Category Archives: Action research

Workshop on Education in a New IT system

I attended a workshop about education in the new economy system this week.  It was a very well organised workshop with representatives from all stakeholder groups involved in the education of the system. The discussion was facilitated by a workshop leader, and we discussed who would get education and and what the education should contain.

The workshop started with a presentation by me and Annika Björklund from the local Ladok project. I presented some general ideas from a study I did on economical staff and IT a few years ago, and Annika presented the ideas they are working with in relation to the Ladok project.

Annika has asked users what they want from education, and they said what is found in this slide:

  • Local support. How do we solve that?
  • Screen sharing with the support people
  • Courses that go deep into topics
  • Workshops where it’s possible to discuss your day to day problems with an expert.

workshop Ekonomi .png

I am very much looking forward to following this project. One part of the project will be rolled out in October, and the rest later on next spring.

Collaborative Project with the Department of Finances

My research group, the  HTO group have just worked out a contract for a participatory research project with the finance department at Uppsala University.

In this project we will collaborate with the department of finances and do action reserach related to the following areas:

  • Usability mentoring about working in different roles with the aspect of digital work environments in mind.
  • Vision seminars about the future work with economy with a special focus on communication, development of competencies and deploymen of IT.
  • Education and the introduction of new IT systems.

We will be recruiting people to this project – so look out for the ad.We are looking for reserachers who have a PhD in areas related to digital work environments, and who are looking for a post doc position in a dynamic and growing reserach group.


DOME conference on Medical Records Online in Skövde

We had a great Dome conference in Skövde about our research on medical records online. There were 12 reserachers present during this conference from a large number of universities. The first day there were some presentations of new and upcoming studies of the effects of patients reading their medical records online.

Erebouni Arakelian who has a PhD in medicine joined a Dome meeting for the first time and presented the plan for a study on the patient group that she is working with, and that she has done studies on before. She will do 30 interviews during the coming years, and has already gotten ethical approval for her study.

Bridget Kane who does reserch in HCI and in Computer Supported Collaborative Work also joined the meeting for the first time and she did a presentation of her previous studies and what she has done in her work. She has covered a very interesting, and large area related to eHealth.

It was interesting to hear about the plans for the upcoming studies, and to discuss what areas we should look more into based on previous findings. Here are some of the upcoming  studies:

  • Interview study with cancer patients by Ereboni Arakelian as a follow up to the national survey sent out in the fall of 2016 and the interviews made around 2013.
  • Interview and survey study with health care professionals at the Oncology department about the effects on the work environment. Jonas Moll it in charge of this study and bloggs about this study here if you want to know more. (this study is a part of the Disa project)
  • Interviews with patients in primary care about their use of medical records online (as a part of Maria Hägglund and Isabella Scandurra’s project Pacess)

There were some new members of the consortium present at the conference, and some old members have moved on to other research areas. I am however really glad to see that we have created an open and well functioning community where newcomers are very welcome.

Hello World! – Experiencing Usability Methods without Usability Expertise

During my PhD studies we did a very interesting study on how system developers understand and experience usability methods. The paper was written by Elina Eriksson, Jan Gulliksen and me and it gives some answers to interesting questions. 

This paper was one of the hardest papers to publish, mostly due to the use of several methods for data collection which is a bit non-traditional. However, after a few submissions and re-submissions it ended up being a paper well worth reading. You find the paper here:

The paper’s abstract: 

How do you do usability work when no usability expertise is available? What happens in an organization when system developers, with no previous HCI knowledge, after a 3-day course, start applying usability methods, and particularly field studies?

In order to answer these questions qualitative data were gathered through participatory observations, a feed back survey, field study documentation and interviews from 47 system developers from a public authority.

Our results suggest that field studies enhance the developer’s understanding of the user perspective, and provide a more holistic overview of the use situation, but that some developers were unable to interpret their observations and see solutions to the users’ problems. The field study method was very much appreciated and has now become standard operating procedure within the organization.

However, although field studies may be useful, it does not replace the need for usability pro fessionals, as their knowledge is essential for more complex observations, analysis and for keeping the focus on usability.

Collaboration with the Department of EMR in Region Uppsala

We have had a very good collaboration with the department of EMR in the Region Uppsala since a few years. We call this collaboration the Dive (Digital work enVIronment and Ehealth) project, and we are a group of 3-4 reserachers who participate.  This collaboration has been in the form of an action research project where researchers from our department worked togehter with people from the EMR department in designing a new IT system for surgical planning. We have also collaborated in doing some evaluations of usability aspects that has been used in the deployment of the system. We will also do follow up evaluations of usability. Now we have moved on to looking into decision support systems, and my collegues do vision seminars and will work on a design.

The department of EMR also collaborate with us around the IT in Society class  that has resulted in a report, a presentation and also visibiliy at Vitalis 2017.

