On Accountable Objects: Designing and Deploying Accountability Tools for Charities

Matt Marshall

3 Methodology

3.1 Introduction

This chapter discusses the investigative and analytical traditions of this thesis and how they were applied during the various stages of research that captures. As this research considers workplace settings its primary focus it is to be expected that the framing of the thesis, the analytical heritage, and practical application of methods all draw from established realms that centre the performance of work (and the implications thereof).

First the chapter considers the thesis’ place within the tradition of Workplace Studies. Setting out the characteristics of a workplace study; it outlines how these are useful and appropriate for the thesis’ focus and outlines how the subject matter and setting of the research within Digital Civics and HCI make it a natural fit for this framing. After establishing this I then turn to outline the thesis’ Orientations to Analysis wherein the analytical methods I described and justified. Alongside outlining my chosen analytical tools I spend some time along with some background to illustrate how the marriage of these frameworks is both appropriate and complementary given the subject of my investigations. After the investigation has been grounded in its traditions the chapter turns to the pragmatic and details how the research was actually enacted. I first present an Overview and Timeline of the research and delineate how each phase of the study was enacted and contributed to the investigation.

Finally, I end this chapter by recounting a Description of Methods used to perform fieldwork, design my interventions, and analyse data collected. These are situated within the traditions I outline in previous sections.

3.2 Digital Civics as a Workplace Study

This section situates the thesis within the tradition of a workplace study. Workplace Studies are a form of research that concern themselves with how workplace activities are organised and, in particular, the roles in which technologies play in assisting workers organising mundane activities and collaborative tasks (Heath et al., 2000).

Workplace studies came to be established within HCI and closely related fields such as CSCW and IS as a result of these areas of study moving beyond the scope of examining a single user utilising a single interface to consider group settings, as well as important revelations by Suchman that more consideration needed to be paid to the nature of interactions as situated in settings and context (Suchman, 1987, 1995). Kuutti and Bannon discuss a “turn to practice” within the scope of HCI and related fields, that encompasses this shift in focus from laboratory studies to studying and designing for real-world practices as they occur (Kuutti & Bannon, 2014). Schmidt writes of the critical role workplace studies have in dismantling supposedly common-sense notions of cooperative work by uncovering how it is routinely accomplished (Schmidt, 2000).

Within CSCW and HCI Workplace Studies have been used to inform systems design at various stages of design research. Plowmen et al note three phases of design where workplace studies have been used: Initial Research and Implications; Design and Change Phase; and the Evaluation and Development Phase (Plowman et al., 1995). The research encapsulated in this thesis covers all three of these phases situating it firmly within the tradition of Workplace Studies through its methods and narrative.

Workplace Studies have close ties with ethnography, particularly the analytical framing and studies of work practice (Nilsson, 2005). The value of findings from studying work places is core to one of the goals of this thesis to understand how financial practices and transparency obligations of a charity manifest in daily workplace practices so that they may inform design. Heath et al demonstrate how a workplace study may be used to derive implications for systems that support work practice with their analysis of dealers in a London securities house (Heath et al., 1994). Through analysis of the systematic way that dealers organise and co-produce their trading they elicit how systems may be better designed to support this work such as “Pen-based” systems to capture gestures that make the actions of others obvious and visible. In addition to providing the implications for specific workplaces Heath et al demonstrate the generalisability of their findings; highlighting the broader moves towards seamlessness between individual and collaborative activities through systems that enable cooperative editing. This thesis works within this tradition both practically and theoretically with the first phase of research embodying the Initial Research and Implications phase described by Plowman. In Chapter 3 I describe the performance of an ethnographic study of work practice which elicited initial findings and implications for the design of systems produced and evaluated later in the research. These “Implications for Design” (Dourish, 2006) address the research’s request for empirical data on what is done (and how) to produce transparency in a setting.

The Design and Change phase of a workplace study is concerned with the production of prototypes or change in working practices (Plowman et al., 1995), and this is detailed further in Chapter 5.

Lastly, the Evaluation and Deployment phase of a workplace study is presented in Chapter 6 of the thesis. In this phase I take the prototype systems that were implemented in the previous phase (and the design of which was informed by the first phase) and evaluate them over an extended period. This sits comfortably in the tradition of previous cases such as Sanderson’s case study of the implementation of a video conferencing system (Sanderson, 1992), Bowers’ work within the UK Central Government (Bowers, 1994), and Rogers’ evaluation of a multi-user system in a London workplace through field visits (Rogers, 1994).

3.3 Orientations to Analysis

This section describes the analytical orientations taken in this research and explains how they were applied pragmatically.

As this research is situated within the workplace study tradition this gives particular prominence to the application of certain analytical frameworks to consider work practice. Further to this the nature of the research space as involving the Third Sector, their work, and how they are made to be Transparent and Accountable for this lends itself to a focus on the political economy of designing in this space.

3.3.1 Ethnomethodology and Work Practice

The goal of this research was to understand the ways in which transparency and accountability are “done” in charitable organisations with specific regard to the role which digital technologies may play in facilitating this, and to provide these understandings as insights that may be used for design workers and researchers in this space.

To accomplish this fieldwork was performed at an early stage of the research (described later in this chapter as Phase 1) and an ethnomethodological orientation was taken to the performance of this fieldwork as well as the analysis of the data that resulted from it. Ethnomethodology has a history and tradition within HCI and related fields of providing researchers with insight into the situated actions of settings; often being used to study workplaces (Plowman et al., 1995; Suchman, 1987) but can also find use in most settings due to its analytical focus on the sequential accomplishment of the social order (Garfinkel, 2005). Through a critique of contemporary ethnographic practice in HCI, Crabtree et al detail the history and continued value of Ethnomethodology to HCI and design; highlighting that this focus on “interactional work” has value to action and interaction in both the workplace and beyond (Crabtree et al., 2009).

