situation. Likewise, technologies and organizations are in the process of ongoing change. Designers need to understand these dynamic processes within their particular environment or context.

Rigid to emergent design practices Step-by-step design procedures usually do not work in complex, messy situations of use. To design robust, suitable, and workable systems, the design process needs to be flexible, adaptive, and rooted in real experience.

Individual to groups Performing virtually any task in a work environment is fundamentally social and involves cooperation and

communication with others.

Bounded activities to cross-boundary tasks Many tasks that use

computers cut across time and space dimensions. Students who use

computers in classrooms can also communicate with friends, trade

stocks, and shop online. More people are working at home and

managing personal affairs at work. The portability of wireless computers and other digital devices also allows for flexibility and accessibility across temporal and spatial boundaries.

As we articulate various aspects of context-based design, we discuss how various projects, research studies, and design challenges were parts of an evolving system of ideas about users, designers, design tasks, and user tools. Some of our discussion of context-based design is historical, but the key objective here is to provide contemporary insights into the vitality of our design approach and research studies. In essence, we have been socially

constructing, annotating, and reflecting on our own practice in an iterative, “technologically textured" (Ihde, 1991, p.1)way.

In chapter 1, Activity Theory and Context-Based Design, we examine specific ways that the activity-theory framework can inform the design and use of technology. The core ideas of activity theory have been described in many other places (Engestrom, Miettinen, & Punamaki, 1999; Kuutti, 1996; Leont'ev, 1978; Nardi, 1996a, 1996b; Werstsch, 1991). In our work on human-computer interaction, we attempt to explicate the workings of

communicative tools, spaces, and practices and thereby raise numerous questions regarding the activity of design. How do tools mediate activities?

Do different kinds of tools mediate differently? How do we make visible and represent multiple, simultaneously occurring processes? As in any mediated sociocultural context, the relationship between the activity and the tool is a reciprocal one. In chapter 1, we begin to explore how activities shape the requirements of particular tools and how the application of the

tool begins to reshape dimensions of activity throughout an iterative design process.

In chapter 2, Understanding Perspectives: Social Construction of Technology, we investigate the conceptions, power relationships, motives, goals, and structures within the context of integrating wireless mobile devices into museums. Using a concept-mapping tool, we found few areas of agreement among various stakeholders regarding the functions that were needed to create, use, and maintain mobile computing technologies in museums. Museum staff, designers, and patrons constructed the idea of using mobile computers in partially overlapping and partially conflicting

ways that reflected their different backgrounds. Throughout the needs-assessment and pilot phases, roles were reassigned, rules were changed, and structures were reinterpreted. Finally, using the social construction of technology (SCOT) framework, we found that stakeholders held distinct needs and goals that needed to be acknowledged during the design process so that groups could reach closure or consensus.

Despite the many studies and technological innovations for supporting mediated conversations researchers have a very imperfect understanding of what works and what does not work in online environments. We do know that people have difficulty using virtual reality and other complex systems(Erickson, Halverson, Kellogg, Laff, & Wolf,2002). The design of collaborative virtual environments (CVEs)is known to affect the ways that we communicate and employ social conventions. The Presence of others online, the way that objects are organized, and other design factors afford certain ways of responding to others in virtual spaces. In chapter 3, Creating a Sense of Place: Designing for Online Learning Conversations, we describe ways of incorporating social cues or structures that are useful in supporting learning conversations online.

The two-year study described in chapter 4, Blurring Boundaries: A Study of Ubiquitous Computing, was designed to elicit feedback regarding the usefulness, usability, and desirability of mobile computing devices for students' activities. Mobile computers can potentially transform the activities of learning, researching, and communicating. Understanding computer-mediated activities via an activity-theory approach further requires an understanding

of a socia1-historical context ― that is, how activities and

mediating devices emerge from particular cultures and practices, from particularities of the situated actions, including peoples' needs and goals, and from the activity itself (Lave&Wenger, 1991; Nardi, 1996a, 1996b; Nardi & O'Day, 1999).

In chapter 5, Designing for Context-Aware Computing, we describe the

iterative design of wireless communication networks and context-aware

computing systems. Context-aware computing is a field of study that researchers

have just begun to explore. 0nly a few concrete applications have

been built and tested. The idea behind context-aware computing is that the

users' environment ― including where they are, who they are with, and

what they are doing ― can inform the computing device. This added

knowledge changes the interactions between user and device. Because individuals

associate places with events and activities, the information and

tasks presented to the user can be filtered for their location. Wireless devices

help mediate activities and create a system of distributed cognition.

Where user-centered design and analysis seem inadequate to understanding

the complexities of system use in such new social networked environments,

activity theory begins to shed some light.

In the final chapter, Configural Analysis of Spaces and Places, we present

our ideas on how computer spaces, real and virtual, might be analyzed

to gain fresh new insights into ubiquitous computing behavior. In earlier

chapters, we focus on the tools, the activities they invoke, and the context

in which these activities take place. In this chapter, the focus instead is on

what the actual spatial map or layout of the computing space might look

like and how the layout might be analyzed to predict movement, function,

and social interactions within that space. We borrow heavily from architecture's

configuration theory and its techniques for extracting and visualizing

these recurrent patterns based on the relation of spaces within larger

spaces. We outline the theory identify the indices that quantify space, and

explore how some of our own datasets might be analyzed using what Bill

Hillier(1996)and others refer to as nondiscursive analysis.


1. Activity Theory and Context-Based Design

1.1 Introduction

A significant evolutionary shift has occurred in human-computer interaction(HCI)

design. Prior to this shift, computer software designers tended

toward a computer-centered design approach that at best assumed and at

worst ignored the needs and preferences of end users. This approach prioritized

the attributes of the technology itself and often resulted in design

solutions that were in search of problems. Its limitations gave rise to a

human-centered design in which users articulated their needs and developers

observed or listened to users and then addressed various needs in

their designs. Unlike the technology push of computer-centered design,

human-centered design emphasizes human needs and objectives and the

technology that serves these purposes.

