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About this book

This edited collection opens up new intellectual territories and articulates the ways in which academics are theorising and practicing new forms of research in ‘wild’ contexts. Many researchers are choosing to leave the familiarity of their laboratory-based settings in order to pursue in-situ studies ‘in the wild’ that can help them to better understand the implications of their work in real-world settings. This has naturally led to ethical, philosophical and practical reappraisals with regard to the taken for granted lab-based modus operandi of scientific, cultural and design-based ways of working. This evolving movement has led to a series of critical debates opening up around the nature of research in the wild, but up until now these debates have not been drawn together in a coherent way that could be useful in an academic context. The book brings together applied, methodological and theoretical perspectives relating to this subject area, and provides a platform and a source of reference material for researchers, students and academics to base their work on. Cutting across multiple disciplines relating to philosophy, sociology, ethnography, design, human–computer interaction, science, history and critical theory, this timely collection appeals to a broad range of academics in varying fields of research.

Table of Contents


Research ‘In the Wild’

Over recent years the term ‘in the wild’ has increasingly appeared in publications within the field of Human Computer Interaction (HCI). The phrase has become synonymous with a range of approaches that focus upon carrying out research-based studies reporting on user behaviour in ‘natural’, ‘situated’ contexts, in distinction to lab-based studies. The objective of this book is to bring together a range of perspectives from a variety of researchers who have carried out studies in the wild. By bringing these together we aim to explore and demonstrate how such studies can support research in different fields and domains. In doing this we wish to help the broader research community understand some of the issues, reasoning, methods and practical matters that are involved in doing research in the wild. This edited collection is part of an ongoing and developing debate, and as such provides both a backdrop and platform that will promote further discussions in this emerging area.
Alan Chamberlain, Andy Crabtree

Step by Step Research

Research in the Wild, a well-trodden phrase in the literature, but how wild is wild? Walking the streets of one of the most deprived areas in the country, or gazing out to sea, from an ‘unspoilt’ valley that, beneath the greenery, is pockmarked with 19th century mine workings. If the way is well signed (according to the tourist literature), does that make it no better than a controlled lab experiment, a repeatable journey. And ‘research’ is maybe no less problematic. If a researcher walks one thousand miles does that make it research in the same way that an artist piling bricks makes it art? This chapter describes a three and half month journey by foot around the periphery of Wales, which takes in the most downtrodden and industrially derelict areas of the country as well as gentrified ‘regenerated’ waterfronts; oil refineries, and picture postcard ‘destinations’. It is a story that is as challenging methodologically as it is physically and mentally; low on systematicity, high on subjectivity, more about uncovering questions than finding answers. The questions raised are as varied as the landscape. What makes one post-industrial community fail whilst another retains its heart? Why does software cope so badly with poor connectivity, making already difficult situations worse? Above all, is there a future for the margins beyond depopulation, retirement coast, or theme park?
Alan Dix

“Research in the Wild”: Approaches to Understanding the Unremarkable as a Resource for Design

This chapter outlines some key approaches towards understanding the unremarkable. It focuses first on a sociological orientation to the everyday world as key to the enterprise, and then on a variety of complimentary approaches for elaborating or surfacing the unremarkable character of everyday life. It considers the kinds of data resources that are routinely used to elaborate the unremarkable, and the relationship between data resource and analysis as a constituent element of working ‘in the wild’. We hope this will be a valuable resource for researchers and students alike.
Andy Crabtree, Peter Tolmie, Alan Chamberlain

Deeper into the Wild: Technology Co-creation Across Corporate Boundaries

This chapter provides some reflection on a research project conducted over the course of three years that started with a series of ethnographic studies of outsourced customer contact centres (or call centres) operating on behalf of large telecommunications companies.
Tommaso Colombino, Jutta Willamowski, Antonietta Grasso, Benjamin V. Hanrahan

HCI in the Wild Mêlée of Office Life—Explorations in Breaching the PC Data Store

‘HCI in the wild’ was meant to be a call to get HCI investigations out of the lab into the mêlée of real life. This is of course a commendable suggestion, though begs questions about what kinds of methods and topics are suited for exploring in this mêlée as against in the lab. Claims by some experimentalists that they seek ecological validity in lab studies are largely missing the point since the thing that studies in the wild seek are essentially only those things that occur outside the lab—and hence are not things that can be replicated, modelled, or emulated. But in any case, some of those who have taken up the call for studies in the wild have taken this rather too literally—they have sought wild places, places where HCI researchers have not gone before. Needless to say this being HCI, the places in question are not often that wild, woods near Brighton, for example, street life in south Cambridge. What they ignore as they venture into these settings is the mêlée of office life, the place where the bulk of computer systems are located and the place in which, oddly enough, increasingly little HCI research gets done.
Richard Harper, Siân Lindley, Richard Banks, Phil Gosset, Gavin Smyth