This “interactional work” attested by Crabtree et al is a key characterisation of Ethnomethodology’s concerns. It describes how members of a social setting organise and produce their social world in an ordered way that is naturally accountable to all members (Garfinkel, 1967). While Ethnomethodology is not epistemologically indifferent, rooted as it is within phenomenology (Maynard & Clayman, 1991), it is said to carry “little or no theoretical baggage” and consists of analytical choices as to what the fieldworker attends to in a given study (Randall et al., 2007). The specific flavour of Ethnomethodology employed in my research was an Ethnomethodological study of work, where the focus of study is how a particular appearance or result (in this case Transparency and Accountability) is achieved by members in a setting (Button, 2012). Ethnomethodological studies of work have a history within systems design such as Suchman’s seminal Plans and Situated Actions (Suchman, 1987) and Harper’s Inside the IMF (Harper, 2009), and thus are both analytically and historically closely aligned to the concerns of my research.

Practically speaking one of the benefits that Ethnomethodology brings to this is the encouragement to develop a vulgar competence in the setting’s work, where the interactional work of a setting is understood by the researcher in the same terms as it is by the members of a setting (Crabtree et al., 2012). This was beneficial to the research not only because it allowed me to understand the mundane acts of producing Transparency and Accountability in a charity; but because Ethnomethodology eschews the traditional dichotomy of subjectivity versus objectivity – instead acknowledging the natural reflexivity of members making sense of and producing their social order (Button et al., 2015). Reflexivity is particularly important to Ethnomethodology as, in lieu of the hand-wave to reflexivity performed by interpretive ethnographies to certify the researcher’s interpretation of an action, it is conceived of as a natural part of producing the setting. Therefore members of these settings themselves possess the natural and everyday analytical skills required to produce their own accounts of their work. This is essential in two ways. First, by developing vulgar competence in a setting I as a researcher-cum-designer may develop an intimate understanding of its work which may be used to develop praxeological accounts and inform design (Crabtree et al., 2012); since the goal of this research was to actually design in this space as well as provide long-term design requirements to inform future work this is not only appropriate but imperative. Secondly, reflexivity in Ethnomethodology is predicated on members’ engagement in interactional work that makes their actions account-able to others in a setting by making them observable and understandable to all who care to look (Garfinkel, 1967; Crabtree et al., 2012; Button et al., 2015). Since the topic of this research concerns Transparency and Accountability, albeit in the grander sense of the terms, this makes it appropriate as an orientation to analysis as this orientation mirrors the subject of my attention as a designer and a researcher.

The scope of this analysis allows for asking how Transparency and Accountability are produced in a setting, what actions make it up, and how these are observable through the natural account-ability of these actions. Ultimately through asking these questions a line may be drawn from the study of the everyday production of Transparency and Accountability through to the design requirements that actually support the Transparency and Accountability of an organisation.

3.3.2 A Marxist stance on Political Economy and Labour

As noted earlier in Chapter 2, the Third Sector exists because of the systemic failure of both the state and the private sector to provide for people’s needs (Hansmann, 1980). Feis-Bryce suggests that the Third Sector must forefront its inherently political nature in its work (Feis-Bryce, 2015). That this research is performed within the scope of Digital Civics and the Third Sector is intrinsically political it must be acknowledged that Digital Civics research within this space in particular is a political act. This is especially pertinent when confronted with the knowledge that this research, like all Digital Civics research performed through the Newcastle programme, was conducted against a backdrop of austerity politics in the UK (Reeves et al., 2013; Lowndes & Gardner, 2016; Bach, 2012). These austerity measures have drastically reduced the funding available to local government (Lowndes & Pratchett, 2012), effectively marketising public services; but also have implications for the shape and future of the Third Sector (Clifford, 2017; Macmillan, 2011). Therefore there is no neutrality in working within the Third Sector and I must take a stance as to how this research understands the political economy of this design space, lest a stance be taken for me that defends the status quo.

A Marxist stance was very suitable to inform the analysis because a Marxist (and later Marxist-Leninist) analysis of political economy and capitalism accounts for the inherently political nature of the space (Marx et al., 1974). Additionally, Marxist philosophy on labour and alienation provide an ample framework for conceptualising the labour relations of everyday work of the charity and the act of producing it. As I have established, Transparency and Accountability is not automatic in the work of a charity – it is produced through the everyday actions of the members (workers) who make up its setting. Since these everyday actions are performed within the context of labouring at a job they must also be scrutinised through the lens of labour relations. Put bluntly; If I am concerned about the the everyday production of Transparency and Accountability in a charity I must consider this production in relationship to the means of production situated within a larger political framework (Marx et al., 1974).

Pragmatically, this stance is applied at several stages of the research by providing a sensitivity to particular things. As I note, when understanding the production of Transparency and Accountability I acknowledge that this production is subject to labour relations. Therefore an understanding of labour informed by Marxist political economy and philosophy (e.g. Productive Labour, Unproductive Labour, and Alienation) was used to determine how systems valued and devalue, and hid, particular forms of work (Marx et al., 1974; Marx, 1844). This is most clearly expressed in the findings of Chapter 4.

The terms Productive Labour and Unproductive Labour are introduced by Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations where Smith puts forward that Productive Labour is that which generates additional capital value and commodities, and that Unproductive Labour is any activity that does not (Smith, 1785). Marxist analysis is critical of Smith’s definition of this because the definition of Productive is purely relativistic and dependant on the mode of production at the time (i.e. what is productive for a feudal society is likely different to what is productive for a capitalist society) (Marx, 1844). Furthermore there may be no neutral definition of the term as what is considered productive for one social class may not be considered productive for another (Marx, 1844). Labour, in a Marxist conception, is not naturally productive as it has a dependence on additional work to make it so and on tools and techniques that must first be produced (Marx, 1844). This conception of labour is useful in the analysis of the work of charities because, strictly speaking, none of the labour of charity workers produces surplus monetary value yet there I found that there was still a clear distinction between how stakeholders valued different types of work as “Productive” or “Unproductive” in this space; harking to Marx’s point that what is may be considered productive labour is purely relativistic. Namely, if the distinction between Productive and Unproductive Labour is based on an arbitrary delineation, where was that line drawn in the field site? How did participants reason about what they classed as productive, and how was this accounted for to themselves and others?

