Article from ejc/rec
Electronic Journal of Communication
Volume 9 Numbers 2, 3, 4 1999
Information Seeking in Workplace Contexts
SENSE-MAKING STUDY OF THE INFORMATION SEEKING SITUATIONS FACED
BY PROFESSIONALS IN THREE WORKPLACE CONTEXTS
Nanyang Technological University
The Ohio State University
Columbus, Ohio USA
represents an emerging research genre which focuses on the study
of information seeking and use in context. Context is explored
using the Sense-Making Methodology which requires consideration
of time, space and movement in defining and studying information
seeking and use. This approach differs from most traditional
studies that have conceptualized context and situation as pre-defined
conditions that predict across time. This study's respondents
included three professional groups: auditors, engineers, and
architects. A Sense-Making interviewing approach was used to
collect qualitative data focusing on information seeking and
use in recent job-facing situations. An iterative comparative
analysis involving the deductive application of Sense-Making's
meta-theory with the inductive force of the data led to the development
of ten information need situations, called information seeking
situation types in this study. Seven of these situations were
common to all three professional groups. These commonalities
are noteworthy because previous studies have mainly highlighted
differences between workplace domains. The conclusions from this
study point to the utility of taking into account information
seeking situation types which are conceptualized as embedded
in time and arising out of sense-making activities as information
users construct their movements through time-space.
report  is anchored in the tradition of user studies in the
field of library and information science studies, It belongs to
a long-standing tradition in library and information science
field -- the study of user information needs and seeking.
The first review of this genre appeared in the Annual Review of
Information Science and Technology in 1978 (Crawford, 1978) and
reviews have appeared regularly since (e.g. Dervin & Nilan,
1986, Hewins, 1990).
Approach to Studying Information Seeking in Context
This study represents an emerging research genre within that tradition,
a genre which focuses on research of information seeking and use
in context  The Sense-Making Methodology developed by Dervin
and colleagues has been an important force in this emerging research
genre (Vakkari, 1997). During the 1970s and 1980s when Sense-Making
was in its earlier stages of development, Dervin and others applied
the approach in a large number of empirical studies on information
seeking. In the 1990s, however, the contributions of Sense-Making
have been primarily meta-theoretical and methodological . One
important purpose of this study is to apply the philosophic attentions
of recent Sense-Making work to empirical investigation.
A second purpose is to provide an empirical example of a Sense-Making
driven investigation of information seeking and use in context
which highlights in important ways the differences between how
Sense-Making approaches the definition of context in comparison
to other approaches .
A review of the library and information
science literature showed the emergence in the 1990s of a contextual (sometimes
referred to as situational or dynamic) approach to conducting user studies of
information seeking and use. However, what researchers have defined as "situational"
differs markedly. For example, since the 1950s, workplace has generally
been regarded as a "situational" factor in explaining differences
in information seeking and use. Typical user studies have concluded that professionals
differ in their preferred information sources because their workplaces attend
to different informational domains. In one study, engineers preferred to gather
information using internal reports (Allen, 1977); in another, academicians preferred
to consult journals (Hogeweg, 1983). In essence, then, these studies assumed
workplace to be a kind of global context or situation which could be
conceptualized as constant across time-space.
In the 1990s, increasing numbers of researchers have recognized
that even within a given workplace context, people's information
seeking and use behaviors can differ. They have argued that there
are other "situational" factors that influence information
seeking and use. A wide variety of other factors have been presented
as alternative contextual predictors such as work task; user
demographic characteristics (e.g. education, income); and
personality and other characteristics (e.g. locus of control,
cognitive styles) (Ellis & Haugan, 1997; Borgman, 1996; Bystrom
& Javelin, 1995).
Regardless of the "situational" factors being proposed,
the bulk of traditional user studies have four methodological
characteristics in common that contrast with the methodological
mandates of Sense-Making:
factors have been conceptualized as largely pre-defined from
researchers' perspectives and usually represent aspects of the
situation salient to the system and/or represent dominant approaches
in the applied social sciences. This is what Dervin has referred
to as "using a system mirror in conceptualizing the user"
have hypothesized constancies in information seeking and use
behaviors for people as a group across time, and have predominantly
used across time-space factors (e.g. gender, demography, work
roles, etc.) as their predictive/explanatory factors. As a result,
numerous objective findings have been generated to highlight
differences in how people seek and use information across workplaces.