The Disa project is also supported by the department of EMR, and we collaborate around this project too. This project includes around 10 reserachers who will look into the effects of digitaliczation in health care and the project will result in concepts and a eWorkenvironment framework possible to use when implementing IT in health care. The department of EMR has an excellent and very active representative on the advisory board of the project who has helped us a lot in understanding the organisation.

In these kinds of collaborations it is crucial to find a win-win situation, where both the reserachers and the organisations feels that they get energy and effect from the collaboration. In our case the collaboration in the  Dive project has given us much insight in eHealth development and in the complexities of working with IT in health care, which is crucial to be able to work in that area. And I know that the department of EMR are very pleased with the input regarding design that we have given hem. The Disa project has just started, and hopwfully that will result in a win-win too.

We are extremely happy about this colllaboration, and strongly recommend other reserach groups to try the same approach to collaboration!

My PhD thesis: Usability – Who Cares?

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:

  1. 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:

  1. 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:

  1. 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:

Some organisational problems found in the study presented in papers Sandblad et al (2003) and Cajander (2007).

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!




PhD Dissertation by Thomas Lind – Save the Dates!

Excellent Thomas Lind will defend his PhD thesis in 2017. Thomas is one of the members of the HTO research group, and I am his main supervisor. Marta Larusdottir and Bengt Sandblad are co-supervisors.

Thomas has a background in socio-technical systems engineering, and his PhD is related to the deployment of ICT from a sociotechnical perspective.

Thomas Lind has started to wrap things up, and the preliminary title is:

A Sociotechnical Perspective on the Deployment of Information and Communications Technology

The thesis will be about deployment of ICT in organisations and it is based on his work in three different research projects:

  1. The Ivan project which was a collaboration with the county council in Uppsala where he worked together with Rebecca Janols and Bengt Sandblad.
  2. The DOME consortium where Thomas did studies on the design and deployment process used when implementing the system medical records online for patients.
  3. The SESSION project.  The New Ladok is probably the most important information system for higher education in Sweden. The system is currently being designed and gradually rolled out in parallel and will have a significant impact on the work practices of Swedish universities. Bengt Sandblad, Åsa Cajander, Thomas Lind and Gerolf Nauwerck are working in this project that started in 2012.

Preliminary dates for Thomas Lind’s Defence:

  • Final seminar: 24th of February 2017 in the afternoon (13-15). José Abdelnour Nocera is invited to discuss the first version of the thesis with Thomas.
  • Preliminary date for the PhD defence: 2nd of June 2017.

Planning meeting at the NordForsk Centre of Excellence, NordWit

We have just spent two days planning the NordForsk Centre for Excellence. It was indeed a dynamic group of people discussing and very quickly deciding about contract details. Unlike most events I go to his one was women only. A refreshing difference 🙂

The name of the centre will be NordWit, and it will run for five years starting in March. Gabrielle Griffin is the Pi of the centre, and she will lead the work.  The focus of the centre is careers of women om research and knowledge intense areas, and the work is organised in four pillars. The centre will partly work with action research.

I will coordinate work in the eHealth pillar, and I will start my work with doing an interview study with the people who implemented Medical Records online in Sweden.

There will be a kick off event this fall, and more information will come around this. I will let you know for sure 🙂 .

Action Research 5: How to set up an Action Research Project

Action research projects can vary along many different dimensions, and the set up of such projects need to be carefully thought through. Here are some of the things I think about when setting up a new action research project.

  1. Be very explicit about what will be done by you, and what the difference is between an action researcher and a consultant. You can for example not be the project leader of their project, since that will not support them in their change.
  2. Make sure that the people you collaborate with understand what action research is, and have a discussion about what kind of knowledge will be gained through the collaboration.
  3. Be open about what publications you will write based on the work.
  4. Invite people in the organisation to write publications with you. Doing research with people is really worth the effort!
  5. Organisations and structures cannot be changed by you in person. The change process needs to be driven by people inside the organisation.
  6. Be willing to do things that are a part of the change process, and spend time on doing them well. But do not be the driver of change, and leave that role to the people in the organisation.

Good luck with your action research work 🙂

Action Research 4: Four Disadvantages

Action research as a methodology is not good in all situations, and there are a few disadvantages with the approach as I see it.

  1. Few know what it is, especially in areas such as medicine. This can cause som confusion, and you have to explain the foundations of the approach. Often this is met with some scepticism, though, and people wonder about the objectivity of your research when you are doing research together with people in a project instead of on people in a project.
  2. Too close to consulting. Another disadvantage that I have run into is that sometimes being an action researcher is a bit too close to the consulting business.
  3. Difficulties planning the research is at least an obvious disadvantage in any IT related research as IT project seldom follow a given time plan (or perhaps any plan :-P.
  4. Time consuming. Participating in meetings and being a part of a change process takes time, and you need to find a good balance between this and the writing and analysing of data.

Despite these “disadvantages” I really appreciate being an action researcher, and for me the interesting research questions are closely connected to trying to improve practice.

If you want to know more about action research there are many books and papers on the topic. I especially like this one: Action and Interactive Research: Beyond practice and Theory, Shaker Publishing, 2006.