It’s been almost seven years ago that i defended my PhD that is a collection of eight papers related to the establishment of User Centred Design (UCD) in organisations when developing IT for work. You find the thesis in the university system Diva.
The fundamental idea on which the thesis work is is based is that future work situations, usability of systems, and users’ needs, must be considered when developing computer systems for work, in a manner which involves the entire organisation. Usability needs to be a part of, for example, the organisational culture, strategy documents, budgets, and methods for procurement. During my PhD work I participated in large action research (see blog posts about this) projects in eight different organisations.
It took me eight calendar years to finish my PhD education (!), but four years of full-time work since I got three of my children during this period. We have paid parental leave in Sweden, and I was off for a bit more than a year for each kid. My supervisor Jan Gulliksen was very engaged, and the best supervisor I could get. Towards the end of the process I was a single mother of three boys, and with the support of my parents and collegues I managed to wrap things up. This was not easy, as you can imagine. But somehow this very stressful life situation made the thesis writing the fun part of life! I honesly also think that the text became better since I just wrote down things I have learned without any aim of it being perfect or complete.
The thesis has three research questions:
- What happens when UCSD is introduced in a public authority?
I was also interested in the values and perspectives of people involved in the organisation as well as how UCSD can be introduced through new methods that affect the values and perspectives of the stakeholders including the system developers in the organisation. Therefore, this thesis also aims at understanding the following questions:
- How do perspectives of stakeholders in systems development projects affect the work with UCSD, usability and users’ health in the organisations studied?
The final question addresses the issues of how we can address the introduction of UCSD and change perspectives:
- What new methods can be used to introduce UCSD and to influence perspectives?
Many answers to the questions in the thesis are still valid today, and it is indeed very difficult to establish a human centred perspective and UCD in organisations. One can wonder why this is the case? Some of my findings presented in the thesis are presented as the problems with establishing UCD when developing computer systems for work:
|Organisational problem||Description of problem|
|Focus on surveillance and control||· Detailed supervision of work and work performance through computer system.
· Some saw surveillance as contributing to productivity
· Some expressed that surveillance implied mistrust from management level
|Administrative work was regarded as trivial||· It-professionals claim that they have a good picture of case handling and core business.
· Administrative staff believe that their work is much more complex than is generally understood
|Development of IT systems based on technology and process descriptions||· Abstract models of work as flow diagrams guide the development of new computer systems.
· This has lead to some inflexible computer systems that shape work
· Situated nature of work (Suchman, 1987) not taken into account
|IT-department and users – two separate worlds||· Alienation between groups and little understanding of the needs of the other group|
|Usability in systems development||· Little or no usability activities in system development.
· Few usability goals in the requirements specification
· Usability activities often limited to test
· Usability perceived as a vague and unclear concept
I also explore some (at the time of the thesis) new methods to work with the establishment of UCD:
- System developers doing field studies to see the context in which the computer systems they build is used.
- Usability coaching
- Usability Index
- Management’s perspectives on usability
- Collaborative policy writing
I hope that some of you who work with usability take the time to skim parts of the thesis!