However, these findings seem to have limited utility for developing
higher level generalizations across contexts (Reneker, 1993).
3) User behaviors
have been conceptualized as atomistic rather than holistic,
assuming that researchers can collect data on the nature of the
situation, the information need, and the outcomes of information
seeking as isolated components.
4) The concept of information
need has, on the one hand, been conceptualized from the user-perspective but,
on the other hand, operationalized from the system perspective. It has generally
been accepted that an information need is the factor that triggers information
seeking and use behaviors. The information need is typically defined as an
"information gap" or an "anomalous state of knowledge"
(Belkin, 1983). While these conceptualizations have clearly focused on the
user's phenomenological world, in research practice the information need is
mostly translated into a lack of subject knowledge (i.e. an absence of knowledge
in a specific subject domain, usually defined in terms of the content and
structure of the knowledge base as given). For example, typical user studies
have assumed that engineers-as-a-group have the same needs for certain subject
knowledges or information. Dervin (in press) emphasizes that this contradiction
between the conceptualization of user need and its operationalization is particularly
striking when applied to information seeking and use in particular because,
by definition, at least a sub-set of information seeking behaviors must pertain
to the regions beyond accepted knowledge structures.
5) The large
number of individual characteristics that have been used as predictive
factors (e.g. gender, education, cognitive styles, work task,
and so on) have provided a body of findings which make people
appear individualistic and capricious in information seeking
and use behaviors. When predictive statistics are used, for example,
the amount of variance accounted for by these across time-space
factors describing users are typically very low, and the line
of research pertaining to users' information seeking environments
has not shown important gains over time (Fidel, 1987).
It is important
to note in concluding this introduction on normative studies of
information seeking in context that there have recently emerged
two information seeking and use models (Kuhlthau, 1993; Ellis,
et al., 1997) that address some of the methodological criticisms
just mentioned. Neither of these models uses Sense-Making's methods
for data collection or analysis, and unlike Sense-Making, they
have emphasized the identification of specific stages or behaviors
in very specialized information seeking contexts. Kuhlthau's model
addresses information search processes of students and proposes
six stages of information seeking and use: initiation, selection,
exploration, formulation, collection, and presentation. Ellis
et al.'s model examines "physical information seeking behaviors"
in academic and workplace environments and proposes eight distinct
information seeking behaviors which information seekers exhibit,
regardless of what information sources they use. These eight behaviors
are: starting, browsing, chaining, monitoring, differentiating,
extracting, verifying, and ending.
from the Sense-Making Methodology
It is beyond the purpose of this paper to provide a comparison
of the Sense-Making approach employed in this study with the models
offered by Kuhlthau and Ellis et al. Suffice it to say that all
three attempt to identify situations in process-oriented ways
and because of this, all three offer alternative interrogations
of normative approaches to studying information seeking and use.
The purpose for developing the Sense-Making derived alternative
proposed here is based on an assumption that the highly-developed
meta-theoretic and methodological framework offered by Sense-Making
offers tools that will permit more comprehensive and generalizeable
analyses across diverse domains and diverse information seekers.
This study is only the first step in what is expected to be an
Methodology incorporates meta-theoretic assumptions, a foundation
of methodological guidance, specific research methods (both for
data collection and for question-framing and analysis), and a
set of communication practices, all generated from a philosophic
perspective which posits information as a human tool designed
for making sense of a reality assumed to be both chaotic and orderly.
Sense-Making is based on a central organizing metaphor of a person
walking through time-space, facing a gap, bridging the gap to
make sense, and moving on to the next moment in time-space. This
metaphor is referred to as the Sense-Making Triangle. Its central
meta-theoretic concepts include: time, space, horizon, movement,
gap, and power. Its central operational concepts include situation,
history, gap, barrier, constraint, force, bridge, sense-making
strategies, outcomes, helps, and hurts.
