Tag Archives: Action Research

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.

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.



Action Research 3: Advantages

So what are the advantages of working with action research? Well, action research can be a good choice if you are interested in research questions that are related to change and you want to understand change without being a fly on the wall but be a part of the change process. Kurt Levin is said to the the father of action research, and he said:

“If you want truly to understand something, try to change it.”

I also think that action research on for example the launch of medical records online in Sweden (through the Dome consortium) is more ethical than taking the “fly on the wall” approach where you observe what happens without affecting it. During the first years of the Dome project when we had funding from Vinnova we were very actively engaged in the development and launch of the system, trying to launch research studies that would make us better understand the effects of the system. One such example was the launch of a study on cancer patients and how they reacted to the system since this was a pressing issue for health care professionals. We hence tried to be more agile than most researcher are and adapt our studies to the needs of the project.

For me one advantage with action research is that I am motivated by trying to make a difference, and to make things better. One example of this is the Ladok project, or the KiA project that we had with Uppsala University. In these research projects we work closely together with skilled practitioners trying to figure out how to launch ICT in organisations with a focus on creating a good work environment where people can work efficiently and make use of their competence through a new ICT system.

I have also been the practitioner working with researchers regarding gender equality in academia. Here I have very much experienced the advantages, and I have had the opportunity to work closely with gender equality specialists who support and scaffold our attempts to create a better work environment for all with a gender perspective. Nina Almgren has acted as my personal coach when it comes to working with gender equality, and through her I have learned extremely much.

Action Research 1 – What is it?

I have worked with action research in different projects since 2002, and I have also worked in more traditional research projects. I thought that I would write a short series of blog posts describing perspectives on action research. This first blog post aims at describing what action research is and some of my experiences. The blog posts are aimed at those who would like to know a bit about action research, and who don’t know that much. Or who are just curious of what we do in our action research projects. 🙂

Action research is a kind of research where the researcher works closely together with practitioners trying to understand and improve a situation or organisation in some specific way. The researcher is not “a fly on the wall” who observes things, but takes part in the change process to a large or small extent. Action research projects can indeed vary quite a lot and the term is more an umbrella concept for a whole family of approaches.

The name action research reveals that it is both about action (change) and about research (knowledge). Action research is hence closely connected to researching change, and change processes and at the same time trying to understand them and create new or improved understandings.

There are also a large number of action research dimensions, and projects can be very strong in some of these dimensions and not so strong in others. These dimensions can be related to the level of participation, the level of change as well as the size of the project.

Also the role of the researcher can vary quite a lot throughout the action research project, which makes the work in action research projects very demanding and you need to be a competent professional.

I have experiences from action research projects in the following areas. I will describe some of the different projects more in detail in later blog posts. 

  1. Implementing ICT in organisations, in for example the launch of the New Ladok system in Sweden.
  2. Gender equality in academia through the FESTA project. Here I was a practitioner working closely together with Nina Almgren who is an experienced gender expert and researcher.
  3. Education and improvement of learning environments for the development of professional competencies.
  4. Establishment of user centred methods and perspectives in organisations (the area of my PhD) in many different public organisations.
  5. The launch of medical records online for patients in Sweden in the DOME consortium since 2012.