Research projects


Creating a Data-Driven World: Situated Practices of Collecting, Curating, Manipulating, and Deploying Data in Healthcare (2013- 2016)


Katie PIne, Post Doctoral Fellow, Intel Labs (Co-PI)

Christine Wolf, Doctoral Student, UCI Informatics

Mary Lowry, Research Scientist, UCI Informatics

This project will study the situated practices, human assumptions, and organizational routines that transform "little data" into mineable stores of "big data" harnessed for measures and metrics.  Currently, our knowledge about the origins of big data and what goes into collecting, curating, manipulating, and deploying these huge information resources is limited. We know even less about the social and cultural implications of these activities, particularly in non-academic contexts. A growing group of scholars urge critical interrogation of the methods, analytical assumptions, and underlying biases of big data science. A nuanced understanding of the situated practices through which big datasets are assembled and manipulated is required before we can comprehend their social and political implications, particularly if we are to evaluate the quality of the scientific results based on analysis on the manipulation of such datasets.

The research will be carried out through a multi-sited ethnography of obstetrical data production in healthcare, an area where big data and associated metrics are both important and problematic.  First, it will examine the situated practice and lived experience of creating the massive amounts of information that come to form the datasets. Second, it will trace how the results emerge through automatized measures and algorithms and affect the very environments they are supposed to reflect. This research spans the lifecycle of data. It will investigate how information is collected by practitioners, clerks, and coders and transformed into local repositories of supposedly "clean" data to be manipulated by performance improvement specialists. It will then trace how information is transferred and refined further in a statewide data center and deployed by a major quality improvement organization. Finally, the research will follow the aggregated data back to the local hospitals themselves and assess how data visualizations and performance measures affect local decisions and hospital functioning.

The broader impacts of this project include both near and long-term benefits. In the short term, this research will benefit the individuals and organizations struggling with questions about how to organize local resources to produce and deploy big data in service of management and performance improvement goals. In the long term, this research will generate foundational conceptual models that help to create design recommendations and practice guidelines regarding the social, ethical, and political implications of creating and using big data.

Communication Technologies and the micro-dynamics of ‘interaction layering’ during the personal time of busy professionals (2012- 2014)


Christine Beckman, Associate Professor, UCI Merage School of Business (Co-PI)

Ellie Harmon, Doctoral Candidate, UCI Informatics

Users of mobile communication devices are confronted with the daily necessity of managing when and where they communicate with others. Technologies that enable mobile, wearable, and near-ubiquitous communication have made leaps in functionality and affordability. Such technologies extend our capacity to be connected: indeed constant connectivity is the norm for many. But, with capacity comes responsibility: responsibility to colleagues; responsibility to family; and responsibility to self. Unfortunately, the expectations, desires, and values of these parties are in flux and rarely aligned. Expected availability to a variety of communication partners, regardless of temporal or physical location, is becoming more and more taken for granted in many workplaces and in many families. Understanding how individuals negotiate their accessibility via wireless technologies in daily practice is the focus of this research.

While the role of mobile and ubiquitous technologies in today’s social landscape is a significant research topic, ethnographic studies that shed light on the daily social practices and implications of operating in an environment of expanded availability are rare. How, when, why, and to what end do people engage with communication technologies outside of the workplace? These questions have implications for individual well-being, social cohesion, and work effectiveness. This project seeks to fill this gap by conducting ethnographies of communication practices during ‘personal time.’ This study will contribute to a greater understanding of the social dynamics of technologically-mediated communication and inform future work to address these expectations of expanded accessibility and near constant connectivity. This study will involve ethnographic fieldwork with 12 families during which we conduct interviews, in-home observations, and observation of daily activities outside of the workplace.

Predictable time off in elite consulting (2008 - 2012)


Leslie Perlow, Professor, Harvard Business School

Elizabeth Hansen, Doctoral Student, Harvard Business School

This study was motivated by four related questions: How can an organization challenge temporal norms and encourage new ways of working that allow versatility and flexibility for individuals without undermining the work product? By what process might such a change emerge? What is the interplay between organizationally suggested structures and everyday work practices in engendering new ways of working? And is it possible to use personal needs as a shared goal to motivate such a shift?