It is important to emphasize that the Sense-Making Triangle is
a highly abstract meta-theoretic tool and not assumed to be a
picture of reality. It does not assume all sense-making (e.g.
information seeking) is purposive or linear. Nor does it assume
that sense-making requires resources outside of self, or even
the conscious use of resources. Rather, purposiveness, linearity,
and conscious seeking would all be sub-sets of what Sense-Making
expects researchers to study.
The importance of this observation is this: Sense-Making is not
an information seeking model, rather it is a model of a methodology
to study information seeking and use (Wilson, 1999). It differs
markedly from other information seeking models (e.g. Ellis, 1989;
Kuhlthau 1993) which focus on specific information seeking and
use behaviors in specific situations (e.g. an engineering company
or a school environment). In brief preview, the essential components
of the Sense-Making approach to context, which make it stand apart
from other approaches, are (Dervin, in press):
Purpose of this Study
1) The use in
both data collection and analysis of conceptualizations which
focus not on nouns nor substances but rather on verbs and processes.
Sense-Making's focus on what Dervin calls "verbings" (Dervin,
in press) is an attempt to free the approach from the use of
"system mirrors" for studying users. By making the
interface between researcher and researched one based on assumed
universals of the human condition -- moving through time-space,
facing gaps, bridging barriers, and so on -- Sense-Making removes
the researchers' imposition of nouns.
2) An emphasis
on movement and change across time-space. By introducing this
assumption, Sense-Making is not suggesting that there will not
be constancies across time-space. Rather, the assumption is that
researchers should not impose constancy by applying methodological
frameworks which do not allow change across time-space to emerge.
Dervin explicitly emphasizes that Sense-Making assumes that there
are patterns to be found in changes in movement across time-space
and that when research relegates all such changes to error by
not explicitly allowing the potential to exist methodologically,
the result is the reduction of our understanding of users to
3) The conceptualization
of the underlying information need as defined by both the material
and phenomenological horizons of the actor, past, present, and
future. By employing the Sense-Making Triangle, "information
need" is re-conceptualized as a discontinuity in movement
through time-space whereby people perceive themselves as being
in a moment of gap and needing to bridge that gap in some way.
The information need is, thus, defined by a combination of the
three components of the Sense-Making triangle, namely, gap (i.e.
the questions or muddles people have), situation (i.e. the situation
as embedded in time both past and present) and use/help (i.e.
the kind of help people construct out of bridges across gaps).
In the context of the interface between users and information
systems mandated to serve their needs, the bridge may be information
stored among the systems' informational resources. From the perspective
of Sense-Making, however, the bridge is anything that informs
and assists sense-making and can include both internal phenomena
(e.g. ideas, emotions, feelings, memories, hunches) and external
phenomena (e.g. a helping hand, a fact retrieved from a data
base, a change in someone's behavior).
of the focus on user "information needs" to any gap
in movement, and forces and constraints which impede movement.
This is an important aspect of how Sense-Making mandates treating
and how users see both the so-called objective and the so-called
subjective aspects of those experiences. In this way, Sense-Making
attempts to transcend the objective-subjective polarization that
Dervin suggests has led to a portrait of users as chaotically
qualitative study examined how 24 professionals constructed their
information need situations in recent on-the-job task contexts.
The professionals consisted of eight auditors, eight engineers
and eight architects, all working in Singapore. Adopting the Sense-Making
Methodology, this study investigated information seeking and use
of each respondent situationally. The focus of the entire study
allowed examination of how information seeking and use differs
across professional groups and within professional groups by situation.
The guiding research interest was the question of what can be
gained by studying information seeking and use as embedded in
specific time-space bound situations within workplace contexts.
The specific aspect of the study emphasized in this report is
the measurement of the information need situations faced by these
professionals, including a comparison of these information need
situations both across and within professional groups. Future
analyses are planned to compare the efficacy of using these information
need situations as predictors of information seeking (e.g. source
using, diversity of source using) compared to professional domain.
The research question for this study, then, started with two assumptions
of Sense-Making: (1) as users move through time-space their information
seeking situations change moment by moment; and (2) from a verbing
perspective, there will be commonalities in information seeking
situations across diverse users. Our specific research question
was: What information needs did these professionals have and how
did these information needs compare across and within professions?
