New Circumstances

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The diaries are used to memorise and communicate events and actions,

initiating follow-up errands from previous house calls, or just informing the

others about certain events that it can be useful to have knowledge about. If we

go back, tracing the developmental process of diary uses in Alfa, a number of

interesting landmarks can be identified closely related to the introduction of the

software application and how the coordination procedure changed the structure

of the group. Before the systems were introduced in Alfa, several diaries

were in use. The homecare group as whole consisted of three sub-groups. Each

of these groups had a certain responsibility for a particular group of elderly,

each group also had a diary of their own, and the result was that three separate

communication spaces were maintained using the diaries. The boundaries

between these groups were tightly drawn and each group solved their own

problems and worked autonomously, only caring for those elderly that “belonged”

to their own group. One clear indication here is the diary’s role as a

common information space, where the practice of using the diary was one of the

components that isolated information within the group’s boundaries, and

consequently, no information was shared over these boundaries. There was

one diary though, used by workers who worked the evening shift, which was

shared among all of the groups. It contained important information about certain

events and conditions of the elderly that needed attention during the evening or

needed a follow-up house call the next morning.

When the software application was fully implemented, the three groups merged

into one. This can be seen as an effect of the particular use the application

required. If one follows the earlier discussion of how the coordination during

the morning meeting was handled, one can clearly see the consequence if the

application were to be used by three groups simultaneously assisted by one

desktop computer only. The new order that the software application introduced

was negotiated among the actors, which resulted in that the whole

structure of the morning meetings is being changed. Consequently, the use of

the diary went through a similar process. The number of diaries was reduced

to two, one for the day shift and one for the evening shift. Information had to

be transferred between these diaries and the workers had to decide which

information to give and which to consider important depending on task or task

content. As this procedure was hard to maintain in the long run, a decision was

made to use only one of the diaries. The pages of the diary were divided into

an upper section and one latter section for each day; the former was used for

day activities and the latter for evening activities. At this moment, the workers

only had to view one page in order to see events that had taken place during

a particular day and the following night. The history of events in Alfa connected

to the diary show how embedded the diary is in practice. The developmental

process of the diary is one where a need for a common information space is

negotiated (Reddy et al., 2001). The work with the diary has certain rules as

to how it should be used and how the space should be managed in order to

function in practice. These rules structure the use of the diary, and are a result

of an evolution rather than a design. The process can be seen as an adaptation

to altering circumstances in the environment where the practice, that is the

collective activity, searches for reasonable ways to solve practical problems

(Hutchins, 1996).

Unfortunately, no story is available for Beta regarding this matter. The

application had just been up and running for a short while when I conducted my

study. But what could be identified was that the procedure of coordination was

continuously negotiated and that the disagreements of this process had an

impact on how both the diary and the application were used. The following

discussion will illustrate different implications that diverse social organisations

have on practice when the diary is used in relation to the application.

Uses of Tools in the Functional Subsystem of

Notification

The tools that are used in the functional subsystem of notification can be

extracted from the previous picture of the functional system of coordination.

The same relations are found between the workers, the diary and the mobiles,

indicating that there exists a certain structure of communication across functional

levels of work. These relations concern coordination of other times than

during the morning meetings. The computer and the PDA are not used in this

functional sublevel. The diaries seem to be the tool that, more than any of the

others, mediates human activity and it clearly plays an important role. An

interesting note here is that mobile phones are part of the functional system of

notification. Both personal mobiles and mobiles dedicated to handle emergency

calls are used in concert by the workers, mainly to micro-coordinate activities

out in the field that function as notifications and awareness of actions to provide

information about delays and new meeting places. As the application is not used

at all, and if we strive towards an understanding that can assist to inform design

of information technologies, we need to compare the diaries with the software

application’s functionality handling notification.