The Locales Framework: Understanding and Designing for CooperativeWork

Fitzpatrick, Geraldine Ann (1998). The Locales Framework: Understanding and Designing for CooperativeWork PhD Thesis, School of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering, University of Queensland.

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Author Fitzpatrick, Geraldine Ann
Thesis Title The Locales Framework: Understanding and Designing for CooperativeWork
School, Centre or Institute School of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering
Institution University of Queensland
Publication date 1998
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Professor Simon Kaplan
Abstract/Summary The key challenge for the Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW) community is how best to understand work for the purposes of design, and how best to design systems for the purposes of work. The lack of pervasive use of CSCW technologies despite widespread growth of networked computers, and over twelve years of CSCW research, indicates that we are yet to answer the challenge effectively. We suggest that a significant part of what makes building cooperative work support so hard is that CSCW design is a ‘wicked problem’, where there are no definitive solutions, and better solutions can only come about through an ongoing dialogue between understanding and designing activities. Thus far, the dialogue has been hampered by an absence of a set of shared abstractions among the stakeholders (designers, sociologists, users, etc.). Traditional computer science backgrounds do not equip designers to deal with the complexity and unpredictability of the social realm. Traditional social science backgrounds do not equip their proponents to translate descriptions of social life to the needs of technological design. This thesis takes up the challenge of continuing the dialogue between understanding and designing by evolving a new abstraction that can facilitate better communication between the two. Against a background of general CSCW experiences with understanding and designing, we report on our first hand experiences of the difficulties in designing and constructing a spatially-based system called wOrlds, and at the same time trying to understand the nature of work for a group of systems engineers for whom the system was to be deployed. This leads us to critique spatial metaphors in general as a basis for design activities and to search for a more appropriate abstraction that can serve both understanding and designing. For this we draw on our own and the general CSCW experiences, and on sociologist Strauss’ theory of action. The main contribution of this thesis is to present the Locales Framework and its five aspects of locale foundations, civic structures, individual view, interaction trajectory, and mutuality, as a principled approach that allows for construction of shared abstractions among stakeholders. The Locales Framework is based on a metaphor of place, with ‘locale’ as its primary unit of analysis. ‘Locale’ can function as a shared abstraction because it is constituted in the relationship between the interactional needs of a social world (group of people with shared purpose) and the ‘sites and means’ it uses to meet those needs. Hence, locale only makes sense when we understand both the social and the technical. We argue that the Locales Framework can be used in a two phase approach, to understand social worlds and their locales as they exist now, and to design new or enhanced locales to better facilitate social world interactions. We show the use of the framework by applying it to understand the work of a group of distributed researchers, and for requirements analysis and design of a telehealth system connecting three Intensive Care Units. We also discuss a prototype CSCWenvironment called Orbit in which we interpret the implications of the Locales Framework aspects for generic toolkit environments. Finally, we reflect on the usability and usefulness of the framework, and lay out an agenda for future work for its evolution in the ongoing dialogue between understanding the nature of work and designing systems to support that work.

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