Systemic, multidisciplinary, rigorous and innovative, research with impact. This is what we strive to achieve and deliver, across a number of research streams at the AIMTech research centre.
Our research streams:
- Information behaviour: Seeking, use and practices
- Evaluation of information systems
- Design of information systems and services
- Development of Activity Theory in information systems
Information behaviour consists of the totality of activities and operations that people perform in order to discover, gain access to and use information.
The AIMTech research centre has a particular interest and expertise in how technology changes information behaviour.
We focus on the effective management and delivery of information to the person who needs it. Our main concern is not the technology in itself, but the effects the technology has on availability, use, and meaning of the information it delivers.
Information systems (IS) research has shown that understanding the value that information technologies (IT) bring to organisations is not straightforward. Reasons for this include the fact that investment in technology often occurs along with considerable organisational change processes.
Systems can take significant time to develop as well as to implement and involve a variety of stakeholders with various agendas. Expected benefits are often not always clear at the outset of a system implementation. While some benefits may easily be measured enabling the cause-effect relationship attributed to new systems to be identified, there are many benefits that are indirect and intangible and that do not lend themselves to easy evaluation.
Evaluation plays an important role in ensuring that the benefits are realised from the investment in mobile technologies and information systems.
Historically evaluation of technology implementation relies on limited sets of data or quantitative metrics. This can lead to situations where implementations are declared successful yet organisations end up with systems that are underutilised.
We approach evaluation through systemic lenses. This means understanding both the institutional and societal contexts within which the technology is introduced as well as developing suitable ways to evaluate the implementation process or impact of the technology.
Organisations worldwide are placing an emphasis on the development of services which are flexible in both the means of access and the manner of delivery. High levels of adoption of digital mobile technologies make information systems key to the widening of access to information and the improvement of services. Increasingly these systems also provide decision support and guidance to users.
AIMTech employs naturalistic observation techniques, activity theoretic modelling and its understanding of organisations towards the design of such systems and services. Examples of our work include:
- The design of mobile decision support services to assist immediate action in the Fire and Rescue service and the police
- Mobile learning services to provide emergency workers with the opportunity to access educational content at their workplaces
Although developed as a psychological theory in the Soviet Union from the 1930s onwards, Activity Theory is now used extensively in the West in fields such as:
- Human-computer interaction
- Information systems development
- Work studies
Activity Theory offers several advantages to the development and evaluation of information systems:
- Firstly, it draws attention to the cultural and historical dimensions of development and to the ways in which different parts of an organisation may affect the implementation and use of systems.
- Secondly, it sees information carrying devices not as ends in themselves, but as tools to aid the performance of a particular activity or practice.
- Both of these factors ensure that information systems are placed in the context of their use and that, in evaluating outcomes, the views of everyone concerned in an implementation are understood.
- Thirdly, an activity theoretic approach does not separate information systems from activity. The use of technology in support of practice means that practices are changed and, as a result of feedback from particular applications in context, the technological systems themselves are also changed.
- Fourthly, information systems bring about changes in practice that are assimilated by users and, as a result, the practice itself may be further modified as the users seek to adapt their practice in the light of newly discovered potentials of the technology.
The holistic view of information systems that results from the contextualization of technology applications brings to light contradictions, disturbances and tensions in the entire activity system, which, if dealt with effectively, can significantly improve the processes of system design, development and implementation.
Through our Developing Activity Theory in Information Systems (DATIS) workshops we aim to build a community of scholars interested in exploring the relationship between technology and activity in different social contexts.