This research is part of a multi-year and multi-stage research project with an elite global consulting firm. This work unpacks the process and mechanisms underlying a change effort spearheaded by the organization and designed in concert with our research team. Prior to the change effort the work in this organization was done in teams but in an independent and time intensive fashion. The goal was to shift patterns of interdependencies to enable predictable time off from work related communication (one evening per week) for each individual on the project team. Achieving this goal required team members to coordinate in new ways. Such change is non-trivial. It necessitated a structural shift in work practices, new communication practices, a willingness to buck the culture of individual heroics, and create of new forms of trust among team members. As such, those teams who successfully enacted the change effort displayed an orientation to each other and the work in line with the definition of relational coordination described above.

We rely on qualitative data gathered through ongoing observations and retrospective interviews as well as quantitative data from performance evaluations and regular self-report surveys about the progress of the team. We had the opportunity to explore detailed data on 14 teams. We spent two years engaged in ethnographic fieldwork with the initial four experimental teams. We then followed up with retrospective interviews with the next ten experimental teams. Data includes over 100 interviews, months of observation of team activities and firm meetings, weekly poll data from team members, quarterly firm level survey data, and numerous archival materials.

BlackBerrys in the shoe world (2005-2008)

Sole Research Study

This research challenges the popular conception that BlackBerry use is solely an individual phenomenon. Email is social. People use and experience the potential for wireless email in terms of their occupational identity, daily work practices and organizational context. For this research I collected longitudinal qualitative data from the in-house legal counsel and U.S. mobile sales in a mid-sized footwear and apparel company to understand the process through which people experience wireless email over time. I examined how each group engaged with the BlackBerry from its introduction to over three years of use. My inductive study reveals how initial technological frames inform, but do not determine, emerging patterns of BlackBerry use and how such frames can shift dramatically over time. Further, I trace how individual impressions of a new communication technology evolves into shared norms that carry significant personal consequences for group members. I unpack how BlackBerry users in the legal team shaped the potential for constant access into a form of social constraint, while BlackBerry users in the sales force embraced expanded access to email as enabling increased autonomy and personal time.

This study traces the process by which individuals frame and use a technology of connectivity and how groups engage in social shaping of technology use. Focusing on the experience of two occupational functions, this research discusses the key factors of difference – identity, materiality, vulnerability and visibility – that speak to the diverse trajectories of use witnessed across individuals and between groups. Finally, this research argues that expectations of heterogeneity enabled one group to develop and maintain communication norms that allowed concrete personal benefits, both on and off the job. While expectations of homogeneous patterns of use in the other group led to tension, frustration, and an erosion of ‘personal time.’ This work has implications for technological frames of reference, communication norms, social structuring of technologies, systems of social control, and work / life balance.

This study is a longitudinal qualitative field study based on three years of data on BlackBerry use at Linden, a major footwear and manufacturing company. The research is based on multiple qualitative methods including unstructured interviews, email protocol reviews, on-site observation, and three open-ended email surveys sent to the entire BlackBerry user population in the firm. I also gathered numerous documents throughout fieldwork including merchandise presentations, sales and forecasting reports, and documents created to accompany the roll-out of BlackBerrys.

Mobile information professionals (2004-2005)


Wanda Orlikowski, Professor, MIT Sloan School of Management

JoAnne Yates, Professor, MIT Sloan School of Management

This research explores a “paradox of autonomy” enacted by knowledge information professionals. We studied how and why these users willing abdicated control over where, when and how much they were connected to work during personal time through the use of BlackBerry wireless email devices. We examined how knowledge professionals used these devices in their everyday practices and found that that across the board people were using BlackBerrys to enact a norm of constant communication and ubiquitous email. We argue that these people embraced such intensity of use because the visceral act of sending and receiving email messages via the BlackBerry was experienced as reinforcing key identity traits. However, in shaping both work norms and practices, such use produced a number of contradictory outcomes that enhanced but also challenged actors’ sense of themselves as valued professionals in the fast track of their industries. Use of the BlackBerry allowed the actors to enact an identity as an effective and autonomous mobile professional, even as it served to bind them more tightly to their commitments to employers, colleagues, and clients. In consequence, we found that the professionals’ deep engagement with wireless email led them to materially reconfigure — both rhetorically in their accounts as well as practically in their actions — their identities as professionals.

This research is based on data collected from knowledge professionals working in investment banking, venture capital, private equity, and law. We focused our data collection on interviews, conducting eighty-nine interviews with sixty-seven participants in total, including knowledge professionals, spouses, and administrative support staff. The majority of participants we interviewed had been carrying a BlackBerry wireless email device for over four years. As a result, these individuals had developed shared understandings and established recurring patterns of using wireless email in their daily work practices.