Cognition in the Wild – Halfway PhD Seminar by Rebecca Andreasson

Rebecca Andreasson from the Department of Information Technology, Uppsala University, held her halfway seminar this week. She did an excellent presentation and many from the HTO group were there and listened to the presentation and discussion with Professor Henrik Artman from KTH. Rebecca started off her presentation with a description of what her papers included in her thesis have in common. The questions that she is addressing in her work are:

  • How do humans accomplish daily work activities in complex work environments?
    • How do we use tools and artefacts in practice?
    • How do we coordinate internal (memory, attention etc.) and external structures (tools, computers etc.) to accomplish a task?
  • How can workers be supported in their execution of tasks? 

Rebecca’s work is based on the theoretical framework of Distributed Cognition (DCog), introduced by Ed Hutchins, which emphasizes that thinking/cognition does not take place in isolation, but is the result of the interactions between the human, and his/her social, physical and cultural environment. All elements of the cognitive system are considered equally important.

Rebecca identifies four of her (numerous) publications as the foundation for her continuing work towards a PhD. :

  1. A study on interruption handling at an assembly line in a manufacturing company:
    Andreasson, R., Lindblom, J., & Thorvald, P. (2017). Interruptions in the wild: Portraying the handling of interruptions in manufacturing from a distributed cognition lens. Cognition, Technology & Work, 19(1), 85-108.
  2. A study on collaboration and tool use in dock assembly:
    Andreasson, R., Lindblom, J., & Thorvald, P. (2017). Tool use and collaborative work of dock assembly in practice. Special Issue in Production and Manufacturing Research, 5(1), 164-190.
  3. A study on the need for a system perspective in railway HF:
    Andreasson, R., Jansson, A. A., & Lindblom, J. (accepted for publication). Past and future challenges for railway research and the role of a systems perspective. To be published in Proceedings of the 20th Congress of the International Ergonomics Association. August 26-30, Florence, Italy.
  4. A study on coordinating activities in operational railway traffic:
    Andreasson, R., Jansson, A. A., & Lindblom, J. (under review). The coordination between train traffic controllers and train drivers: a distributed cognition perspective on railway. Cognition, Technology & Work.

Rebecca’s overall aim, in her own words, is to: enhance the understanding of the distributed work practices of cognitive cooperative work and to explore the interaction between human beings, tools, and technology in complex work settings where the theoretical framework of DCog has previously not been applied in depth.

Her contribution to the field, thus far, is the ethnographically founded descriptions of real work practices in real work situations and the application of DCog to new domains of complex work. This includes creating new concepts as well as complementing on existing concepts. She introduces DCog to the theoretical “toolbox” of Human Factors and Ergonomics (HF&E) research.

Her ideas for the future are:

  • To investigate how the results of a DCog analysis could be used to (re)design a socio-technical system through workshops and/or vision seminars with examples from real situations (based on the DCog analysis made).
  • To provide a structured “how-to” method for DCog users through analysis of comparison of current DCog methods (e.g. by analysing the same empirical material with the use of multiple DCog methods) and iteratively developing and validating a new (or modified) method. A final validation could potentially be done with students or practitioners in a HF&E domain.

With this account of her research and progress so far, Rebecca finished her presentation and the seminar continued with a critical discussion by invited guest Henrik Artman from KTH. Overall, Henrik was quite impressed and opened the discussion by relating that in his experience Rebecca is already way ahead of the halfway mark for her PhD. He then guided the discussion into the details of the foundation Rebecca has laid and suggestions on  how to strengthen it in Rebecca’s final sprint towards her PhD.

With such an impressive start, we certainly look forward to seeing what Rebecca will have achieved and contributed with to the field when it is time for her dissertation a few years from now!

A Seminar (in Swedish) on the Implementation of IT in Healthcare

Back in December I was invited to give a seminar in Swedish at the EPJ department of Region Uppsala, the department in charge of many of the health-related IT systems used at the hospitals and primary care facilities in the region. My seminar was on the the current state of research in relation to how to implement IT in healthcare. Out of all the perspectives one can use to approach this area of challenges for healthcare, I devoted most of the seminar to presenting barriers and enablers to change management projects as well as IT development projects, and discussing these with the participants. The seminar was recorded and is now available on YouTube, if you find the topic interesting (and are comfortable with the Swedish language).

The HTO group, and more generally the HCI group at the Department of Information Technology, Uppsala University, have an ongoing collaboration with the EPJ department at the region, and there will be more seminars on a variety of topics given by us during the spring.

Upcoming PhD thesis on IT-related Change Processes in Organisations

Yesterday, I handed my thesis manuscript over to the Uppsala University Library for the final prepress processing and subsequent printing of the thesis. After five and a half years of work, culminating in a quite intense spring and summer, this step marks the beginning of the very end of my PhD studies.

The thesis is titled ‘Inertia in Sociotechnical Systems: On IT-related Change Processes in Organisations’, and can be conveniently summarised using its abstract:

The introduction of new information technology (IT) in an organisation is one way of changing the conditions for how tasks and work processes can be designed and performed, as well as how people in the organisation interact with each other. Today, many Swedish workers rely completely on IT to be able to perform their jobs, while experiencing a combination of continuous and intermittent IT-related changes that affect this ability.

The introduction of new or updated IT systems in an organisation is an example of what is referred to as an IT-related change process in this thesis. Because IT has become such an integral part of modern organisations, many change processes in organisations are simultaneously enabled and constrained by the IT systems involved in a change process. In this thesis, I introduce the concept of inertia in sociotechnical systems to analyse IT-related change processes in organisations, and how achieving the goals of these processes is complicated by organisational, social, and physical aspects in addition to technology.

The context of this thesis is the Swedish public sector domains of health-care and higher education, and the result of research studies and experiences from four action research projects in these settings. The contribution of this thesis adds to the contributions of the included papers through the definition of inertia in sociotechnical systems and its subsequent application. The thesis shows that the concept of inertia in sociotechnical systems can be used to understand IT-related change processes as changes to the characteristics of a sociotechnical system, and, in the context of organisations, how these processes affect and are affected by an organisation’s characteristics. This is illustrated in the thesis through the application of the concept on examples of IT-related change processes from the included papers and research projects. In addition, the thesis shows that the use of vision seminar methods can benefit Swedish organisations, since new IT is often introduced without clearly defined, expressed, understood, and accepted goals.

The defense of the thesis (the Swedish custom of public final examination of a PhD student) will be held on Friday September 15th at 13.15, in room 2446 at the Polacksbacken campus of Uppsala University.

The comprehensive summary of this thesis-by-publication style thesis will be published online three weeks prior to the defense.

The HTO research group: Our Mission

Our research group study the relationships and dynamics of Health, Technology, and Organisation (HTO) with the goal of creating knowledge that support sustainable development and utilization of ICT. Areas of interest include eHealth and the proliferation of such services. The concept of a digital work environment and its application to promote healthy work. Methods and techniques to support the deployment of a redesigned organisation of work including new ICT. The compatibility of user centred design and usability work with Agile methodologies and novel software development practices.  Inclusive design and design for all, as well as gender and ICT. We subscribe to an Action Research approach to study design and strive for swift and wide dissemination of our research through an array of outlets ranging from high impact journals and conferences to open platforms and social media applications.