Employing Sense-Making to Reconceptualize Information Needs
There are two primary implications for the conceptualization of
information needs to be drawn from Sense-Making. One is that the
Sense-Making Methodology requires researchers to conceptualize
the "information need" as a gap in the user's sense-making
faced in the process of the movement through time-space which
is assumed by Sense-Making to be a characteristic of the human
condition. This conceptualization of information need contrasts
markedly with the usual definition that focuses on the information
need as a gap in the user's knowledge of and access to a given
knowledge structure. In Sense-Making, the information need is
always situational and subject to change. Further, it is always
a gap that is defined at least partially outside any given knowledge
structure and, thus, at least partially in terms that are beyond
the capacities of any knowledge structure.
The second implication for the conceptualization of information
need drawn from Sense-Making is the specification of the information
need as an intersection of the points of the Sense-Making Triangle
-- i.e. as a situation with a gap and a potential bridge over
the gap which will have consequences or outcomes. The Triangle
and its foundational use in this study is pictured in Figure 1.
Figure 1. The Sense-Making triangle picturing an information seeking
situation -- an information need -- in the micro-moment at the
intersection of a situation, a gap, a potential bridge, and potential
helps/uses which users get from information.
It is important to not interpret the Triangle metaphor as implying
linearity or purposiveness. For this study, the Triangle is operationalized
as how the professionals saw their situations as "stopped,"
what questions they saw themselves as needing answers to, and
how they wanted to put answers to use. In this study, the phrase
"information seeking situation" is used in place of
"information need" to avoid confusion. The phrase refers
specifically to an intersection between a specific situation,
a question it gave rise to, and the hoped for utility of a possible
answer. The important point of contrast to traditional information
needs studies is that in order to use Sense-Making to inductively
identify information needs, the researcher has to take into account
the three components of the Sense-Making Triangle -- situation,
gap/bridge, and outcome.
The Sense-Making Methodology was first applied to the study of
information seeking and use by everyday citizens in the 1980s,
and later extended to public library users and other public service
users.  From these studies, numerous statements have been elicited
from users describing their information need situations. For these
situations, actors have described the gaps they faced in situations,
usually defined as the questions they asked or confusions they
faced. Actors have also described the helps/uses they hoped to
get from answers. These statements have been collected and content
analyzed with conjoint attention to deductive use of Sense-Making's
meta-theory and inductive use of the understandings being offered
by users. The results of these efforts have been the development
of a stable set of categories for coding situations, gaps and
helps/uses into what are assumed to be universally relevant dimensions
of human movement, and which are all conceptualized in process
terms, that is, in terms of movements through time-space, or what
Sense-Making calls verbings. 
Thus, Sense-Making studies have generated category schemes for
focusing on how users see their situations, their stops in movement,
the barriers and gaps they face, the uses they would make of sense-making,
and the ways in which actual bridges over gaps help and/or hinder
their movement. For example, in a typical Sense-Making study a
user might be described as experiencing a problematic situation
where she sees herself as being dragged down a road not of her
own choosing; where she has little power but feels highly compelled
to move towards some sort of resolution; where her primary questions
include "Why me?" and "When will this stop?";
where the primary way she wants to be helped is by learning how
others coped with similar situations; and where the actual bridge
she manages to construct across her gap helps because she got
the ideas of others and this helped her get control of the situation.
A large number of such categories have been generated in Sense-Making
studies. Dervin (in press) emphasizes that the purpose of these
categories is not to develop an isomorphic map of "reality"
but rather to provide a verbing interface that allows the researcher
to understand the researched on their own terms. These categories
also have the potential for those designing systems that are relevant
across individual differences previously construed as solipsistic.
Micro-Moment Time-Line Interviewing
Dervin's (1983; 1992) Sense-Making's Micro-Moment Time-Line interviewing approach
was employed for data collection. Twenty-four respondents from three professions
-- auditors, engineers and architects -- participated in the study by sharing
their information seeking and using experiences in the workplace. Each respondent
was asked to recall a typical task he or she had accomplished at work. The respondent
then described in detail each step or event he or she experienced in the process
of completing the task. Specifically, respondents were asked to focus on all
micro-moments when they saw themselves as "running out of sense."
These micro-moments are termed sense-making instances in this study and it is
these instances that are analyzed with the procedures described below.
