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Title: Working notes : how computers are used for collaboration at work
Author: Brown, Barry A. T.
ISNI:       0000 0001 3485 2883
Awarding Body: University of Surrey
Current Institution: University of Surrey
Date of Award: 1998
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This research presents an ethnographic study of how technology is used to support collaboration at work. While "groupware" applications (computer programs designed to assist co-operation) are now widespread, there have been relatively few studies about how they are actually used. Addressing this, a study of the Lotus Notes groupware system is presented. Data from fieldwork shows how staff incorporated Notes into their work practice. Notes was used to manage conversations, publicly symbolise agreement, control the division of labour and provide a resource for organising company processes. These are four different ways in which Notes is used as a "device" to co-ordinate action at work. Observations of a major Notes development project shows that the "social" aspects are an important, yet neglected, dimension of software development. Developers maintain design consensus, and close off design discussions using staff or documents to act as "proxies" for the system's end users. Ethnographic data is shown playing a similar role in development, acting as a proxy. The need to maintain consensus in the development process also explains the utility of quantitative data, in maintaining consensus amongst those involved in the design process. In common with database systems, much of the utility of Notes comes from how it represents aspects of the world. It is shown that this "representation" is not a simple correspondence between reality and the records stored in Notes. The connection between the represented and representation is an achievement, done by having the representation "believably represent". This involves making a representation "reasonable", ensuring that it tallies with other representations, that it is seen to be updated, is authorless and is shown to have a standardised production. Data from the use of two Notes applications demonstrates how this is accomplished in practice, and in turn how databases formalise the world into a specific structured format. These findings are drawn together to argue that Notes was used as a platform for publicly collaborating on the "making of sense" about what was going on in the organisation. It is suggested that Notes is a technology for "Computer Supported Collaborative Sensemaking". The data collected for this thesis comes from a three month ethnography of a British Oil company, along with interviews conducted in twenty four different organisations. This data is presented as a contribution to knowledge of how technology is used in practice.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Management & business studies