Marx’s theory of alienation was also practical and beneficial to the research in several ways. Marx outlines four types of alienation: alienation of the worker from the product; alienation of the worker from the act of production; alienation from their species-essence; and alienation from other workers both in society and within the workplace (Marx, 1844). This framework contributed to the analysis of initial field studies in Chapter 4 as alienation was used to understand and later highlight how work practice (as conceived of in Ethnomethodology) is masked from the public and how digital technologies should be designed to overcome this. Further, a sensitivity to alienation helped frame the design stages of the research through provoking consideration to the particular forms of ownership of digital technologies. This was bolstered by drawing upon more contemporary Marxist analysis of the political economy of the web (Kleiner, 2010) as well as HCI literature around data ownership (McAuley et al., 2011). This enabled me to design technologies that strove to embody values such as worker control and flexibility, as well as provide reflection on my relationship as a designer to my participants, and thus their relationship as workers to the design process and product of our labour.

Finally, Marxist thought is underpinned by an understanding of Dialectical Materialism and therefore it must be acknowledged that this was used to inform an analysis of future technologies for Transparency and Accountability. Broadly Dialectical Materialism is the application of the Dialectical method to a Materialist view of reality (in contrast to an Idealist one). Dialectics states the following: that nature (the world) is connected and determined; that it is in a state of continuous motion and change; that quantitative change leads to qualitative change; and that there are contradictions inherent in nature (Stalin, 1940). Materialism also presupposes that: the world is material, not the embodiment of an absolute idea or universal spirit and thus; there is an objective reality existing outside of our consciousness; and therefore the world and its laws are knowable (Stalin, 1940). Dialectical Materialism offers this research a way of unpicking the internal contradictions with the material ways Transparency and Accountability are currently produced in a setting as well as the Dialectical natures of Transparency and Accountability themselves – therefore contributing to the implications for future design and work in this space. A Dialectical Materialist approach is also applied in Chapter 5 to forefront the contradictions in applying design practice in this space.

To summarise, a stance on political economy within the design space is necessary because to not explicitly take one is to have it assumed for me. A Marxist stance brings an understanding of labour relations, alienation, and Dialectical Materialism to the research and is appropriate for the setting, analysis, and design space I am working within in this thesis. Further, it fits with concerns raised in Chapter 2 around the marketisation of the Third Sector and situates this as well as the backdrop of austerity politics as attempts to extend the reach of capital further into service provision: a civic concern if there ever was one.

3.3.3 Marxism and Ethnomethodology in context

The previous sections outlined two distinct orientations to analysis that informed this research and justified their application and suitability to the setting and research topic. Both Ethnomethodological and Marxist approaches were used as orientations to particular things, but might require further explanation to fully reconcile due to the rarity of their co-presence in research and the historical attitude of Ethnomethodology towards traditional social sciences such as Marxism (Garfinkel, 1967; Button et al., 2015). This section now investigates the use of both of these orientations in context to explain how they are complementary to each other and this work.

Ethnomethodology’s primary contradiction with traditional social science is that the former takes as its focus the methods and interpretations people employ in their production of their own social order, whereas the latter employs a top-down method of theory and interpretation of the world (Garfinkel, 1967). While this may initially seem like this outlook prevents Ethnomethodology from existing in the same space as a worldview such as Marxism it remains true that, as noted earlier in this chapter, an ethnomethodological study consists of analytical choices as to the attention of the fieldworker (Randall et al., 2007). Pragmatically this means that it may be employed to provide accounts of, for example, how members of a setting reason about and produce Transparency and Accountability through their actions and what the design implications are for systems wishing to utilise this. This is may be seen at work in Chapter 4 where praxeological accounts of action are situated in a framework that includes “accounting for Hidden Work”. Hidden work here is aligned to the conception of unproductive labour outlined in Marxist thought. A Marxist understanding of unproductive labour was used to orient me to this concern, however the accounts of work surrounding it are purely based on members’ reflexive understanding of the setting. Furthermore, in Chapter 5 designs were produced to embody the lessons from the previous chapter’s study of work practice and drew upon both this analysis and a Marxist stance to inform design. Button describes how theoretical worldviews may provide designers with general heuristics and cites the Scandinavian School as an example of designing for worker empowerment but that this leaves unattended the situated nature of the work being performed (Button et al., 2015, p.57). My design work sought to bridge this gap by drawing upon both the understanding of interactional work provided by Ethnomethodology and a Marxist understanding of worker empowerment and labour relations. Thus a system was designed that would (hopefully) accommodate the work practice of the setting at an interactional level as well as embody a Marxist understanding of worker control. Put simply; the system was designed to help them account for their work and spending (Ethnomethodological) and was also designed to be decentralised to support them controlling the technology (Marxist).

