Learning Contextual Inquiry and Distributed Cognition: a case study on technology use in anaesthesia

in Cognition, Technology and Work, Journal article


There have been few studies on how analysts learn or use frameworks to support gathering and analysis of field data. Distributed Cognition for Teamwork (DiCoT) is a framework that has been developed to facilitate the learning of Distributed Cognition (DCog), focusing on analysing small team interactions. DiCoT, in turn, exploits representations from Contextual Inquiry (CI). The present study is a reflective account of the experience of learning first CI and then DiCoT for studying the use of infusion devices in operating theatres. We report on how each framework supported a novice analyst (the first author) in structuring his data gathering and analysis, and the challenges that he faced. There are three contributions of this work: (1) an example of learning CI and DCog in a semi-structured way; (2) an account of the process and outcomes of learning and using CI and DiCoT in a complex setting; and (3) an outline account of information flow in anaesthesia. While CI was easier to learn and consequently gave better initial support to the novice analyst entering a complex work setting, DiCoT gave added value through its focus on information propagation and transformation as well as the roles of people and artefacts in supporting communication and situation awareness. This study makes visible many of the challenges of learning to apply a framework that are commonly encountered but rarely reported.