Another shift has begun now ― to a context-based design where the use,

design,and evaluation of technology are socially co-constructed and mediated

by human communication and interaction. Context-based design

builds on human-centered design by positioning the interactions between

users and mediating tools within the motives, community, rules, history,

and culture of those users. In addition, context-based design calls for designers

and evaluators to reflect on the elements of their own context and

on the way that this space interacts with the space of technology use.

This book uses activity theory as an orienting framework for context-

based design. In our work on human-computer interaction, we attempt to

explicate the workings of communicative tools, spaces, and practices and

thereby raise numerous questions regarding the activity of design. How do

tools mediate activities? Do different kinds of tools mediate differently?

How do we make visible and represent multiple, simultaneously occurring

processes? As in any mediated sociocultural context, the relationship between

the activity and the tool is a reciprocal one. Activities shape the requirements

of particular tools, and the application of the tool begins to

reshape dimensions of activity. We use the concepts of activity theory and

related theories to help ground and illuminate this ongoing interaction between

the uses of computer systems, the practice of design, and the evaluation

of designs produced.

1.2 Activity Theory: An Overview

Activity theory draws inspiration from the work of the Russian semiotician

and psychologist Lev Semenovich vygotsky (1962), who argued

against artificial separations between mind and behavior and between

mind and society. Contrary to the dominant mentalist tradition of his time,

vygotsky posited the unity of perception, speech, and action. In addition,

he emphasized the centrality of mediating devices, such as language and

other symbols or tools, in the development of mind and thought. The emphasis

on meaning through action, the connection between the individual

and the social, and the role of mediating tools provide the kernel around

which activity theory has developed.

Building on these principles, Alexei N. Leont'ev (1981) created a formal

structure for operationalizing the activity system as a complex, multilayered

unit of analysis (figure l.1).His model is less a representation of

reality than a heuristic aid for identifying and exploring the multiple

contextual factors that shape or mediate any goal-directed, tool-mediated

human activity.

Figure 1.1 Engestrom’s analysis of activity and mediating relationships

(Subject, Object, Community, Instruments, Rules, Division of labor)

As indicated by Engestrom's (1999a) mode1, an activity system consists

of people, artifacts, an object or motive, sociocultural rules, and roles

(Kaptelinin, Nardi, & Macaulav, 1999). Kari Kuutti (1996,P.27) has

characterized activity as “a form of doing directed to an object.” For these

authors an activity is the highest-level objective where the motivations behind

the activity and the ultimate objectives or desired outcomes are the

same. Within this activity system, multiple actions are performed to reach

the overall objective. Each action is driven by a conscious intentional goa1.

Finally, operations represent unconscious, often routine actions carried

out automatically in the service of other goa1-oriented actions. Therefore,

the composition of an activity system consists of the activity (the system

itself), actions, and operations. Breaking down the system of activity into

component parts is useful for identification purposes; however, the system

is not reducible to isolated actions or isolated relationships between subjects and tools.

A simple example of the hierarchical structure of activity systems is the

activity of “Mark is driving to Aunt Sally's house.” The motivation and

outcome are for Mark to end up at Aunt Sally's. To realize this outcome, a

number of actions might take place: calling Aunt Sally to see when she's

available for a visit, checking the weather, printing out driving directions,

filling up the car with gas, and so on. 0n the drive itself, a number of unconscious

operations are performed, such as applying the brakes at red

lights and using directional signals before changing lanes or making turns.

Collectively the motives and actions add up to the final destination. The hierarchy

of actions and the identification of the different components of an

activity system provide helpful guideposts for articulating and examining

the complexity of context. The multilayered nature of activity theory identifies

the actions involved in an activity and assesses how these actions re1ate to each other.

1.3 Activity Theory and HCI

The explanatory potential of activity theory lies in the attention that it

gives to multiple dimensions of human engagement with the world and in

the framework that it provides for configuring those dimensions and processes

into a coherent “activity.” Critical to understanding these processes

of engagement for use in the field of HCI is the mediating role that is played

by cultural artifacts or tools and their transformative power. The researchers

working at the Human-Computer Interaction Group at Cornell

University have focused primarily on mediating devices for communication

And learning (figure 1.2). 0ur research questions have explored how

these devices affect outcomes (such as what kind, if any, of communication

or learning occurs), process(how does communication or learning occur?

what facilitates or inhibits the engagement? who is involved and not involved?),

and motivation (how do our notions of communication or learning

change? what are our expectations of communication or learning?).

Fundamental to the activity theory approach is that humans develop and

learn when, in collaboration with others, people act on their immediate


Figure 1.2 Application of Engestrom's activity analysis to communication and learning

(Subject, Object, Community, Communication/learning tool, Rules, Division of labor)

Activity theory shares much in common with anthropological, ethnomethodological,

and other sociocultural approaches, such as Trevor

Pinch and Wiebe Bijker's “The Socia1 Construction of Facts and Artifacts:

Or How the Sociology of Science and the Sociology of Technology Might

Benefit Each other” (1987) and Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger's “Legitimate

Peripheral Participation in Communities of Practice” (1991). In our

work at the HCI Group, we have been drawn to these theories for their

common focus on dynamic change, tool mediation, and social construction

of meaning. For a more thorough treatment of activity theory history,

its recent developments, and its relationship to other sociocultural theories,

we refer the reader to a number of excellent sources (e.g., Engestrom,

1999a, 1999b, 1999c; Kaptelinin, 1996; Kuutti, 1996; Nardi, 1996a,

1996b). Here we elaborate only on the principles of activity theory that are

recurring themes in later chapters ― namely, the concepts of mediation, object

orientedness, and disturbance.