Aside from the practical in this research, Ethnomethodology and Marxism may actually be be more ideologically complementary than may appear at first glance. Kuuti and Bannon note of the turn to practice in HCI that the groundwork for a focus on practice was laid by Marx and his contemporaries – where Marx laid the groundwork for ‘practice’ as an object of study and unit of analysis (Kuutti & Bannon, 2014). Chua explores Ethnomethodology from a Marxist perspective as means by which ideological reproduction may be investigated, where ideology is conceived of as a symptom of social knowledge (Chua, 1977). Chua describes Ethnomethodology as a focus on investigating the rational nature of a setting’s activities and thus providing an analytical tool for Marxists to investigate how ideological systems operate as ‘natural’ ways of knowing and interpreting the world (Chua, 1977). Freund and Abrams share this sentiment and examine Ethnomethodology’s treatment of information and social perception as linked to the practical interests of those producing them, therefore showing that social perception and information produced by existing ,and therefore bourgeoisie, institutions is false (Freund & Abrams, 1976). This not only meets Ethnomethodology’s critique of top-down interpretations of the social order (Button et al., 2015) but also highlights the shared characteristics of Ethnomethodology and Marxism as approaches that both fuse theory and praxis and see social knowledge as being bound to the contexts and methods that produced them (Freund & Abrams, 1976). Chua elaborates that the specificity and characteristic indifference of Ethnomethodologically-informed studies means that results must be appropriated within the wider context of Marxist sociology, but that Marxists should otherwise encourage Ethnomethological studies (Chua, 1977).

Mehan and Wood also argue that Ethnomethodology shares with Marxism a unique heritage, where both are each a synthesis of two traditions that are normally mutually exclusive: that of the hermeneutic-dialectical and the logico-empiricist (Mehan & Wood, 1975). Mehan elaborates that the methodology of Ethnomethodology is firmly rooted in logico-empiricism (ie that it takes accounts of the researcher’s senses), whereas its theory is derived from hermeneutic-dialectics (ie its phenomenological roots). According to Mehan and Wood, this transendenacy of conflicting roots is why it is so often alienated as a method. Marxism similar straddles these realms with heritage in both camps. Marxism’s philosophical roots are in the hermeneutic-dialectical with its use of the Hegelian dialectic – yet it brings this into a materialist and scientific worldview in the development of Dialectical and Historical Materialism (Stalin, 1940; Mehan & Wood, 1975). This gives Marxism what is generally thought of as a scientific approach to the investigation of social life and political economy as it draws from the logico-empiricist traditions of Feuerbach and other scientific socialists (Thomas, 2008; Mehan & Wood, 1975). Thus, similarly to Ethnomethodology, Marxism’s method is rooted in logico-empricism whereas its theory is drawn from its antithesis in the hermeneutic-dialectical and they are compatible as bedfellows in their application.

This shared heritage is further highlighted with Marxism and Ethnomethodology’s common attendance to practical life. Ethnomethodology has as its chief focus of enquiry the practical accomplishment of work that produces the social order within a setting (Garfinkel, 1967; Crabtree et al., 2012), which marries Marx’s thesis that “All social life is essentially practical. All mysteries which lead theory to mysticism find their rational solution in human practice and in the comprehension of this practice.” (Marx & Engels, 1963, p.13). The latter half of this thesis also notably echoes ethnomethodologists’ critiques of top-down interpretations of a setting, and reinforces that the focus of enquiry should be in developing an understanding of practice; Mehan and Wood argue that following the conception of Ethnomethodology, Marx can be viewed as a “crypto-ethnomethodologist” due to this (Mehan & Wood, 1975).

Additional similarities arise in the core tenants of Ethnomethodology and Marxist approaches. In Marxist theory Labour is described as "Life Activity" ie not just participation in economic activity but all human acts from those of recreation and love to tilling fields and designing software (Marx, 1844; Mitchell, 2013). This matches with Ethnomethodology’s view that members of a setting are constantly engaged in Practical Action and Practical Reasoning in every activity such as “queuing for coffee, […], splitting atoms, singing, dancing begging […]” (Crabtree et al., 2012, p.p29). It follows then that the Interactional Work attested by Ethnomethodology, ie the accomplishment of activity through interacting with things and others (Garfinkel, 2005; Crabtree et al., 2012), could be described as an expression of Labour when viewed through a Marxist lens. This does not detract from Ethnomethodology’s famed indifference, nor ties it inextricably to Marxist thought – but alignment at this level demonstrates this complementary nature of the two frameworks.

Finally, Marx’s theory of alienation may be used to understand why Ethnomethodology produces Vulgar Competence. As noted above, Vulgar Competence is the ability to at-a-glance determine the interactional work used to produce the social world or the sequence of practical actions required for a task at hand (ie Labour) (Crabtree et al., 2012). Similarly noted above, Marx’s theory of alienation puts forward that humans are alienated from each other in society and the workplace due, in part, to specialisation (Marx, 1844). A blunt way to say this is that you are not “a researcher”, you are a human being who does research. Since doing research is made up of a practical set of tasks that are accomplished it stands to reason that people who do this research themselves, or attend to its accomplishment by others, develop vulgar competence in the activity or setting. That vulgar competence belies an ability to understand other human beings, what they’re doing, and the reasoning this doing embodies indicates that alienation between the researcher and the members of the setting is reduced. Indeed Mehan and Wood state that “Ethnomethodology displays the everyday practices of this alienation and provides a means to transcend it” (Mehan & Wood, 1975, p.521) – this transcendence occurs through the ethnomethodologists attendance to practical action and interactional work. This may be in the (re)production of the social order by understanding that 11:00 on a Thursday is time for tea, or the sequence of interactional work required to produce the monthly budget report.

To summarise, this research takes an Ethnomethological approach to analysing the interactional work in a setting as well as a Marxist stance on matters of human labour, alienation, and political economy. While at first glance these two approaches may seem contradictory due to Ethnomethodology’s perceived hostility to social science; investigation reveals that the two traditions share a common heritage and that the findings derived by Ethnomethodologically-informed studies may be safely situated in the context of Marxist analysis. Finally both Marxism and Ethnomethodology together have a focus on the practical accomplishment of the social order; and Marxist views on Labour and Alienation accommodate the results of Ethnomethodological enquiry through the production of Vulgar Competence.