Supporting Shared Sense of History Within a Rural Village Community

In this chapter we present our longitudinal study of a community photo display system known as the Wray Photo Display (Taylor and Cheverst in Int J Hum Comput Stud 67(12):1037–1047 2009, in IEEE Comput 45(5):26–32, 2012) and how members of the community used this display to interact with their past (and each other). Our development of the Wray Photo Display commenced in 2006 as part of a research project which set out to investigate how situated displays could support rural communities, and in particular how such displays could support notions of community. Our analysis of the user generated content (in the form of images and associated comments) submitted to the system reveals a significant proportion related to cultural heritage. The current focus of our work with the Wray community is to provide residents with more sophisticated tools (including mobile tools) to support the shared collection and curation of narratives relating to local history.
Keith Cheverst, Nick Taylor, Trien Do

Community-University Research: A Warts and All Account

This chapter explores co-production with community groups of innovative digital technologies designed to address challenging social issues. It presents lessons learned from the Catalyst project (http://​www.​catalystproject.​org.​uk), which carried out 13 such co-production projects over a three year period developing digital solutions in areas as diverse as homelessness, anxiety management, behaviour change, and renewable energy. The approach taken was to form meaningful partnerships of multidisciplinary academics and external partners from community groups. The chapter offers guidelines for how to make such partnerships effective based on the Catalyst experience. These guidelines cover a range of different areas: working in the community, research innovation, working across disciplines, and practicalities. They are illustrated, where appropriate, by reference to a range of research partnerships set up as part of the Catalyst project.
Jon Whittle, Maria Angela Ferrario, Will Simm

Ethics and Consent in the (Sociotechnical) Wild

When we speak of ethics, we refer to the articulation of moral principles intended to promote societal and individual good. Derived of moral philosophy, they describe the codified process by which we determine how and why specific human conduct might be deemed right or wrong, good or bad. This is especially critical in the context of human-subjects research, where ill-considered interventions may otherwise result in harm to participants. Socio-technical studies conducted in naturalistic settings, what HCI terms ‘in the wild’ research, present some tensions with our current approaches to ethical practice. In particular, the ways in which we inform, secure and support participant consent. This chapter explores these emerging tensions and, through the voices of interviewed experts, highlights some of the issues arising around user consent and sociotechnical systems.
Ewa Luger, Tom Rodden

Practical Ethics

As ethical issues become increasingly important and problematic in research, this chapter reflects on our own investigations into some of the ethical considerations involved in long-term research ‘in the wild’. In particular, we consider two relevant issues: the effect of a long-term relationship with a community, and the delineation and relevance of ‘practical’ ethics in the process. What becomes clear from our interrogation of the data is that issues of responsibility, including those of how we identify what our responsibilities might be; who holds them; what they entail, and how we discharge them are matters of the negotiated order. In a context where research relationships ‘in the wild’ are predicated on lasting commitments, they are not, and cannot be, determined by the researchers alone. They evolve over time and in delicate relation to the needs and desires of our fellow research partners and participants—this is what ‘practical ethics’ entails.
Nick Race, Dave Randall, Mark Rouncefield, Roger Slack

Orienting to the Wild

Understandings of what ‘in the wild’ might mean differ enormously according to the kind of research being undertaken. This chapter inspects the orientations to the wild visible in various kinds of research deployments and assesses their implications. Very broadly, one can identify four potentially overlapping concerns: wanting to deploy a technology so that it will be seamlessly integrated into real-world activities; deploying a rather crude technology with an interest in finding out by doing so what it will take to make it fit; deploying a technology to encourage specific kinds of engagement that may or may not have any permanence; and deploying a technology with the express goal of being disruptive. Having examined how these orientations are visible in the literature the chapter goes into greater depth regarding two specific and contrasting deployments to examine the outcomes of different research orientations to the wild in greater depth. In particular, the chapter highlights the potential disjuncture between researcher orientations to the wild and the orientations of the inhabitants of the settings where research deployments take place and considers what the consequences of that might be.
Peter Tolmie
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