1.3.1 Mediation

An individual’s relationship with and orientation toward an objective is

mediated by the tools that are used to attain the objective, the community

that participates in the activity, and the division of labor that exists in that

community(Engestrom, 1999a). In the models of an activity system described

above (see figuresl.1 and l.2), bidirectional arrows indicate multiple

mediating relationships within a complex integrated system. Victor

Kaptelinin (1996) specificly addresses the mediating effects of computer

activity on consciousness, learning, and development. For him, computer

technologies have the power to enable and transform activities through the

actions, goals, and social relations of individual agents. 0ur own evaluations

of computer mediation confirm these effects, as we describe in later

chapters. We emphasize two main insights regarding mediation ― the

bidirectionality of effects (of the perceptions, motivations, culture, and

actions that shape the tool and that are shaped by the tool)and the need

for sustained longitudinal studies to reveal how these mediating relationships

develop and change over time.

1.3.2 Object Orientedness

In the activity theory model, object orientedness (Kaptelinin, 1996,

P. 107) refers to humans' engagement with objects (and objectives). Activity

theorists ascribe object status to physical, social, and cultural

phenomena including nonmaterial phenomena such as expectations and

affinities. The purpose, intent, or motivation of acting on an object or

working toward an objective is the foundation of the activity system, and

acting on an object is the orienting space of the action.

The HCI Group has identified two important subcategories within the

concept of object orientedness: (1) psychological and social objects can be

ranked at the same level of importance as physical objects, and (2) artifacts

can be transposed into object status and vice versa. An artifact or tool in

the primary activity system framework (see figure 1.1), for example,may

simultaneously be an object in another system. As a subject interacts with

a word-processing program to write a paper, the object is the completed

paper, and the artifact or tool is the software program. However, if the program

breaks down, the software becomes the object in a new activity of

troubleshooting. Likewise, the word-processing program is both a tool for

the human subject who uses it and the object of usability research for the


1.3.3 Disturbance

The relationships among the various elements in the activity-theory model

are flexible and ever-shifting. In a general account of how activities develop,

Yrjo Engestrom (1999b) makes the point that activity systems support

development and goal attainment but also produce disturbances. In

the example of the word-processing program that shifts from being a tool

to being an object, this transformation occurs at a breakdown or disturbance.

Frank Blacker, Norman Crump, and Seonaidh McDonald (2000)

identify other disturbances, such as incoherencies, tensions,and inconsistencies

among various components in the system, Engestrom (1999b) argues

that relationships within activity systems are made orderly only by the

determination that people show as they engage with the objects of their activity.

As disturbances become evident within and between activity systems,

participants may begin to address the underlying issues and change

their situations, their activities, or themselves. We have found that disturbances

can be informative in the design process as signposts for uncovering

why the disturbance materialized, why it did not exist until a given

point in time, what the effects of the disturbance might be, and how the

disturbance is resolved.

1.4 Adding to Activity Theory: An Ecological perspective

The model of activity theory that is referred to throughout this chapter

(that is, the subject, object, and tool relationship) has traditionally been

understood as a synchronic, point-in-time depiction of an activity. It does

not depict the transformational and developmental processes that provide

the focus of much recent activity theory research. In this section, we link

activity theory to an ecological perspective to examine another viewpoint

and conceptualization of the interplay between systems and the adaptive

transformation of systems across time. We are not the first to draw on ecological

perspectives for HCI work. Probably the best-known application

of this approach is Donald Norman's appropriation of James J. Gibson's

(1977,1979) ecological theory of perception. We turn to ecological theories

for two reasons. First, the focus on adaptive systems works well with

activity theory and with examining human-computer interaction in context.

Second, the ecological metaphor guides our reflection on the evolution

and adaptation of our theories and practice of design. Like their

biological counterparts, ecologies of ideas (such as activity theory and

our application of this theory and related ideas) evolve within complex

systems that are novel, are interrelated, and seek to sustain the delicate

and necessary balance between the need for stability and the need for


In Urie Bronfenbrenner's formulation (1979) of an ecological systems

theory of human development, development is a joint function of person

and environment. By carefully examining the person within various processes

and contexts and asking challenging questions about the nature

of the interaction, researchers can increase the explanatory power of their

results. Bronfenbrenner's theory posits an ecology of nested environments

or systems ― micro, meso,exo,and macro(figure l.3).

Figure 1.3 Urie Bronfenbrenner’s model of an ecological systems theory of human development

Microsystems,according to Brofenbrenner, consist of a “pattern of activity,

roles,and interpersonal relations experienced by the person in a

given setting with particular physical and material features and containing

other persons with distinctive characteristics of personality and systems of

belief” (Bronfenbrenner, 1989, p.226). Mesosystems “comprise the linkages

and process taking place between two or more settings containing the

person” (for example, relations between home and school and between

school and work)(Bronfenbrenner, 1989, P.227). Exosystems “encompass

the linkage and processes taking place between two or more settings,

at least one of which does not ordinarily contain the person, but in which

events occur that influence processes within the immediate setting that

does not contain the developing person” (for example, for the child, the relation

between home and the parent's workplace)(Bronfenbrenner, 1989,

P.227). Macrosystems “consist of the overarching pattern of micro-,

meso-, and exosystems characteristic of a given culture, subculture, or

other broader social context with particular reference to the developmentally

instigative belief systems, resources, life styles, and opportunity structures

and patterns of social interchange that are embedded in each of these

systems” (Bronfenbrenner, 1989, P.228). In other words, the macrosystem

is the social blueprint for particular cultures, subcultures, or other

broader social contexts.

In sum, the micro level of function refers to the individual (plant,animal,

and so on) environment and its functions, the meso level refers to

interactions of micro environments, the exo levels an outer level that

operates indirectly on the environment, and the macro level is the outermost

level that defines the global contexts and functions of the system (Engestrom,

1999c). Within this ecological mode1, the issues most relevant for

HCI revolve around looking for interaction and interdependence among

the levels and the primacy of time and space.

1.4.1 Interaction and Interdependence

Systems do not exist in a vacuum but rather are situated in a broader context

of networks of interacting systems. Design questions and practices

revolve around the interactions and interdependence of these nested environments.

These interactions and their interrelatedness constitute the

complexities of design.

