Emerging issues in ergonomics: a methodological framework for foresight and sensemaking

  • Wendy D. Elford

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    Lack of knowledge about emerging issues limits the ability of a discipline to accurately target resources to support effective and sustainable practice. There is evidence to suggest that human factors and ergonomics (HFE) professionals do not have the specific futures thinking skills and methodologies to allow these issues to be identified. This study examined options for the professional not trained in futures studies to explore emerging issues in order to support an interdisciplinary approach to complex problems. The focus of the study was on emerging issues in the ergonomics of office work. The study took an action research/learning and largely phenomenological approach: four narrative methodologies were tested and their strengths and weaknesses compared. These included a literature review/environmental scanning (4 years' duration),expert interviews (19 interviews),a scenarios workshop (16 participants) and a naturalistic sensemaking survey using the software SenseMakerTM (99 participants). The latter two case studies were conducted in a large public sector organisation. Of the four methods, naturalistic sensemaking resulted in the least bias and was the most sustainable. A model– the Sensemaking Spiral– and methodological framework– Context for Action (CA) – were developed through the comparison of the case studies, supporting theory and researcher reflection. The five elements in the CA framework are perspective, momentum, narrative, patterns and meaning. These elements allow a multi-ontology and multi-epistemology approach; a balanced research design should select methodologies which cover all five elements in order to be valid and sustainable. Context for Action allows different methodologies to be 'scaffolded' together without subsuming one into the other. Performance criteria for each element are proposed. These allow the comparison of different research designs to explore emerging issues. This study has argued that meta-data is important and demonstrated the potential for combining meta-data and narrative approaches in ergonomics, allowing quantitative as well as qualitative analysis. Like many problems in HFE, the ergonomics of office work was found to be complex. Evidence that complexity theory contributes to a better understanding of complex problems in ergonomics has been presented. The Sensemaking Spiral allows a research project to be positioned with regards to different frameworks for ignorance and knowledge and with respect to time. An approach using ignorance based learning and narrative was found to be effective for exploring emerging issues. Frameworks for ignorance are suggested as a powerful way to locate and manage a futures focussed project in an interdisciplinary context.
    Date of Award2011
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorStanley Green (Supervisor) & Hugh Pattinson (Supervisor)

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