Drop Assumptions to Progress

As mentioned in my last post, I am examining an information ecology according to the process outlined in Bonnie Nardi and Vicki O’Day’s Information EcologiesThis required developing an ethnography-driven methodology that centralizes on interviews and observation. Beginning my study, I quickly learned that assumptions were limiting my understanding and approach.

Understanding how technology is used within an information ecology (or team dynamic) seems to be easier if you are an active member. I perform this process every day, and I’ve had these conversations with my coworkers. Unfortunately, my level of familiarity served as an immediate disadvantage.

My false assumptions became all the more clear as I began my investigation:


Interviewing, part of my regular duties, seemed like a natural first step. Per Nardi and O’Day recommendation, I began with general situation questions and then dug deeper with the what’s and why’s. Just writing the questions was a meaningful exercise to reveal my biases and attempts to lead. Crafting questions that explore values, motivations and next steps forces you to confront and push past preconceived notions to open-ended inquiries.

The enlightenment doesn’t stop there. I expected that an interview with my boss would simply reaffirm what we’ve already discussed. Not so much. The extension of questions and formality of the interview allowed for deeper insight and surfaced values and concerns I had not considered.


The success of the interview informed my approach to observation. I initially believed that observations would add little to my understanding of the process being examined. Again, I live it five days a week. The reality is you’re not truly seeing the process – you’re passively performing your task.

I say passive because you’re not scrutinizing your interaction or seeking insight into the experience of others involved. Nardi and O’Day emphasize the importance of seeing beyond just how the technology functions. To see the in-between interactions you must step outside of your role and membership to view the process and those involved with a neutral perspective.

While you may not formally analyze an information ecology, keep this in mind when you’re considering improving or introducing technology. Are assumptions blocking you from a breakthrough? Ask questions without assuming the answers and view process/interaction without assuming experience.

Have assumptions clouded technology judgment in your office or even at home? Share your experiences below!


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