Computational ethnography: tracking the flow of information
By Martin White
Ethnographic research has traditionally focused on organisational cultures and communications. A benchmark study of information cultures carried out in 1998 in the International Monetary Fund by Richard Harper in the IMF was based on ethnographic methodologies but since that time very little attention has been paid to information flows in organisations. One outcome of this lack of research is the myth that employees spend two hours a day looking for information. Over the last five years computational ethnography (primarily through using data logging software) has started to be used to explore these information flows. The presentation started with a discussion of Wilson's behaviour/seeking/searching model, considered why it is important to understand information flows, outline the development of computational ethnography and present some of the ethical issues the technique raises. Summaries of some recent research projects were given, with a particular focus on the way in which computational ethnography reveals the existence and impact of 'information workarounds', especially in the clinical sector.
The talk was delivered via Zoom and was attended by 65 participants from 24 countries.