3.4 Overview and Timeline

This research began in late February 2016 when I reached out to the Patchwork Project (Patchwork) as potential participants (the reasoning for approaching this group in particular is given in Chapter 4). Following a brief meeting with them at a restaurant in Newcastle I began fieldwork the following week. The research then ended in late August 2018, culminating full-circle in a meal at the same restaurant (and on the same table) as it began. The work in-between these two dates consisted of several “phases” of research within the context of the workplace study that addressed the material needs of the project: an initial in-depth phase of fieldwork to understand how the interactional work of transparency and accountability was organised within a charity; a phase of iterative user-centred design to produce responses to the initial findings; early and expanded deployments which involved multiple organisations to test initial assumptions in my design response and to potentially bring further insight into the design space from organisations which operated differently to Patchwork; and finally some additional evaluation designed to bring in perspectives of other workers within the ecosystem such as accountants and funders as well as gather field data on some final iterative improvements made to the systems. It should also be acknowledged here that while the definition of ‘Third Sector and Social Economy’ I gave in Section 2.2.2 remains important to encompass the variety of Third Sector Organisations in the world, that this research was therefore performed with small front-line organisations and participants in the UK Charity Sector.

In practice, the “phases” of research followed on naturally from each other and are not as cleanly delineated as Figure 3.1 implies. As the research progressed partners were added and my understanding of each facet of the research grew, the research and I needed to accommodate this growth despite perhaps having ostensibly “passed that phase of the research” previously. This was most prominent in the relationship between the “design phase” of the research and the “evaluation phase”. For example sometimes the addition of raw exposure through more time spent at Patchwork during deployments meant I partook in a conversation or observed something that lead to a new understanding of their work practice. Or a conversation with another partner organisation (e.g. Gateshead Older People’s Assembly) lent an important critique of the work so far. This is perfectly normal for evaluation, but notably lead to further iteration on tools and systems to incorporate the new knowledge. To do otherwise seemed unnatural and, frankly, unethical given the collaborative nature of the setting and the nature of each partner’s work. By this I mean that my presence in these organisations meant that my actions had an effect on them and their ability to delivery front-line work; and I viewed the purpose of this research (and Digital Civics more generally) as having the ultimate purpose of benefiting their ability to operate. I felt that not iterating on designs to respond to new insight would thus constitute a breach of my integrity both as a collaborator who was taking up the time of the organisations and as a researcher who was in genuine attempt to progress knowledge and practice.

As such the discussion of each phase of research in turn here denotes the dominant focus of the research as it progressed; but it should be acknowledged that in any given phase the activities of a previous phase continued. Field notes were always taken with a focus on work practice and the manifestation of transparency work, and small bouts of user-centred design were performed to fix bugs or add features when needed.

Figure 3.1: Timeline of Research
Figure 3.1: Timeline of Research

Phase 1: Initial Fieldwork ran from February 2016 to late summer of the same year at Patchwork. The purpose of this dedicated block of fieldwork was to orient myself to the work practices of the field-site. This initially involved looking explicitly at the different ways Transparency and Accountability manifested themselves as everyday practices through: characterising the performance of work related to Youth Work and management; and creating extra work from perceived or legal obligations for more formal forms of transparency and accountability. This phase of work started with weekly field visits to Patchwork, which overtime became either more frequent or less frequent as my schedule was intertwined with that of the organisation and different fieldwork methods were employed. Often I would visit several times a week in order to work on the accounts with the workers, volunteer, and take part in a team meeting. Sometimes, such as during the summer, I may not have visited during a given week. As noted, a variety of standard fieldwork methods were employed during this phase to develop praxeological accounts through techniques such as field notes, interviews, and participating in the work of the organisation itself. As the research progressed I became integrated into the daily life of the charity (and they became integrated into my daily life as a PhD student). The nature of my field notes thus shifted from “all-encompassing” to focused on specific phenomena, as I relied less on them to describe broadly how the workers at Patchwork organised their social world.

Phase 2: User-Centred Design (UCD) was the main characteristic of the next phase of research as focus evolved to investigating, designing, and implementing potential interventions. Fieldwork began to shift into UCD in late August 2016 with the completion of a design workshop focused around future technologies. In September the field visits took a short pause mandated by both Patchwork’s need to deliver the final part of their summer programme, and Open Lab’s need to deliver CHI papers. This afforded me the space to reflect on the findings of the fieldwork to date which resulted in the analysis presented in Chapter 3 of this thesis. The work’s rhythm resumed in October with design work consisting of early prototyping and regular design crits (Goldschmidt et al., 2010) worked into field visits and discussions and captured through field notes and requirements documents where appropriate. Design discussions maintained a vision of the larger system, but focused on different components in turn. October to December mostly focused on producing designs and implementations for a mobile application which became Accounting Scrapbook. After the winter break, development on what became Rosemary Accounts began and design was directed towards this away from Accounting Scrapbook. Throughout the whole process, discussions around the needs of the data and tools fed into the development of the Qualitative Accounting data standard, although it should be noted that Patchwork were much more interested in how the tools could produce and process information rather than standards development required for the design. This phase of research did not have a tangible drive by either myself or Patchwork to put our designs to use, simply develop them, whereas later stages of the research contained small pockets of iterative design and development while the tools were (supposedly) in use. In late April Patchwork and I were getting ready to begin phasing in use of the tools as additional partners were added to the research in the form of Edbert’s House and Gateshead Older People’s Assembly (GOPA). Early discussions with these partners revealed new needs which were acted upon through some further design and implementation work and extended this phase of research until the end of May to account for their needs, improve the overall quality of the tools, and encourage their participation during deployments