After eliciting of the sense-making instances, the remaining interview,
in fact the brunt of it, focused on what Dervin calls the "triangulation"
of each sense-making instance using Sense-Making's central metaphor
-- the Sense-Making Triangle. For each selected time-space moment,
these questions were posed:
* What was the situation that led you to look for information?
* What was your objective? What did you feel?
* What was the question in your mind?
* What did you want to find out more about?
* How did you think answers could help (or fail to help) you?
* What were you trying to achieve/accomplish?
These 3 sets of
questions were the data collection approaches for identifying
information seeking situations in this study. In the context of
each respondent's answers to the triangulation of each sense-making
instance, these additional questions were asked to identify information
seeking and use behaviors.
on information seeking and use behaviors:
* What did you do (when you were in the reported situation)?
* What did you do to get answers to your questions? Why?
* How did you handle the answers you obtained?
* How did you decide whether the answers you got were acceptable?
* What problems/barriers did you have in getting answers?
It should be noted
that in any one interview, the respondent described many different
sense-making instances that she went through to complete her tasks.
For clarity of presentation, the above questions were listed in
a linear order. However, to encourage respondents to express themselves
freely, the actual interviews were conducted in a more natural
and less linear manner. For instance, some questions were skipped
when the answers were apparent from prior questions. Also, respondent
non-verbal clues were carefully monitored, and follow-up questions
were posed (e.g. What else? Can you explain more on? What do you
mean by? Can you give me an example of?).
In addition, use of the term information was avoided in the interview,
as mandated by Dervin (in press). In Sense-Making terminology,
"information" is a word that pertains to established
structures which limit the experiences actors will share with
the interviewer. For example, when an architect was asked what
information he needed at a certain stage in his work process,
he answered "I was not looking for information. I was looking
for approval from the government authorities." When the term
"information" was used, the interviewer  made it
clear to the respondent that "information" can mean
different things to different people, and she encouraged the respondents
to elaborate further.
Conduct of the Interviews
All interviews were conducted by the senior author either in the
respondent's or senior author's home or office. Each individual
interview lasted for approximately ninety minutes. Before the
interview, participants were briefed about the purpose of the
research. They were also briefed about the nature of the interview,
in particular, to let them know that the same set of questions
would be asked repeatedly throughout the interview about different
events or steps in a task-facing situation. An additional ten
minutes of the interview were used to build rapport with the participants
by chatting freely about issues related to their careers, work
tasks and companies. All interviews were fully audiotaped and
transcribed, except for one participant (Auditor #4) who preferred
not to be audiotaped. In that case, the senior author took notes
during the interview and typed out the transcript right after
the interview. An excerpt of a sample interview transcript is
presented in Figure 2.
Figure 2. Excerpts from an interview with an architect.
Data Analysis: Sense-Making Instances as Units of Analysis
Although the individual respondent is the data collection unit
as reported above, the unit of analysis is not the individual
as is normative in most user studies but, rather, the sense-making
instance -- the moment in facing a work task situation where the
professionals reported they ran out of sense. This follows Sense-Making's
mandate which proposes that important dimensions of the systematic
patterns in information seeking and use are not repeated inflexibly
by individuals across time-space but are instead practiced reflexively
in response to characteristics of given moments in time-space.
The 24 respondents in this study identified a total of 626 sense-making
instances during their task-facing situations. Of the 626 sense-making
instances identified in this study, 256 were from auditors, 155
from engineers, and 215 from architects.
It is these 626 sense-making instances that were analyzed in this
study in terms of what types of information seeking situations
each represented and then what kinds of information seeking behaviors
were used. It would be possible to call each of these sense-making
instances an information need situation, or an information seeking
situation. While this terminology would be conceptually correct,
it becomes confusing when differentiating, for example, between
all sense-making instances and those that were coded as falling
into a specific information seeking situation type. For this reason,
the term sense-making instance is used to describe the units of
For each of these sense-making instances elicited from respondents,
the senior author examined all words and word phrases attached
to each and placed them in broad, preliminary categories labeled
"situation," "gap," and "uses/helps"
-- i.e. in the major categories mandated for attention by the
Sense-Making Triangle. Some data seemed to fit into more than
one of these three broad categories. Thus, multiple codes were
attached to sense-making instances when necessary.
