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Social Science for AT?

22/04/2013
Posted by
vhernandez
16:21

 It is certanly wrong to ignore what  social sciences can contribute to the design and test of technology. Psychology, Sociology and Anthropology have been proven to be powerfull tools for designing and tailoring Assistive Technologies devices and functionalities. The use of questionnaires and interviews were the initial tools tha outreached the social science field to go into marketing, behavioural science and later into engineer. Usability and acceptance was seen as a new age mantra by some serious enginers until itself became a matter of life and death. Little by little, research methods and paradigms from social sciences such as focus groups, personnas and use cases started to be intertwined with the desing and test of various systems and devices. 

In order to apply the motto "think out of the box"  ICT gurus reccommend to follow the ethnographic approach, where the object of the study is not a device or system not even a small controlled interaction, but a direct observation in the environment. The researcher tries to empatize with the user and get used to the environment of use. A story is told and the researcher takes notes for a period of time.  A clear example is drawn by Gerry Katz, Vice President of Applied Marketing Limited, where his team was assigend to asses and improve a dialisis machine. Whereas technical guys only focused on the hardware/software level, the ethnografer realised that no more buttoms or screens were needed. The crucial improvement suggested by the ethnographer was to install a phisical flat shelf so it could serve as a desk to writte measurements down. He observed that nurses spent ridiculous amount of time going from the machine to a desk only to write down measurements. The perfomance of the whole machine was considered to be improved by a 20%!. There are really unarticulated needs that a social researcher can convey.