Phase 3: Early Deployments lasted a total of four months from the beginning of June until the end of September. The deployments themselves were mostly unshepherded, in that I did not instruct the participants to use the tools in a particular manner other than providing technical support on their use when requested. At the outset of the early deployments all participants expressed their enthusiasm at using the tools they’d seen develop, so my intention was to try and understand how these tools could be appropriated by workers to support their existing work as it pertained to collecting and presenting information. I did “check in” on each of the participant organisations throughout the deployment, although the nature of these was different depending on my relationship to each one. “Checking in” on Patchwork was integrated into my visits there, where I could observe the use and non-use of the tools and casually chat or interview the workers as the deployment went on. As my relationship with GOPA and Edbert’s House was not as strongly developed; my regular visits had a distinctly more formal feeling. These were performed either bi-weekly or monthly depending on the schedules of myself and the workers there. Occasionally some lightweight design work was performed to fix a bug or tweak a feature to encourage or facilitate use. Despite this and for a variety of reasons this phase of the research did not see a lot of engagement from any participants regarding the deployed tools (even at Patchwork). This is analysed and reflected on in detail in the discussion in Chapter 06.

Phase 4: Expanded Deployments became necessary due to the poor uptake of the systems that had characterised the previous phase of the research. A year on from the original phase of design and development I renewed focus on making Accounting Scrapbook and Rosemary Accounts better integrate into the daily practices of my partners. Edbert’s House unfortunately withdrew from the research as the worker who had been my primary contact left the charity and, in lieu of the limited engagement so far, the organisation felt they couldn’t commit to maintaining our relationship. Patchwork and GOPA, however, agreed to commit to a more structured effort to use the technologies with a view of iteratively improving them as we continued the deployment. The deployments were characterised by being slow and requiring several different attempts to encourage engagement such as “weekly tasks” designed for participants to walk themselves through different features of the system which eventually became walkthrough sessions lead by myself. As such these structured deployments lasted a long time; from October 2017 until April 2018. It should be noted that the timescales for this phase of the research were extended due to the rise of mental health issues affecting my work during 2018. When both Patchwork and GOPA had completed the initial set of structured tasks I sought engagement from other actors within the sector such as funders and accountants. Several individuals were happy to give me their time and they assisted the evaluation of the tools by participating in interviews during the summer.

Phase 5: Additional Evaluation was performed in the final months of the research. This was, in my eyes, designed to compensate for what I perceived as a lack of proper engagement with the tools and to discuss with participants findings that had arisen during my conversations with funders and accountants. Through lessons learned from both earlier deployments, a short “challenge” was issued to participants to try and capture a “week in the life” of their organisation using the features of Accounting Scrapbook and Rosemary Accounts as much as possible. The engagement with this led, somewhat ironically, to the discovery of several technical issues in the systems which meant that the “week” turned into several weeks as progress was halted and began again several times. Following this dedicated use of the tools and reflection thereof through discussion, an exit interview was performed with each organisation to discuss the purpose and implementation of the research itself and the final state of our designs.

3.5 Description of Methods

This section outlines the practical methods which I utilised to undertake this research and describes their appropriateness both within the context of the Workplace Study tradition that my research continues and the analytical approaches that it takes.

3.5.1 Fieldwork Methods

As described earlier Ethnomethodology encourages the development of a Vulgar Competence of a setting in order to understand how members account for and produce the social order (Garfinkel, 1967; Crabtree et al., 2012). To accomplish this I performed extensive fieldwork within Patchwork, the rough shape and duration of which I outlined in the previous section. I wish to describe now the specific tools and techniques I used during the performance of this fieldwork.

The foundation of my fieldwork was extensive site visits at Patchwork, initially performed weekly but then changing frequency as I grew more involved with the organisation and our work rhythm became intertwined. Similarly, the types of activities I participated in developed in scope. In ethnographic terminology my participation in these activities may be characterised as Active Participation (Schwartz & Schwartz, 1955). During site visits I would: visit and work on the allotment alongside staff and the beneficiaries of the project (ie young people); assist staff in producing the budget and accounts; producing an annual report; help plan and deliver activities for group sessions unless inappropriate; report to trustees1; and many others too numerous to list specifically. As outlined by Crabtree et al in Doing Design Ethnography these activities served to develop my vulgar competence in the work of Patchwork but they also allowed me to gain acceptance in the setting (Crabtree et al., 2012). As I provided in input of labour through volunteering and assisting with preparatory work, and I demonstrated my commitment to seeing their work through their eyes, the workers at Patchwork began to see me as a member of the setting as well and this allowed me to have more frank and genuine discussions with them.

The extent of my participation at Patchwork allowed me to collect a variety of data and assemble a clear ethnographic record throughout. The tools and techniques I used here are standard to ethnographic enquiry, and should not need too much outlining. A lot of data was collected through the use of field notes and a fieldwork diary – which I populated with questions, observations, and diagrams to support my analysis (Crabtree et al., 2012, p.79) . An example of this is diagram of the Sequential Order of Work (ibid, p. 105) that I drafted in my notebook and then reproduced digitally for inclusion in Chapter 4. I was also able to perform individual or group interviews (ibid, p.80), which were useful to get an overview or to drill down into the work of something. In some cases these interviews were recorded whereas some of them were what I describe as “in-situ” ie they manifested as an in-the-moment questioning of a concept or some practical action being performed by someone there. Where not recorded these interviews were incorporated into my data corpus via my fieldwork diary. The fieldnotes and fieldwork diary, as well as interview transcripts, were used to create praxeological accounts of action and vignettes for presentation in this thesis and derived publications. These allowed for the conveyance of the local accountability and situated action that were important both to the overall research and the design process that followed the initial fieldwork (ibid, pp. 122-130).

