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Concerns at work: Designing useful procedures

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Publication details

JournalHuman-Computer interaction
DatePublished - 1998
Issue number4
Number of pages25
Pages (from-to)433-457
Original languageEnglish


The conceptual basis for designing procedures is confused by the problematics of characterizing a relation between procedures and work practices. As they emerge from scientific management theory, procedures connote a means of rationalizing and controlling work. However, interpretations of the use of procedures reveal differences in emphasis on the work required to relate procedures to practice, from comprehending to evaluating appropriateness or reasonableness. These evaluations point to a moral character in this work, which we characterize in terms of workers' concerns. Moreover, as conceptual differences in emphasis such as these can prove intractable, we argue that a more productive approach to resolving the problematics would be to evaluate the usefulness of a sensitivity to concerns in designing procedures.

Three brief case studies of the use of procedures in safety-critical settings point to workers making judgments when relating procedures to their practice, including judgments of the value of the procedures they were using. These cases also demonstrated the complexity of concerns that were multiple and interacting and that had spatial and temporal characteristics. A review of approaches to work that inform HCI design suggests that activity-based approaches, which contextualize goals and actions in terms of both origins and personal investment, provide the minimum meaningful context required to accommodate concerns.

Finally, we present an analysis of the implementation of medical guidelines in Britain that exemplifies the transformation in thinking required to design practically useful procedures: from models of work that emphasize control to those that emphasize commitment, and from conceptualizations of procedures as rationalizing and controlling to conceptualizations of procedures as educational. This analysis features the sensitivity to concerns in this particular case and draws some suggestive lines from what this case reveals about concerns to the kind of contributions a sensitivity to concerns would make to a contextual design process.

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