I am professor in Human Work Science and responsible for the Work Practice Laboratory, WPL. WPL is the base for our research and PhD studies, oriented towards the subject IT and Work Practice. Our main discipline Human Work Science deals traditionally with how people use technology and how technology should be designed in order to support human work. Human Work Science is wide-ranging and covers many different topics. In WPL we work within a narrow and clearly defined area: people’s actual use of technology. Our goal is to contribute to the development and design of new technology, technology that supports people in what they have to do – and what they want to do.
Our research efforts aims at developing a work practice based approach targeting technology in use. How is technology actually used? That is the burning question in our field, a question that needs to be answered parallel to the development of new, better and more useful products and services. Working within this narrow and specific field gives us exciting opportunities to really go into depth.
Being concerned with people’s work, a focus on technology could be seen as a paradox. But in order to support people in their work it is very important that the technology is made visible. Technology must also be visible in new ways, because the existing perspectives from, for example, the traditional engineering disciplines are not adequate in this context. We need to focus on technology, but not on technology as isolated products, services or systems without concrete contexts. We must focus, instead, on technology in use.
From my perspective I notice work everywhere – and work is of course everywhere. Even if work is not the content of our dreams it makes our life and activities go round. But–from my perspective–if we concentrate too much on the work being done by people, there is the risk that the technology as such “disappears”. If we want to develop and design technology we must have it at hand. It must be visible and it must be possible to describe, talk about and discuss technology. Technology needs to be account-able in order to be developed and designed.
Therefore my main interests circle around the questions:
how can we, in an appropriate way, make technology visible and accountable for use as well as for analysis?
how can we design technology for uses in contexts?
One could say that my personal ambition is to give technology optimism a face. This is something I take very seriously. It is an urgent, important task for all of us to move on from naïve technology optimism to a more reflective and use related technological optimism. This task also involves seriously and rigorously seeking the important Questions to which new technological possibilities could be the Answers. We must seek and exploit the use possibilities inherent in technology.
IT and Work Practice – a personal background
During almost 30 years I have been working in different areas within Human Work Science. I have been dealing with issues ranging from very practical ergonomic design to studies of what happens with people’s skill with an increasing mechanisation and automation. Currently I am most interested in how to employ rigorous ethnographic studies in the development and design of new IT-based products and services.
I have a university degree in mechanical engineering from the Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg (1975). My studies focused industrial production and organisation. In 1975 I started to work in the area of ergonomic design, at the Luleå University of Technology in Luleå. There I worked with different subjects within the discipline of Human Work Science, for example Industrial Work Environment, Social Psychology of Work, and Industrial Sociology. My PhD dissertation, Work, Technology and Economics. Conceptual Frameworks in Industrial Sociology from 1986, was written in the tradition of industrial sociology. Here I dug into questions that at the time interested me deeply, namely human skills and technological change.
In the second half of the 80s, I got more and more interested in computers and IT. Especially I was fascinated by the question of how technology actually is used. I discovered the research field CSCW, Computer Supported Cooperative Work, and was very much inspired by the work of Lucy Suchman and her colleagues in the research group Work Practice and Technology at Xerox PARC. For me a totally new field opened up, extremely relevant for the discipline Human Work Science, and extremely relevant for design and development of applied IT.
In 1991 I started to work at the Blekinge Institute of Technology in Ronneby, and soon I was deeply involved in the development of a new study program, People, Computers and Work (MDA). The first bachelors from MDA took their exams 1996, and the first masters in MDA got their diploma 1997. I myself got more and more involved in developing research and PhD education in a subject we call IT and Work Practice. For a two year period, 1999-2000, I was also head of the department for Human Work Science .
During the years, technology as such has always been my main interest. Human Work Science as a discipline focuses on technology in order to contribute to the development of technologies that support people’s work in the best possible ways. Here computerisation and digitalisation offer special and very interesting challenges and opportunities. The Work Practice Laboratory responds to these challenges and is an arena where we can approach the technological opportunities from a use related perspective. For me,
WPL is both a concept and a specific, physical space for research and PhD education
WPL combines rigorous studies and analysis of technology in use with explorations of possibilities in new technological trends concerning human-computer-interaction
WPL is a place for promoting openness and curiosity
WPL is a great place, with great people involved