As the fieldwork process continued into the summer of 2016 discussions at Patchwork began to slowly and naturally turn to what design interventions may manifest as a result of the initial fieldwork I had performed. To support these conversations and create explicit room for them I also performed three “workshop” activities inspired by the concept of Futures Workshops (Jungk & Müllert, 1996). A Futures Workshop consists of three phases: critiquing the current state of the way things are done; a fantasy phase wherein participants come up with grand ideas to respond to problems; and finally an implementation phase where these fantasies are brought back towards the pragmatic in terms of what may be accomplished (ibid). As part of the research, these activities mark a transition from the purely investigative phase of fieldwork to one that was directly working with members of the setting to inform design, and therefore they may be conceptualised as an investigation into the social order of the setting and how technologies may support this work.

While Jungk describes a Futures workshop as a single workshop (ibid) the pragmatics of doing work with Patchwork necessitated that the three phases of the workshop were split across three months from June to September 2016. The reason for this is that Patchwork were delivering their Summer program during this time, which left no time for full day workshop. This change in pace allowed me to reflect on the conversation that was had during each workshop, as well as design materials and activities to be used as conversation pieces during the next one.

During the first workshop, the participants in Patchwork were guided in producing an artefact which mapped the flows of information and interactions with technologies. My questions and their answers served to check my understanding of their situated work that I had gathered from fieldwork to that point and also also to question things that were not clear to me yet. Hearing the workers at Patchwork reason out loud together about their work practice as a whole, rather than discrete portions of it, also helped illuminate the inter-connectivity of the setting’s interactional work.

In the second workshop, I produced a series of short Design Fictions (Hales, 2013) that were tailored to deliberately contrast or caricature the perceived values, behaviours, and norms of the setting and members. My intent here was to cause a reaction and make explicit the normal social order, and as such they may be considered as derived from Garfinkle’s “breaching experiments” – where the researcher disrupts the routine production of daily life in order to make this reasoning visible (Garfinkel, 1967). Crabtree writes of breaching experiments in technology design that they may be used to “provoke” (literally call forth) practice and that while they may be disruptive this is not necessarily the case (Crabtree, 2004). My Design Fictions were intended to be a little disruptive as I wished Patchwork to subsequently rally against the dystopian futures I detailed and instead proffer alternative designs that would be more closely aligned with their practice. In this sense they also touch on the notion of Provotypes; where a prototype is designed to provoke discussions around contemporary and desired future practice (Boer & Donovan, 2012). Provotypes also draw on Dialectics (outlined above) where the contradictions that give rise to practice are highlighted and then new practice may be considered; bridging investigation and design (ibid). While my samples of short Design Fiction may not be a true provotype (nothing was designed and deployed at this stage), they embodied this dialectical goal of assisting me in unpicking the contradictions in work practice and how this is made Transparent and Accountable; and ultimately lead to insights for design work. In the second half of this workshop Patchwork were asked to write their own design fiction and elaborate on what a theoretical pie-in-the-sky technology may look like although this didn’t occur on the day as planned (discussed further in Chapter 05).

The third and final workshop involved grounding the design insights from the first two workshops into what may achieved pragmatically. Because a month had passed since the previous workshop, a short design challenge was issued to the group to create Magic Machines (Andersen, 2013) that supported their organisation’s work in becoming Transparent and Accountable, and what the work practice was surrounding this. The results from these were then discussed as a group to unpick what desired work practice may be and how we may get closer to this given contemporary technologies and the scope of the research. This form of participation in the design process relied on the Ethnomethodological conception of reflexivity discussed earlier in this chapter; as Patchwork workers were constantly reflecting on their own work practice and offering each other (and myself) practical insight as to how they may interact with new technologies I was capable of introducing.

3.5.2 Design methods

One of the goals of this research was to actually design and subsequently deploy technologies for use within the setting to later evaluate them and another was to understand how technologies may be designed in Third Sector Organisations. As noted in the earlier overview this phase is characterised by User-Centred Design (UCD) methods which may be surprising since the Marxist values embedded in the research may indicate a preference for Participatory Design (Muller, 2003).

My use of UCD methods emerged in response to the pragmatics of designing in the research space. Daily life at Patchwork was (and remains to this day) very busy and they have a pressing need to deliver their services to beneficiaries and respond to their needs. Therefore, despite the best will in the world, Patchwork has limited capacity to sit down with me and co-design systems in the name of participation. Indeed it became clear when the design phase of my research was starting that they had little interest in designing systems together as they felt that it was my role to do the design and implementation work. I discuss this in greater detail in Chapter 5.

My response to this challenge was to involve Patchwork as much as I could during the design process. Following the completion of the three workshops outlined above the data from these fed into the larger corpus garnered during fieldwork and analysed to produce high-level implications for design, as well as indications for specific design elements to incorporate for a deployment here. Attention was paid specifically to the interactional work of the design ie the workflow of systems designed were derived from Patchwork’s model of work, and then these assumptions were tested during this design and later evaluation phases both inside and outside of Patchwork. Inside of Patchwork my weekly field visits continued ahead of my volunteering sessions and deeper integration into the workplace such as attending extra-curricular activities with the workers (e.g. Fell walking, allotments, etc) meant that I was served plenty of opportunities to check my designs and assumptions with the workers there. The most used technique here was the use of the Design Crit (Goldschmidt et al., 2010); weekly I would present Patchwork with ideas, sketches, wireframes, prototypes etc and we would discuss the design. Key notes from these were recorded into my notebook or, occasionally, a requirements document. I would make changes or otherwise progress the design before returning the next week for more of the same.

