Understanding “influence”: An exploratory study of academics’ process of knowledge construction through iterative and interactive information seeking

in Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, Journal article


The motivation for this study is to better understand the searching and sensemaking processes undertaken to solve exploratory tasks for which people lack pre-existing frames. To investigate people's strategies for that type of task, we focused on "influence" tasks because, although they appear to be unfamiliar, they arise in much academic discourse, at least tacitly. This qualitative study reports the process undertaken by academics of different levels of seniority to complete exploratory search tasks that involved identifying influential members of their academic community and "rising stars, " and to identify similar roles in an unfamiliar academic community. 11 think-aloud sessions followed by semi-structured interviews were conducted to investigate the role of specific and general domain expertise in the process of information seeking and knowledge construction. Academics defined and completed the task through an iterative and interactive process of seeking and sensemaking, during which they constructed an understanding of their communities and determined qualities of "being influential". Elements of the Data/Frame Theory of Sensemaking (Klein et al., 2007) were used as sensitising theoretical constructs. The study shows that both external and internal knowledge resources are essential to define a starting point or frame, make and support decisions, and experience satisfaction. Ill-defined or non-existent initial frames may cause unsubstantial or arbitrary decisions, and feelings of uncertainty and lack of confidence.