When doing the content analysis, the author was informed by categories
of situation-gap-help/uses developed from past Sense-Making studies
(Dervin, 1983; Dervin, 1991). However, because this particular
application of Sense-Making was a qualitative investigation, the
categories from prior studies were not used a priori as pre-defined
categories. Instead, the categories of situation-gap-help/uses
were derived inductively. Thus, at the highest level of abstraction
Sense-Making's meta-theoretic premises guided the category development;
at the lowest level of abstraction the words of the 24 respondents
as they described their 626 information seeking situations guided
the category development.
To ensure the credibility of the analysis, the senior author's
biases were probed, meanings explored and bases for interpretation
clarified in a series of face-to-face debriefing sessions with
academic advisors. In a typical debriefing, the author walked
the debriefers through a randomly chosen sense-making instance
and the debriefers described what they saw as the gap, situation
and help/use. The categories inferred by the author were consistently
the same as those coded by the debriefers. To further test the
stability of the analysis, the author re-coded the interview transcripts
four months after the initial findings had been stabilized in
the first round of analysis. This re-coding demonstrated the stability
of the findings, as only minor adjustments were needed to tighten
the categorization schemes.
Figures 3,4, and 5 present the categories developed to tap situations,
gaps, and helps/uses in this study. For the purposes of this paper,
the delineation of the three different groups of categories was
a preliminary step leading to the characterizing of each specific
sense-making instance in a particular information seeking situation
type. Thus, in defining information seeking situation types, the
categories describing situation, gap, and helps/uses were assumed
to play an intersecting and defining role. This is in keeping
with Dervin's definition of the information need as being in the
middle of the Sense-Making Triangle as pictured above in Figure
Figure 3. Categories inductively derived to characterize the situation
angle in the application of the Sense-Making Triangle to the process
of identifying information seeking situation types.
Figure 4. Categories inductively derived to characterize the gap
angle in the application of the Sense-Making Triangle to the process
of identifying information seeking situation types.
Figure 5. Categories inductively derived to characterize the helps/uses
angle in the application of the Sense-Making Triangle to the process
of identifying information seeking situation types.
To arrive at the typology of information need stuation types,
after identifying the contiquities of situation, gap, uses/help
in each of the 626 sense-making instances, the author used a method
of iterative comparison to investigate how each sub-category of
situation, gap, helps/uses co-existed within a a given sense-making
instance. This was compared against the next unit of analysis
to find out whether it shared the same sub-categories or exhibited
new ones. Having completed the iterative analytic process, ten
major themes, or information seeking situation types, were identified.
In terms of the Sense-Making conceptualization driving this study,
these information seeking situation types became a proposed typology
of information needs. Figure 6 provides an example of how the
information seeking situation types that were constructed inductively
in this study were mapped using the points of the Sense-Making Triangle
-- situation, gap, uses/helps. Figure 6 applies Figure 1 to one
of the ten information seeking situation types identified in this
study -- the task initiating situation.
Figure 6. An example for the task initiating information seeking
situation type of the application of the Sense-Making Triangle
in the coding of the information seeking situations.
Results are presented
in two sections below. First, the 10 different information seeking
situations that emerged from the iterative comparison are described.
This presentation proceeds without regard to how the different
kinds of information seeking situation types were distributed
across the three professional groups. Secondly, quantitative tools
are then used to portray how the three professional groups compared
in terms of both similarities and differences in their construction
of these 10 information seeking situation types.
The Ten Information Seeking Situation Types
The findings showed that the auditors, engineers and architects
commonly experienced seven information seeking situation types
at work; and an additional three information seeking situation
types were experienced primarily by architects. Figure 7 presents
an overview of the results of the analysis in which the Sense-Making
Triangle was used as a tool for examining the contingent relationships
between the three points -- situation, gap, helps/uses -- which
were assumed to form at their intersections an information seeking
situation. What Figure 7 provides is an overview of the intersections
of sub-categories of situation, gap, helps/uses which defined
each information seeking situation type. The presentation below
draws on Figure 7 in presenting a thematic description of each
information seeking situation type. These descriptions are then
illustrated with verbatim quotes from the interviews which, where
possible, provide an example from each of the three professional
Figure 7. An overview of the contingent patterns that emerged
between situation, gap, and helps/uses for the ten information
seeking situation types identified in this study.