It is that design rhythm and workflow that leads me to call this phase of work User-Centred Design as opposed to Participatory Design or Co-Design. The Scandinavian co-operative design movement arose out of the concern of workers having technologies negatively influence their working practices (Schuler & Namioka, 1993) which was certainly an initial concern shared by myself and Patchwork. It could be argued that there are elements of Participatory Design present in the research. The way that I participated and integrated myself into Patchwork, as well as my fieldwork’s analytical focus on work practice and my genuine concern for the workers and organisation meant that gradually their concerns became my concerns. Therefore it could be said I was facilitating worker’s design of technologies or that participation was somehow “configured” (Vines et al., 2013) in the research as I part of my work there was to design technologies for which which I systematically and enthusiastically sought feedback and approval on. I reflect on this more critically in Chapter 05

Nevertheless, I do question how truly participatory the act of design may be in this context, or indeed needs to be given the nature of the organisation. My feelings on this are expanded on later in the thesis, but the core value embedded in this research is to support the Third Sector through my research and technical skills. Patchwork didn’t expect me to become involved in everything in the business and in fact explicitly noted areas where it would be inappropriate and similarly felt that it was inappropriate to apply themselves to an area that was clearly my wheelhouse. As an (initially) external technical expert I fit the bill as someone who was suited to the design and implementation of digital technologies and for them the act of participation was that I was there and contributing at all.

Late in the UCD phase of research I expanded the scope to include involvement with two other organisations – Edbert’s House and Gateshead Older People’s Assembly (GOPA). I was introduced to Edbert’s House as they were visiting Open Lab due to a collaboration they had with another researcher there, and they seemed interested in my work. Since I desired to deploy the designs that Patchwork and I had worked on I followed up with a meeting to which they invited the manager of GOPA. Initially this meeting was to introduce them to the technologies and garner their interest in participating in evaluating them, however the discussion raised new needs that required addressing. I followed up with several design crits with Edbert’s House and GOPA to account for this and improve the overall quality of the tools. These iterations were fed back to and checked with Patchwork as well, although the organisations never showed interest in meeting together.

3.5.3 Evaluation Methods

After the design phase was complete the tools were deployed for evaluation in order to understand their appropriateness and to further illuminate the design space for future work. As described in an earlier section, the design phase involved instances of evaluation through the use of crit sessions with participants. After this, evaluation took place across three distinct phases where each had particular methods attached.

The first phase of evaluation began with early deployments that were, as noted, totally unshepherded and used observation and some small interviews to understand the worker’s interactions with the technology. After a short instructional session at each of the three participating organisations (Patchwork, Edbert’s House, and GOPA), the technologies were effectively “left” with my partners in that apps were installed on their phones and they knew of the existence of Rosemary accounts and had outlined to me a rough plan for their use. At Patchwork my regular visits across the week provided opportunities to witness use (and non-use) of the technology, and in addition to this I did small interviews in place of the design crits that we’d normally have. These lasted no longer than five minutes each and were not audio recorded – instead making their way to my fieldwork diary. I did not have similar levels of access to GOPA and Edbert’s House since I had not integrated myself in the same way as I did with Patchwork. In these cases I performed regular site visits at each organisation which varied from bi-weekly to monthly depending on our schedules. Here I did not get the chance to observe the technologies “in the wild”, as it were, but casually interviewed participants about how they were finding the technology. This also presented an opportunity for them to ask questions of me about the pragmatics of using the technology. Again these were not recorded in order to put participants at ease (they were often embarrassed about their non-use of the technology) but similarly integrated these findings through my fieldnotes.

The second phase of evaluation, which I’ve termed “Expanded Deployments”, was instigated after four months when it became apparent that there was poor uptake of the technology at all organisations – which I could only account for at Patchwork initially. After some wrangling of the remaining participants (Edbert’s House dropped out), I redesigned some elements of the technologies to make it a little smoother to integrate into daily life and we renewed a commitment to evaluate the technologies with a more structured evaluation. There was an understanding across the participants that the research here would be slower as I considered the daily pressures at the charities. The structure took the form of “weekly tasks” designed to walk participants through the use of various features of the system, with the intention of interviewing participants at monthly intervals after they’d completed three-to-four such tasks. After a few of these interviews revealed that, similar to previous attempts, there was similar lack of engagement I turned to the use of think-aloud co-operative evaluation methods (P. C. Wright & Monk, 1991a, 1991b) with audio-recorded in-situ interviews. These allowed me to sit with the participants and engage them while they used the system, as well as create explicit space for engaging with the systems within each Patchwork and GOPA.

During this phase of expanded deployments I also approached other participant groups that orbited around the sector as I desired their input on how useful the systems could be for their work. I interviewed several accountants and funders to gain first-impressions of the technologies and discuss future possibilities. These additional perspectives began to reveal what the “other side” of the interactions with the systems may look like given further consideration and development.

To tie off the evaluation a last “week in the life” deployment was performed. This used a similar unshepherded deployment method as used in the first phase, with the understanding that since workers were now familiar with the system and only had to commit to a week’s use that uptake would be more natural. There were a few technical issues which ended up restarting the deployment multiple times, however this was largely a success. During this week in the life of I didn’t perform any observations but instead interviewed individual participants about the system at the end of the evaluation. Finally, I performed two group interviews; one with each Patchwork and GOPA after the culmination of the research. We discussed the original aims of the research and reflected on its performance and challenges, as well as what future work in the space may look like. This was audio-recorded and transcribed.

3.6 Summary

This chapter has discussed the framing, analytical inheritance, and methods used to perform the research in this thesis. I began with establishing the thesis as situated in the tradition of a Workplace Study in HCI and design, before illuminating the analytical traditions that result from this tradition as well as the research space.

With this instituted I then mark out the practical performance of the research. First I outline the timeline of research and set out phases inquiry that gave rise to the use of particular methods. Finally I discuss in detail the methods used for fieldwork, design, and analysis of data.

As I have now provided a scrutiny of the investigative traditions and practical applications of these in the research this thesis will now provide a detailed account of the first phase of this; a fieldwork case study of work practice.


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  1. I later became, and have remained, a trustee myself.