Licentiate thesis 2006-011

Values and Perspectives Affecting IT Systems Development and Usability Work

Åsa Cajander

7 December 2006


Computer supported work is often stressful and inadequate computer systems and poor usability contribute to the problem. Still the work situation, and work environment of users are seldom considered when developing computer systems, and it is difficult to incorporate the ideas of User Centred Systems Design (UCSD) in practice. Hence, this research addresses the difficulty in integrating usability, UCSD and occupational health issues in IT systems development in order to improve the resulting work situation and well-being of users. How do basic values and perspectives of stakeholders in systems development projects affect the work with UCSD, usability and users’ health issues in the organisations studied?

This research aims at influencing systems development in practice; hence, research is carried out in real life settings with an action research approach. Data is gathered and analysed with a qualitative research approach with interview studies, meetings with stakeholders, analysis of documentation, observations and field studies. The theoretical framework adheres to situated action, participatory design, and UCSD that stresses the importance of involving users in the design process.

This research shows that several basic values and perspectives affect systems development and hinder the usability work, for example, the perspective on user representatives, the value of rationality and objectivity, and the perspective underpinning descriptions and discourse on work. Moreover, this research indicates that the strong business values of automation, efficiency and customer satisfaction shape the development of new technology, and ultimately the tasks and work practices of the civil servants. In short, the studies show that there are some contradictions in business values and the implementation of user-centred systems design, usability and health issues in systems development.

Attitudes and perspectives are not easily changed, and change comes gradually. In these organisations, we continuously discuss the integration of health issues in systems development, and by introducing and changing the models of systems development these will hopefully enable communication and change forwards of new perspectives and values. However, a focus on models alone is insufficient and therefore we need to develop a systematic approach to include reflection and new perspectives. Perhaps the reflection itself would help us see our values and perspectives and to alter them?

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