Information Seeking Situation Type #1: Task Initiating Situation.
As shown in Figure 7, when respondents saw themselves in a task
initiating situation, they defined themselves as facing gaps which
required getting started on new assignments. They expressed their
information gaps in terms of asking factual questions about their
assignments. For example, auditors asked which specific areas
need to be looked into in more detail, engineers asked for the
facts related to product failure, and architects asked how many
units the developer wanted to build. When respondents were in
task initiating situations, they saw answers as potentially helping
to provide overviews of things (e.g. scope and objectives) as
well as specific facts about the tasks they were facing (e.g.
work-related facts, work schedule, work requirements, customer
requirements, etc.). The following quotations illustrate some
of the typical task initiating situations identified by the three
For this client,
December is their year end. So by September or October, I needed
to know what the audit assignment was all about. The senior auditor,
that is myself, was given the portfolio by my boss. Using this
portfolio, I prepared the memorandum (Auditor #4).
thing we need to do is to narrow down the stages. First of all
we need to get the schedule fixed. So within each schedule we
need to define what task, what objectives must be met, what defines
the completion of the task. Then the third step will be the resources
allocated for each test and by when we must complete the task
that was given or assigned
Housing and Development Board we have new rules and regulations.
These new rules and regulations will be e-mailed to me by the
contract manager. All the liaison architects. Then, we make changes.
We incorporate them in our drawing. We don't seek information,
they provide it. Like in the first part, we want to win, so I
need to know what people's needs are. And who I should be designing
for. So our target is very clear initially . . . . (Architect #1).
Seeking Situation Type #2: Focus Forming Situation. As shown in Figure 7,
when respondents saw themselves in a focus forming situation,
they defined themselves as not having clear ideas of exactly what
information they needed to complete their assignments. They saw
unclear and foggy paths ahead. They asked many questions in order
to get a better focus for their assignments so that they could
better define and plan their work scope. They expressed their
information gaps in terms of asking questions about the past and
the future (e.g. What has been done in the past? What is the assignment
expected to be like?). Also, they asked questions about direction,
so as to get pointers to the right information sources (e.g. Who
should I talk to? Where should I get the files?). Further, they
asked for opinions of others (e.g. What do people think about
the task? What are people's opinions on what should be done to
tackle the problem?).
By getting answers to their questions, when respondents were in
focus forming situations, they hoped answers would provide them
with general understandings (e.g. getting any potentially interesting
raw data that was not yet interpreted); the ability to gain control
(e.g. by being able to predict); and a sense of the opinions of
others (their advice, thoughts, and suggestions). The following
quotations illustrate some examples of typical focus forming situations
identified from the various professions:
. . . You
know this is roughly the risk area, but how far should I go into
how deep should you get into it when should you stop? There is
no end to it. You can study the whole operation. It's like deciding
what's the limit. That's one thing. If you don't go deep into
it, maybe there's risk area in there, and you don't know. This
is one area, sometimes, you have to decide there is some area
of uncertainty (Auditor
. . . I think
the way it works is when at the beginning of the things, when
you are faced with a completely new situation and you do not
know what on earth is going on. The first thing you do is to
try and find out what the gist of the problem is . . . of the
situation, and what is expected of you. Then . . . you kind of get a feel knowledge
of what you are expected to do (Engineer #6).
thing, of course, is to consult a senior architect before you
do that. And I have quite a senior architect in the office, and
I usually consult him before I do any of these and that helps
. . . Usually I will tell what is the problem or what exactly
is it I am trying to find out. And they will say oh, why don't
you just call up this person, or look at this, or check out this
book we have in our library or whatever (Architect #4).
Seeking Situation Type #3: Idea Assuming Situation. As shown in Figure 7,
when respondents saw themselves in idea assuming situations, they
defined themselves as having formed clear ideas about their destinations
and exactly what information they were seeking. They saw the need
to get access to specific information required to improve their
specific task knowledge and get going toward their destinations.
