The research problem explored in this thesis is how technology and work practice are related in coordinative situations (collocated and over distance). Further, the problem of how this kind of research results can be transformed and used in the development of new technology is discussed.
Air Traffic Control and Emergency Call Centers are the two domains where the complex process of coordination in a time and safety critical setting has been studied. The methodological approach taken in the field studies is ethnographic, a qualitative method with a descriptive outcome. Air traffic controllers focus on keeping the airspace organized so that the aircraft are separated at all times, as well as are given an economic route by e.g. slowing down so that they do not have to wait in the air for traffic ahead. In order to manage the control of the national airspace, it is divided into geographical sectors each of which is controlled by 1-2 controllers. The aircraft cross many sectors during one flight and each time they cross a sector border there is a handover of responsibility between the controllers. The controllers have a large number of tools that they orchestrate in order to maintain control and keep records of the orders given to the pilots. The situation in one sector has therefore been locally stored at their work position. It is shown in the thesis how the social interaction and the technology support are ordered to broadcast the locally stored information.
Emergency call centers at SOS Alarm are in contrast to the ATC centers fully computerized. The operators use CoordCom, a system that is currently in the process of being renewed. When a telephone call to the emergency number 112 is received in one of the 20 local centers in Sweden, a receiving operator initiates the case by interviewing the caller in order to categorize the incident. Often, an incident consists of a number of conditions that together make an emergency. It is shown that accountability of decisions and local knowledge of the center’s responsibility area are two important parts of coordination at SOS Alarm.
A question that has been of interest during the studies is what possibilities ethnographic observations provide when used as a starting point in a design project. The final study provided a description of how the ethnographic material from the emergency call center study was explored and transformed in order to create concrete functionality and design.
The thesis contributes with examples from the workplace studies of how people interact with each other through the technology and how skills, local knowledge and professional concerns shape the interaction. It also contributes with reflections on how descriptions and experiences of work practice and technology use in the field can serve as a foundation in shaping and designing new ideas and new functionality for future systems.
The papers included in this thesis shows results on four issues in relation to coordination and technology:
-Coordinative work practice and implications in using video/audio in a distributed setting
-Support for accountability in decision-making in a distributed setting
-The role of local knowledge and combined expertise in a local collocated center
-The transformation of ethnographic observations in the design process
The thesis also shows the importance of a further definition of the dichotomy of collocated and distributed work in order to inform technology. An analysis of the dichotomy based on the field study results is presented in the thesis.
Stockholm: KTH , 2005. , 83 p.