Interconnectedness and Contingencies: A Study of Context in Collaborative Information Seeking

Open Access
Spence, Patricia Ruma
Graduate Program:
Information Sciences and Technology
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
October 08, 2012
Committee Members:
  • Madhu Reddy, Dissertation Advisor
  • Sandeep Purao, Committee Member
  • Bernard James Jansen, Committee Member
  • Barbara Louise Gray, Committee Member
  • Wayne G Lutters, Special Member
  • CIS
  • teams
  • collaboration
  • context
  • healthcare
  • contextual factors
  • information seeeking
Collaborative information seeking (CIS) is an important aspect of work in organizational settings. Researchers are developing a more detailed understanding of CIS activities and the tools to support them; however, most studies of CIS focus on how people find and retrieve information collaboratively, while overlooking the important question of how context affects CIS activities. This dissertation focuses on unpacking the concept of context to understand how contextual factors affect CIS. Although context is an important topic in numerous disciplines, a common definition in the research is difficult to identify. Broadly, context includes the circumstances and conditions that surround and affect a phenomenon. These circumstances and conditions may be tangible or intangible and could include location, position, people, objects, function, purpose, meaning, or time. In this dissertation, I address two important gaps in current research on CIS as related to context. First, there is limited research on the contextual factors that can affect collaborative information seeking activities. Second, there is a lack of understanding on how contextual factors influence collaborative information seeking activities. To address these research gaps I conducted an ethnographic field study of the CIS activities of information technology teams in two hospitals. In this field study, I used qualitative methods including interviews, observations, shadowing, and artifact collection to examine the contextual factors impacting CIS activities and how these contextual factors impacted CIS practices. Through this investigation, I contribute to the research field by offering a conceptual understanding of the contextual factors affecting collaborative information seeking activities in organizational settings. Specifically, this study (i) identifies categories of contextual factors impacting CIS activities, (ii) explains how the contextual factors impacted those CIS activities, and (iii) develops a framework of contextual factors and their impact on collaborative information seeking in organizations. The research presented in this dissertation helps us extend our conceptual understanding of context and collaborative information seeking and also highlights the importance of studying context as an aspect of CIS.