Component systems within ecological systems are characterized by progressive,

mutual accommodation and extinction throughout the life of the

system; these interactions are dynamic processes in and of themselves. As

is also true with the principle of disturbance in activity systems, ecological

systems are not always harmonious and functioning but have constant tensions,

discontinuities, and breakdowns that are necessary for survival and

adaptability. The tensions and breakdowns can be used as points of reference

for understanding and describing design activity, for example.

Mutual accommodations among system elements shape the relationship

among these components, which is interdependent. Changes in any part of

a system or among contextual levels have the potential to affect any or a11

of the other related systems. The developments, tensions, and interrelationships

in these systems should be studied in the context of these accommodation

processes. As the ecological approach and the process,

person, and context model are explored, we describe and account for the

transformative power of seemingly ubiquitous artifacts such as language

and pervasive computing devices. When an activity system is analyzed at

one particular level or context, its relations with activities at other contextual

levels (educational systems government, state and local processes)

should also be taken into account. This approach reflects what Andrew

Pettigrew(1990, p.269) calls the “importance of embeddedness or studying

change in the context of interconnected levels of analysis.”

1.4.2 Primacy of Time and Space

In addition to the physical network of activity systems, their temporal interconnectedness

needs to be examined (Pettigrew, 1990). Activities develop through time,

stimulated by the tensions that develop within and

between them at various levels (Leont'ev, 1978). “Processes observed at

different contextual levels of analysis are often observed to have their own

pace and rate” (Boer, van Ballen, & Kumar, 2002, p. 92). Activities from

the past are alive in the present and also help shape the future. An activity

system is not static, and the developments and changes within the system

need to be described and analyzed by locating changes in the past, present,

and future (Boer et al., 2002). The dynamic nature of ecological systems

hinges on their situatedness in time and space (figure 1.4). Thus, parameters

of time and space are the initial critical contexts to which designers

need to attend.

Figure l.4 Temporal interconnections and “situatedness” of an activity (adapted from Boer,van Baalen,& Kumer, 2002)

(Macro level Large social contexts, Meso level Collective activities, Micro level Independent activities)

1.5 Integration of Activity Theory and Ecological Principles

Integrating activity theory with ecologica1 principles involves understanding

an outcome (such as a specific technology or user need) at a particular

point in time in the context of interacting systems (micro, meso,exo,and

macro). The primacy of time and space is particularly crucial because all

systems evolve over time and understanding occurs in both historical and

contemporary contexts. Activities are “multilevel, multidimensional, dynamic,

collective, context-sensitive, and mediated by cultural artifacts"

(Boer et a1, 2002, p.8).

The interaction between actors in an activity system is mediated by the

object of activity, by language and tools, by a division of labor, by conventions,

and by social rules. Participants are involved in a social process as

they attempt to accomplish some goal or objective and as they use diverse

combinations of signs and tools to create meaning. An activity system can

be decomposed into a network of several detailed activity systems ― the

original setting and increasingly broader contexts (Boer et al., 2002). For

example, when analyzing how distributed work teams collaborate on a

design project, researchers would look at the history of the work teams

and also zoom out to the organizational settings, social settings, and larger

social contexts and levels in which these distributed teams operate. The

activity system is not only “affected by activity systems at other contextual

levels but also exerts influence on them itself. In fact, an activity system can

be conceived as a system of distributed cognition” (Boer et al., 2002, p.6).

The iterative design cycle that is shown in figure 1.5 illustrates the cyclic

process of change that is anticipated by activity theory. First, researchers

and designers must examine current practices and activities. Needs are

identified through scenario-based design techniques, interviews, and observations.

Next, tensions, controversies, and conflicts within and between

activity systems are identified. Then a period of search and questioning begins

as new models and metaphors are considered and new solutions and

designs are developed. After the initial series of trials and testing of designs

in actual settings, new priorities and approaches emerge, followed by periods

of reconceptualization, revision, and redesign. Ultimately, the entire

cycle is repeated until some resolution, new stability, or closure is achieved.

Increasing agreement among the groups is indicated by a narrowing of disagreements

during each iteration, with the resulting central point representing

a shared conceptualization or closure (Pinch & Bijker, 1987).

Figure 1.5 An iterative design cycle

(Requirements, Design, Implementation, Evaluation)

As people begin to address the tensions, conflicts, and breakdowns that

are features of their activity systems, they begin to create a collective force

for change and innovation (Blacker, Crump, & McDonald, 1999). These

breakdowns as well as points of change and development can be used to

study activity. The activity-theory approach emphasizes the incoherencies,

tensions, controversies, and conflicts that exist among components in the

system (Blacker et al., 1999).

Activities such as technology construction should not be perceived as

statically structured entities but rather as dynamic processes that are characterized

by ambiguity and change. Construction and renegotiation reoccur

constantly within the system. The entire iterative design process

rests on dynamic interactions between order and chaos, steady states and

breakdowns, harmony and controversy. The activity system is constantly

working through tensions within and between its components (Blacker

et al., 1999). The tensions and breakdowns that occur within activity systems

can be used as points of reference for studying the social construction

and design process (Boer et al., 2002).

Within these nested environments are systems that function dynamically

And thus enable us to examine how they change over time. Within any design

ecology, some systems are perceived as stable and thus require less attention

from the designer, while others are perceived as being in flux and

become the focus of design research or development. When a new tool is

introduced, for example, designers usually focus on user requirements for

design(at the micro level), establish these requirements, and then move on

to understand the interactions between the new tool and practices in a

larger context (meso level).

1.6 Toward Reflection in Action

Activity theory cautions us that any tool has the potential to transform the

activity in which it is used and, reciprocally, that tools have the potential

to be transformed as they are used. Responsible evaluation professionals

need to reflect on those potentials and on the ethical considerations that

are involved in assessing tool designs, user programs, and evaluation instruments

(figure 1.6). Evaluators and designers need to document and analyze

uses of technology in program settings and in evaluation activities to

understand the mediating functions of different technologies and tools ―

or, to paraphrase Bonnie Nardi and Vicki O'Day (1999), to engage

thoughtfully with technologies as they are used in various contexts.

