Research Approach

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Field studies are common in IT research. It has to a large extent been applied

in the field of computer supported cooperative work (cf., Belotti & Bly, 1996;

Hughes, Randall, & Shapiro, 1992; Hughes, King, Rodden, & Andersen,

1994) to inform the design and implementation of systems that support the

sociality of work, complex actions and interactions. It has also commonly been

used in previous work within interactive systems and human computer interaction

ethnomethodologically inspired studies to guide the design of systems. To

a large extent the focus of this approach has been on work related settings (e.g.,

Belotti & Bly, 1996; Belotti & Smith, 2000), but the scope has been broadened

to also concern situations outside the workplace (e.g., O’Brien, Rodden,

Rouncefield, & Hughes, 1999).

This research has conducted three ethnographically inspired field studies to

explore three different distributed events. The distributed events studied are

relatively short and last for around three days, which makes a longer study in

the authentic setting impossible. Therefore, it is rather challenging to investigate

highly dynamic contexts during such a short span of time. However, this

research does not attempt to conduct a deeper analysis of distributed events as

such; rather our leading objective is to acquire a general understanding of how

this type of event actually takes place and the fundamental aspects of its actors

in situ, namely the spectators. This corresponds to a basic understanding of the

context and its actors to provide inspiration and pointers for design. These

aspects are constituted by spatial, temporal and social parameters that play a

significant role in shaping the context of where things take place, thus being

relevant for designing novel concepts.

Data Collection and Analysis

The two main methods that have been used for data collection are observations

conducted at each event and interviews of spectators in each study. The

underlying intention with observational data was to capture the spatial behavior

of spectators while experiencing the events, and also to see how they interacted

with existing information support. Interviews were conducted to collect spectator

opinions concerning what matters, what is considered as problematic, and

how they go about doing the things they do. These two methods served as

supplementing for each other in order to shed light on spectator practice. In

addition to field notes and interview data, we used a video camera, providing

two hours of live footage. This was used to complement the main methods in

terms of providing a general view on the different settings were people

interacted with both each other and artifacts. The observations were conducted

without the consent from the spectators. However, the crowded places where

the events took place are considered public. Therefore, we do not see any

ethical issues with the research conducted.

Around a total of 40 hours of observations in the field were recorded by taking

field notes, which later were categorized and analyzed. In the study of the

Swedish Rally, two pairs of researchers conducted the observations at different

locations, whereas in the Roskilde and Swedish Match Cup studies, one

researcher was present. The field data was broken down and categorized into

smaller units relevant for the purpose of this research, i.e., contextual requirements

put on design of novel IT support. The categories were created by

indentifying relevant topics concerning spectator activity.

Fifteen spectators were interviewed at the end of the Rally event, using openended

questions and lasting approximately 45 minutes. In the Swedish Match

Cup and the Roskilde Festival case, our goal was to interview the spectators

during the event, involving approximately the same number of people as of the

Rally. All interviewees were spectators that attended the event for its whole

duration. The interviews were transcribed and analyzed in order to capture

underlying patterns. The data was also repeatedly examined to categorize these


The combination of observational and interview data enabled us to capture a

general description of spectator behavior and the interplay within the context

itself in order to investigate the contextual requirements. The two different

concepts on context, i.e., formative context and situated action were used as

supporting mindsets to guide the analysis further. This part of the analysis is

further elaborated in the final subsection of our discussion (theoretical considerations).

Next we report on the fieldwork.

Empirical Results

This section presents the results from fieldwork. The main findings consist of

three main contextual requirements that concern the design challenges of

spectator support at distributed events:

• Technology should be a supplement to the event.

• Technology should support spectator mobility.

• Technology should provide situated content.

First, the studies suggest that event information serves as a supplement to the

event experience, the primary focus lies on the live action in situ. Secondly, the

events are divided in several parts held at different locations, requiring mobility

from the spectators. Thirdly, the spectators face many different situations

depending on where they currently are located, with whom they are with, and

the situation at hand of the event.

These three main requirements were derived from the fieldwork. The set of

requirements are put into context by using excerpts³ from each study. There is

one major study of the Swedish International Rally, and two smaller studies of

the Roskilde Festival and the Swedish Match Cup. The majority of the field

data was collected in the Rally study, which involved four researchers during

the whole event, whereas the two other studies involved one researcher. Each

event is introduced with a general description followed by elaborations on the

set of requirements.

The Swedish Rally

This is an annual event in Sweden. It is part of the World Championship, which

also includes the Safari Rally in Kenya and the Monte Carlo Rally. The threeday

event attracts close to half a million spectators every year. The Rally covers

an area of around 8,000 square miles. It is covered by the Swedish national

public radio (SR) through radio broadcasts, digital radio broadcast and the

Internet. The event takes place in vast woodland during mid-winter in Sweden.

The competitors race against the clock on narrow roads in the woods at

extreme speeds, struggling with gravel and snow to keep the vehicle on the

road. This event attracts enthusiasts that have no problems of enduring the

darkness and the cold. The event consists of several special stages and the only

way for spectators to alter their position during a stage is to walk. The

spectators wander around during the race to vary their view. Besides watching

the rally, people engage in discussions about the competition, to socialize and


Most spectators travel for hours to reach their favorite spots during the rally.

The rally consists of 17 special stages, which are held at different locations

within the area. During each stage, the spectators are scattered from the starting

point all the way to the finish line, surrounding the roadway. Race officials are

placed in a chain throughout the course equipped with whistles. When one

official picks up the colleague’s signal nearby he looks for the approaching car,

which is announced by the whistle tone. When the official gets visual contact he

blows the whistle to alert people in the vicinity including the next official in the

chain, whom repeats the same action and so on. Hearing the signals the

spectators take a few steps back, standing clear from the approaching car.

Supplement to the Event

Onsite spectators attend the Rally to experience it live in action. Coming into

close contact with the racing competitors is a thrilling experience. Event

information on the other hand becomes of secondary interest; it is a supplement

to the event experience. Access to event information, such as race times,

schedules and overall standings, enables the spectators to get an overview of

how the event evolves. It also helps them to sort out on what to direct their

attention. However, spectators engage in other activities in parallel to watching

the races, for instance social interaction with other people. The excerpt below

illustrates how event information can come into conflict with spectators’

attention and thus cause interruptions in sessions of social interaction.

Greg standing at the start of stage five: I find the radio broadcasts very

useful, it gives a strong feeling of presence and you can bring the

radio with you everywhere. However, it is often hard to hear what

they are talking about because of all the background noise from

the cars and the people around you. It is difficult to know when

important information is about to be announced when you are

focusing on something completely different, for instance talking to

a friend next to you. When it does, you are often unprepared since

it isn’t always your primary concern.

Cheering fellow spectators and loud noise from passing competitors makes the

broadcast incoherent for the spectators listening to the reports. The result is

losing important parts of information since the chance of reports being repeated

later is negligible. The portable radio follows the spectators everywhere but

they have little chance of knowing when the broadcast covers important

information. Their attention is also somewhat divided since they engage in social

interaction besides watching the race and picking up event information from the