Participatory Design and Contextual Inquiry for Analytics: A Short Course in Practical Techniques for Novice Interaction Designers

Laura A. McNamara, PhD
Sandia National Laboratories

February 20-21, 2018

Have you ever worked on an analytic project that you were sure would produce a helpful software tool – only to receive polite-but-ultimately-lukewarm feedback from the user community?  (Sadness!)  If so, this 1.5-day short course will help you deal with the complexities of technology usability, usefulness, and adoptability by introducing the principles and practices of contextual inquiry.   The material is based on a simple premise:  whenever we introduce a new tool into an existing work environment, we are asking people to change how they do their work.   That’s actually a bigger deal than most of us realize, and algorithmic awesomeness only takes us so far – unfortunately.


Bridging this gap requires isn’t easy, nor is it a sure thing.  To promote adoptability, it helps to begin with an empirically-grounded model of existing workflows so you appreciate the factors that mitigate for and against the usefulness of your ideas.   You should also productively engage potential technology adopters in the design and testing of systems intended for their use.  In other words, you need to be drawing on methods from the twin fields of participatory design and contextual inquiry.  In this class, I draw on materials from a wide range of application areas – everything from supervisory control to library science – to provide newbies to interaction design with practical guidance for setting up and implementing a productive cooperative design project with potential users.  We’ll also discuss how qualitative field research can inform experimental design for more structured/laboratory-based human-information research projects.   You don’t need any background in social or behavioral science to participate, but you are encouraged to bring along detailed examples of analytic tool projects you’d like to discuss.

Dr. Laura A. McNamara is an anthropologist with twenty years’ experience studying organizational change, technology usability and adoption, human-information interaction, and decision-making across the national security community, from nuclear stockpile certification to intelligence analysis to remote sensing. She is currently Distinguished Member of Technical Staff in the Airborne ISR/Human-Systems Integration group at Sandia National Laboratories, where she leads a team of cognitive psychologists and software engineers in the design and evaluation of supervisory control interfaces for remote sensing platforms.  

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LAS aims to bring together a multi-disciplinary group of academic, industry, and government researchers, analysts and managers together to re-engineer the intelligence analysis process to promote predictive analysis. LAS will do this by conducting both classified and unclassified research in a variety of areas of research. The research done in this area will serve as the foundation for mission effects and integrated back into the enterprise.

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