Figure 1.6 The mediating role of evaluation in technology design

(User and stakeholders, Object, Community of practice, Tools (such as computer technology), Rules and norms, Division of labor)

(Designers and evaluators, Users’ activity system as object, Community of practice, Research and evaluation tools (such as activity theory and other evaluation tools), Rules and norms, Division of labor)

Evaluation activities are embedded in complex technosystems and cannot

be isolated from the system under study. Looking at evaluation as part

of the technology design system has transformed how evaluations themselves

are designed and conducted (see figure l.6). In the next few chapters,

we describe how we use computer technologies and their multimedia

functionalities to collect (multimedia)data, to organize and analyze that

data, and to present research findings. These tools can disclose behaviors

and social phenomena that have remained hidden and unexamined, even

unimagined, because no technologies existed to reveal them. Because new

technologies enable new ways of knowing, new ways of evaluating, and

new ways of representing and reporting knowledge, they pose methodological,

social, and ethical challenges that evaluators need to reflect on

and address. Various applications, such as Lotus Notes or concept mapping,

can facilitate collaboration among evaluators and stakeholders and

offer new ways of conducting evaluations and reflecting on the design process

through evaluation activities.

In conclusion, the main contention of this volume is that computer-

mediated activity and design need to be understood within their relevant

contexts. Activity theory is a holistic approach that can accommodate

complexity and diversity by integrating multiple levels of analysis, diverse

and multidimensional activities, and various contextual features of computer-mediated

communicative practice into a coherent model of human-

computer interaction (Nardi, 1996a, 1996b; Engestrom, Miettinen, &

Punamaki, 1999).

2. Understanding Perspectives: Social Construction of Technology

2.1 Introduction

Social interactions play a large role in the development of technology, and

they contribute to the inherent ambiguities of technology design (Abowd

& Mynatt, 2000; Bodker, 1997; Bodker & Petersen, 2000; Engestrom,

1999a; Hasan, Gould, & Hyland, 1998; Nardi, 1996a, 1996b). The social

construction of technology (SCOT) framework considers the multiple

social perspectives that surround the development of new technologies

(Pinch & Bijker, 1987). SCOT, which evolved out of studies of the sociology

of scientific knowledge and the history of technology, examines the

multiple “branches” of a technology that coexist to meet the needs of multiple

social groups (Edwards, 1995). It explores the ways that individuals,

due to their various histories and positions, construct the components and

objects of an activity system in different ways.

SCOT theorists describe the social processes that impact technological

development and identify the social groups that are responsible

for shaping technological artifacts (Bijker & Law, 1992). Fundamentally,

as Edwards (1995, p.212) notes, “technological change is a social

process: Technologies can and do have ‘social impacts,’ but they

are simultaneously social products that embody power relationships and

social goals and structures.” Like activity theory, SCOT emphasizes multiple

social perspectives, social construction, and the use of tools in specified contexts.

A social constructivist approach is ideal for examining the design and development

of a technical system (Pinch & Bijker, 1987). Using this approach,

the researcher or designer examines the conceptions that are held by the

various social groups that are involved in a technology's development and

then follows the social construction of each group's technology to examine

how the group reaches closure ― that is, how that social construction

is conceptually frozen in the view of the group and across multiple groups

(Pinch & Bijker, 1987). Rather than trying to determine whether the respective

conceptions from multiple parties are inherently true or false, the

social constructivists situate these conceptions within the context of each

group and observe how group members negotiate these conceptions.

The SCOT model encourages designers to consider the interactions,

ambiguities, and complexities of the various groups that are defining and

developing digital environments and to consider the multiple social

perspectives that surround the development of new technologies. This

holistic approach contrasts sharply with standard practices in technology

development. For example, many designers of computer hardware and

software systems tend to isolate the design process from the social and

political structure in which they are planned (Kilker & Gay, 1998).Simple

measurements of technological performance (such as number of hits on a

particular page) are inadequate when isolated from data about the social

structure within which the systems are designed or for which they are

planned. 0ne of the complex interrelationships among system elements

that designers must consider is the impact of various perspectives (Pinch

& Bijker, 1987).

A primary assumption of the SCOT approach is that activities are socially

co-constructed and mediated by human communication and interaction.

Communication and collaboration between subjects are processes

that are critical for coordinating different versions of the design and other

components of the system. In the early days of networked information,

“build it and they will come” may have been a sufficient model of user interest

and behavior. Increasingly, however, designers are proactively addressing

the particular needs and challenges of their intended users.

Ultimately, different versions of a design and various perspectives must be

resolved, resulting in consensus or conflict. Through an iterative design

process, various stakeholders will reach closure or some agreement (Pinch

& Bijker, 1987).

2.2 SCOT Concepts

The social construction of technology framework of interpretative flexibility

addresses the various notions that are held by each relevant social

group. The three main SCOT concepts are relevant social groups, interpretative

flexibility and closure. These concepts ― as well as an evaluation

of them ― are discussed below and further explored in the case study presented

later in this chapter.

2.2.1 Relevant Social Groups

Trevor Pinch and Wiebe E. Bijker (1987, p.30) define relevant social group

as a group whose members “share a set of meanings attached to a speccific

artifact.” Various relevant social groups can derive very different meanings

from a single technology. For example, some of the first SCOT searchers

examined the design of early broadcast media and found that relevant

social groups' concepts of early radio included radio telegraphy, radio telephony,

and broadcasting (Douglas, 1987). Those meanings or interpretations

of use create expectations that can lead to alterations in the design of

the artifact and to the acceptance of one version of a technology over

another. As the radio studies showed, interpretations of the meaning of the

proposed technology are shaped by the different disciplinary and organizational

cultures to which the project participants belonged.

The multiple actors in a technical development project go through a process

of enrolling each other in the enterprise and tailoring the project to

meet the different goals of the various actors (Latour, 1987). Relevant social

groups differ not only in terms of experience, technical expertise, and

goals but also in their ability to influence the final project. The goal and

challenge for SCOT theorists is to define the boundaries and relevancy of

these social groups.

