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IBM Journal of Research and Development  
Volume 45, Number 4, Page 759 (2006)
Business Collaboration
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Ethnographic study of collaborative knowledge work

by S.L. Kogan, M.J. Muller
We present an ethnographic study in which we examine the ways collaborative knowledge work gets done in a process-oriented environment. The purpose of the study is to identify the kinds of support that knowledge workers could benefit from and to make recommendations for tools that might provide such support. The participants in this study, knowledge workers in various business domains, work in a collaborative environment; their skills are in their areas of expertise rather than computer science and programming. The data we collected are based on field interviews, on observation sessions, and on validation sessions using prototypes. We analyzed the field data using selected principles from grounded theory, and the results of each cycle were used to guide the research in subsequent cycles. In our findings we describe how knowledge workers develop their own strategies and techniques for getting their work done in complex, dynamic environments in which prescribed work processes serve only as reference models. By presenting instances of such environments from our study data, we illustrate how such individualized work processes are created and demonstrate the need for new supporting technologies and tools.
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