2.2.2 Interpretive Flexibility

When a technology is first created, it goes through a state that SCOT theorists

call interpretive flexibility, in which the technological artifact is

“culturally constructed and interpreted” as it is being developed and even

as it is being used (Pinch & Bijker, 1987, P.40). Interpretive flexibility

describes how different groups perceive a technology and also how these

variable perspectives can affect the design and modify the technological artifact.

The end Product may be very different from the original design or

functionality. For example, one of the early conceptions of the use of the

telephone was as a radio broadcast medium.

Because design is an ongoing process of interpretation and reshaping,

developers benefit from working in tandem with end users and other

groups during the planning and production stages. This is especially true

when the product or system is without clear or defining boundaries. Pelle

Ehn (1988) and others have demonstrated that when developers and users

discuss and manipulate a prototype, each group comes to understand multiple

perceptions of an emergent technology. These scenarios or prototypes

facilitate communication and collaboration processes between groups and

help bridge the gap between user needs assessment and the actual design.

The challenge is to make these proxies or mockups easily understood by a

wide variety of stakeholders.

2.2.3 Closure

User-centered methods often adopt a circular, iterative process in which

evaluation is a critical component of a design, build, evaluate, analyze,

and redesign spiral (Butler, 1996). After several design iterations ― that is,

opportunities for developers, evaluators, and users to interact with the

technology ― the expectation is that the technology will incorporate perspectives

of each group (Gay & Bennington, 1999). Gathering information

about group expectations and needs can range from qualitative, ethnographic

efforts to quantitative methods such as surveys, interviews, and

logs. After several iterations, groups eventually share an acceptance or a

conceptualization of the technology. The technology is conceptually “frozen”

in the view of the groups or stakeholders.

2.2.4 Evaluation

user-centered design techniques emphasize users(Norman, 1998)but, at

least in theory, can neglect the many groups and individuals that are involved

in the design process. Although user-centered design overturns the

old model of “developer knows best” in favor of a new model of “user

knows best,” in fact, the most productive design exchanges take place

when users, developers, and other groups interact, develop, and maintain

a technological innovation.

User-centered methods also fail to identify future uses, needs, and problems

that users and developers might not independently envision. This is

especially important for nascent technologies, which people will inevitably

view in the relatively constrictive terms of old technologies (such

as using a digital hand-held machine to replace the old portable audiotape

guide system in a museum). Examining the gaps among the views of relevant

social groups can identify such issues and ultimately lead to more useful designs.

0ur framework for guiding the needs assessment and design of hand-

held technologies for museums (see the discussion of Handscape in the

case study below) was interpretivism. Consistent with the social construction

framework, the philosophical tenets of interpretism focus on deriving

meaning and understanding from the varied perspectives of all project participants

and relevant social groups. We identified relevant social groups

(or stakeholders) and had them state their needs, prioritize them, and critique

prototype scenarios. To illustrate this process, we describe a design

project called Handscape in the following sections.

2.3 The Handscape Study: Using Mobile Technologies to Enhance the Museum Experience

Handscape is an ongoing research project (2001-2004) that has been

funded by Inte1 Corporation and managed by the Human-Computer Interaction

Group at Cornell University and by CIMI, an international

consortium of museums, application developers, and national standards

organizations. To incorporate the perspectives of stakeholder groups into

the design of hand-held technologies for museums, we have used the social

construction of technology framework to support the needs assessment

and design process. The objective of Handscape is to investigate how technology

can affect the visitor experience before, during, and after the museum

visit. The project evaluators from the HCI Group have examined

potential scenarios for mobile computing in museums and tested and evaluated

mobile technologies in various museum environments.

2.3.1 Diverse Goals and Concepts

The SCOT approach to design requires stakeholders to be involved early

in the process. In the Handscape project, these groups have included the

project's funders, museum staff, and administrators, designers, and patrons.

Within each group are various subgroups; for example, museum

Staff includes curators, administrators, and museum educators, and design

staff includes programmers, vendors, and interface specialists. Each group

has special concerns, goals, and issues.

In our initial needs assessments, we used concept maps to help patrons,

Designers, and museum professionals understand various perspectives or

views of what should be included in a wireless mobile application. Essentially

concept mapping is a process that enables the members of a group or

organization to visually depict their ideas on some topic or area of interest.

Concept maps have been used to design and develop survey instruments,

to construct databases, to begin organizational or project planning,

and to analyze research results (Kilker & Gay, 1998; Mead & Gay, 1995).

Concept mapping is a “structured process, focused on a topic or construct

of interest, involving input from one or more participants,that produces

an interpretable pictorial view (concept map) of their ideas and concepts

and how these are interrelated” (Trochim, 1985, P.577). For example,

stakeholders can communicate their system preferences electronically via

a Web site. Users then can work in the same environment to organize their

statements in order of importance. Concept maps are generated using a

cluster-analysis technique. All participants can view the statements, list of

priorities, and visual maps and gain an understanding of various points of

view as well as stated priorities.

2.4 Web-Based Concept Mapping

In the initia1 phase of the Handscape project, approximately 115 people

participated in the statement-generation stage, and responses were collected

from thirty-five museum professionals, eighteen system designers

and vendors, and sixty-two museum patrons. Museum professionals included

science writers, directors of education and digital media, chief curators,

vice presidents, and information officers.

Because the initial stage of the process was Internet-based, participants

could complete this task from remote locations. Participants were directed

to a Web page that presented several possible scenarios involving wireless,

mobile computing applications in museums. At the Web page, they read

the examples, viewed scenario-based images as a stimulus, and then were

automatically directed to a statement-generation Web page that consisted

of a focus prompt (a statement used to guide the statement-generation process)

followed by a list of previously submitted statements. The goal was

to generate an exhaustive list of ideas about the integration of mobile technologies

into museums.

Participants in the statement-generation stage were given the opportunity

to add to the statement list freely. Statements were subsequently used

in the next two phases of the project. An important benefit of using participants'

actual statements is that the emergent conceptual framework is

entirely in the language of the participants, which is consistent with the

objectives of SCOT. In all, 110 unique statements were generated.

The next phase of the project required participants from the three stakeholder

Groups ― museum professionals, designers and vendors, and patrons ―

to complete a sorting task in which they grouped all generated

statements into conceptually similar groups and labelled each group. In

summary, participants from each group brainstormed a list of 110 statements

relating to wireless computing applications in museums and then

sorted and rated the statements. The resulting semantic similarities in

statements and their priority rankings allowed us to compare characteristics

of expectations among stakeholder groups. Together, these analyses

produced the cluster diagram presented in figure 2.1.

Figure 2.1 The first stage of the Handscape project: Statement generation (a cluster map)

The bottom and the lower left of the cluster map (see figure 2.1) contains

two related concepts ― location and administration. The location category

involves providing users with directions to a help desk, emergency exits,

and specific exhibits. It also includes the idea of museum floor plans that

show users their location and the location of the exhibits they have previously

visited. The location cluster statements focus on user end functionality

as it relates to way-finding applications. Since enough statements

relating to way finding were generated, participants grouped these ideas

together often enough to warrant a distinct group. The administration

category addresses the business end of museum operations, such as promoting

gift shop sales, monitoring the popularity of exhibits, and tracking

users’ behavior during their visits.

The content-related clusters are artist information and museum information.

Artist information encompasses historical, cultural, and chronological

information, including statements about an artist’s other works and

exhibits, the creation process of the pieces, and any restoration work completed.

Museum information includes the displays, statistics about the museum,

and an electronic exhibition catalog.

In figure 2.1, the artist information and museum information categories

are located directly across from the messaging cluster, which contains

statements focusing on the social and interactional potential of wireless

technology. People envisioned mobile devices as pushing information to

users but did not see the potential for using the devices for two-way communication

and interaction.

Finally in the crossing-boundaries duster, patrons express their desire

to extend their visitor learning experiences beyond the walls of the museum.

These statements highlight the potential for patrons to download

and bring information home with them ― through the development of automated,

seamless systems that electronically send relevant information to

visitors on completion of their visit to a museum, for example.

Figure 2.2 Stakeholder rankings of eight objectives for enhancing the museum experience with technology

(Museum Professionals, System Designers, Museum Patrons)

Figure 2.2 shows how the three stakeholders ― museum professionals,

system designers, and museum patrons ― ranked eight objectives for enhancing

the museum experience with mobile technologies. Clearly, these

groups had different priorities. A high correlation was found between the

rankings done by the designers and patrons (γ=.99), and a much lower

correlation was found between the rankings done by these groups and by

museum professionals (γ=.29). Designers and patrons were concerned

with basic features of the hand-held technologies, such as visual, auditory,

downloading, and visit-planning capabilities. These groups were also concerned

about screen size, flexibility, and usability both the patrons and

system designers felt that location- and way-finding features should be

included in a wireless application. 0n the other hand, museum staff and

administrators were most concerned with pushing the content, such as information

about artists, paintings, and the physical museum

For all stakeholders, messaging ― which would allow users to view and

provide feedback on art, make recommendations about particular exhibits,

annotate pieces, and interact with museum curators and staff ― was

consistently rated as less important than the other categories in this initial

needs assessment. Despite the view of many people that a visit to the museum

is a social experience, messaging and opportunities to interact with

the exhibits were ranked low (Gay & Stefanone, 2002).

In summary, these ranking results inform several dimensions of integrating

wireless mobile computing applications in museum contexts across

three relevant social groups. The responses of the stakeholders reveal insights

into some pressing questions concerning the ways that museum visitors

might utilize mobile computing applications. Aside from offering

museum patrons access to content that relates to museum exhibits, the

proposed technology would also offer them messaging capabilities and

way-finding applications that cross the traditional physical boundaries of


Nevertheless, in this initial needs assessment, stakeholders ranked the

messaging or social aspect of wireless technology lower in importance

than the content traditionally developed by museums, such as information

about artists, artworks, and the museum itself. Many of the museum professionals

and patrons saw mobile technologies as simply upgraded digital

audio guides and electronic information cards.

2.4.1 Perceptions after Testing Prototypes

In the second phase of the needs assessment, we asked museum professionals

who had tested mobile computing prototypes to sort the statements

generated by the three stakeholder groups in the first phase. Museum professionals

from the Field Museum in Chicago, the American Museum of

the Moving Image (AMMI) in New York, and Kew Gardens, London,

participated in the second mapping exercise (figure 2.3). Comparing this

figure with figure 2.2 reveals some interesting findings. Whereas the museum

professionals in figure 2.2 consistently rated administration (including

using hand-helds to organize and maintain collections) as their most

important objective for the technology, museum professionals who had

experience with implementing hand-held devices rated administration as

or near least important. Messaging, on the other hand, moved from the

lowest ranking to a significantly higher rating of importance after museum

professionals tested the devices with actual visitors (Gay & Stefanone, 2002).

Given the different contexts of the three museums involved in the rankings

shown in figure 2.3, a high level of variability was expected among ratings,

but many rankings are consistent across all three museums. Issues

relating to the interface of hand-held systems (including usability, flexibility,

and un cluttered screen design) ranked highest in perceived importance

among the three institutions.

Figure 2.3 Museum professional rankings of the initial stakeholders' rankings of eight

objectives for enhancing the museum experience with technology

(Field Museum (Chicago), American Museum of the Moving Image (New York), Kew Gardens (London))

Finally, at follow-up interviews with participants at the three museums,

users in these settings reported that they were interested in devices that

could promote social interactions with museum visitors and staff. For example,

several people mentioned that museums should try to include

recommender systems (organized recommendation-sharing programs),

annotation features, and ways to communicate with others. Young users

mentioned a feature that would allow visitors to meet one another and possibly

tour the museum together.

Many of the museum professionals expressed concerns that mobile technologies

that incorporate video and audio would interfere with the museum

experience ― that people would attend to their computing devices

rather than to the objects in the museum. Museum professionals also worried

about access, control, and cost issues.

2.4.2 Setting Priorities

The statement-generating concept map (see figure 2.1), the stakeholders'

rankings of objectives for the hand-held technologies (see figure 2.2), and

the museum professionals' assessments posttesting (see figure 2.3) helped

stakeholders to understand their own goals and objectives and their priorities

compared to other groups' concerns. Museum personnel and designers

realized that they needed to address some of the concerns of patrons

sooner rather than later in the project.

Several groups had markedly different concerns about hand-held technology

design and use, ranging from using hand-held technologies for

managing collections and audiences to attracting young people to museums.

One benefit of interpretive flexibility is that designers examine

stakeholders' concerns, consider the preferences of users with different

perspectives, and evaluate the extent that various stakeholders' preferences

should be incorporated into the new system. The comments made on surveys

and in concept-mapping sessions served as a catalyst for renegotiating

the museum’s goals, specifications, and solutions. Participants in this

study, for example, are beginning to focus on designing technologies for

young people and audiences who do not traditionally visit museums. Museums

are also beginning to examine the issue of integrating communication

and messaging tools into the prototypes ― something that they did not

originally cite as a priority.

our original evaluation goal for this study was to understand the features

that should be included in a single mobile computing application to

satisfy a broad range of museum interests. We have found it difficult to find

closure for any particular idea or set of ideas for museum applications.

Wireless technology standards are constantly changing, and people are becoming

accustomed to using mobile devices for a number of activities, including

phoning friends, accessing and managing schedules, accessing the

Web, and mapping geographical routes.

Because of the ubiquitous and flexible nature of these small mobile appliances,

the need to create specific museum applications suited for one or

two audiences may no longer be necessary. Designers can incorporate several

customizable designs based on the preferences expressed in the evaluation

results of relevant social groups (see chapter 5).

Finally, evaluators need to use various methods to discover discrepancies

early in the design process and communicate these discrepancies to relevant

groups. If discrepancies are not uncovered, development could continue

based on incorrect or incomplete visions of the needs of end-users

and other stakeholders (Kilker & Gay, 1998).

2.5 A Social Constructivist Approach to Design and Evaluation

As with any useful analytical approach SCOT's ultimate benefit lies in its

ability to help researchers reframe the problem under study and to help designers

understand the goals of important stakeholders (Kilker & Gsay, 1998).

This approach emphasizes the importance of social interactions in

the design of technology, uses an interpretive framework to understand inconsistent

results, resists premature closure of the design process, considers

the ways that relevant social groups are mediated and their differing

levels of influence on technology, and approaches iterative design and evaluation

as a socially constructed and negotiable process.

We found that our primary function as evaluators was to promote communication

among the relevant social groups participating in the design

process and to help those groups understand the differing needs of all the

stakeholders in the process. Evaluators can serve as closure mechanisms by

acting as intermediaries between the users and other relevant groups involved

in design. As demonstrated by the Handscape needs analysis, the

shortcomings of traditional evaluation models can be overcome by adopting

a group-centered design for collecting, analyzing, and reporting evaluation data.

The relevancy of a social group to a technology is not static but can

change over the course of a project. For example, the influence of museum

patrons on hand-held technology design can increase as systems are installed

and tested, as evidenced in the museum case study presented in this

chapter. Groups can also render themselves more (or less) relevant by participating

in (or opting out of) the design process. Stakeholders' beliefs

about design, interactivity, and the museum experience itself have shaped

both the design process and final product.

The technology reflects what the relevant stakeholders (museum professionals,

system designers, and museum patrons) believe is useful, appropriate,

and, in fact, possible, and the design process is one of constant

negotiation among group members with different backgrounds, strengths,

and goals. While museum patrons might prefer to see more user participation

in the design of software for mobile technology devices, museum

professionals might be reluctant to involve others in decisions about how

the museum presents itself. Programmers and designers might see technical

challenges and opportunities but neglect to take into account complex

political and economic issues.

A challenge with implementing a framework that employs a social construction

of technology framework is to define the boundaries and roles

of different social groups. To be relevant, a SCOT framework must balance

the needs of the various groups that are involved in design and evaluation

and their various notions of the actual and desirable levels of

influence that each group holds. During any evaluation process, evaluators

should examine why certain groups are more or less influential and what

consequences these influences have over the course of a project. Evaluators

can help interpret the demands of different groups, help each group understand

the perspective of other groups, depoliticize technology development,

and help groups reach consensus or closure(Kilker & Gay, 1998).

2.6 Conclusion

An interpretivist approach, such as the SCOT framework that is advanced

in this chapter, takes a contextually based perspective that values the

multiple understandings, intentions, involvement, and perspectives of all

project participants. This approach orients interpretivist inquiry within a

meaningful framework that facilitates the evaluation processes, illuminates

tacit assumptions and contextual issues, and enhances the trustworthiness

and credibility of the findings by grounding them in users’ understandings.

Design is situated in a network of influencing social systems, and building

any technological system is a socially constructed and negotiable

process. By using an interpretive flexibility framework, developers

can understand stakeholders’ various goals and apparent inconsistencies.

When using the SCOT model, researchers are required to highlight differing

perceptions of a technology, gather differing assessments of the technology's

performance, determine the features that should be incorporated,

and decide the way that the features should operate in any given context.

The goals of the various groups involved in the production of a technology

can be very different, and therefore their interpretations of the project tend

to differ as well.

In conclusion, the design of any technical system requires careful consideration

of the interactions among the various groups that are working

to define and develop the system. To design an effective system that meets

the needs of various users, consistent and simultaneous attention must be

paid to a variety of social, organizational, administrative, and technical

concerns (Kilker & Gay, 1998; Levy & Marshall, 1995). The SCOT framework

offers an important approach to this potentially daunting challenge.

edited by ©M-SAKU Networks 2008