Respondents expressed their information gaps in terms of asking
factual and evaluative questions (e.g. What does all the information
tell me?). By getting answers to their questions, respondents
wanted to get answers which they saw as providing them with value-added
information (e.g. getting specific, vital details and current
information and knowledge). The following quotations illustrate
some examples of typical descriptions of idea assuming situations
as identified by the three professional groups:
. . . Normally
you just know what you want to look for, then you know who are
the persons in charge. You go to that particular person. This
is definitely standard (Auditor
I guess like
any plan, you need to know what resources are available to you.
For this, you talk to the people who are in charge of the resources.
You can talk to your manager (Engineer #6).
We need all
the structural input, we need all the beams, and columns and
all that which will affect the design. And how big is the space
required to be . . . . We have meetings. We give them a set of
drawings, and they will give us their design, their layout. They
will provide feedback to us. If they have encountered certain
problems, they will highlight [these] to us. And we will check
through the drawing
Seeking Situation Type #4: Idea Rejecting Situation. As shown in Figure 7,
when respondents saw themselves in idea rejecting situations,
they defined themselves as being in situation movement states
which in Sense-Making research have been called problematic, spin-out,
or wash-out. Here, respondents saw themselves as being out of
control, having no road, or being dragged down a road not of their
own choosing. These were all situations where respondents reported
they were unable to make sense of conflicting and unexpected information
as it did not conform to their plans, expectations or personal
understandings. In this situation type, respondents also reported
not getting required information as expected.
Respondents expressed their information gaps in terms of questions
seeking confirmation (e.g. Am I really seeing something abnormal?),
reasons (e.g. Why would this happen?), history (e.g. Has this
occurred in the past?), human error (e.g. Has someone made a mistake?)
and evaluation (e.g. Should I spend more time on this issue?).
By getting answers to their questions, respondents wanted to get
confirmation and explanations (e.g. getting clarification and
reasons regarding problematic issues), as well as alternatives
(e.g. other ways to complete the task instead of following the
original plan). The following quotations illustrate some examples
of typical professional narratives in idea rejecting situations:
we go down to the audit field and if we come up with any findings
that weaken these foundations or destroy whatever we have laid
down as the basis, we need to check back further and see if we
misunderstood something. Have we missed some essential information
that causes us to view the business differently at the planning
were a few issues, especially concerning the power line testing:
it's failing by a certain margin. In the US, it's failing by
a lesser margin. So we needed to find out what the differences
were. So when I shared my results with them, feedback to them
my results, I tried to see what kind of setup they were using
to do their power line testing -- what were the wave shapes of
the discharge product -- to try and make sure that the actual
test itself in Singapore was being done in the same way (Engineer #8).
Usually we go for the lowest.
My question would be, why would the price be so low? Did he miss anything...if
all are around the same rate? So ok, we look for something to list out in
the tender interview, to ask them the questions and all that. But if one tender
price is so far off from another, then you would like to question more, you
like to check for more detail, like why? Did he miss something? Did he offer
a cheaper product? Did he make a mistake? Did he forget a zero? (Architect #2).
Seeking Situation Type #5: Idea Confirming Situation. As Figure 7 reports,
when respondents saw themselves in idea confirming situations,
they defined themselves as connecting to truth and having to confirm,
verify and double-check certain assumptions, ideas, issues and
suggestions including those generated by self as well as
those proposed by others.
Respondents expressed their information gaps in terms of asking
factual, closed-ended questions about confirmation (e.g. Is it
correct?). By getting answers to their questions, respondents
hoped to get the confirmation they sought (e.g. evidence, third
party opinion). The following quotations illustrate some examples
of how professionals described idea confirming situations:
go to higher level, and maybe to the person in charge. At least,
to seek a last clearance from the ultimate person in charge,
before you raise the issue. Of course, if you are not satisfied,
that will be our findings and our recommendation. But before
that, we want to get clearance from them, at least our finding
is factual. That is very important. So we need to clarify, is
that what you are doing.? Just to clarify before we put up our
the zinc coating thickness, so when we say coating thickness
is below specification, it is possible, but it is not the actual
root cause, it might cause... So we need to do some testing to
confirm, so we need more data in this case. We prove that the
part from the vendor is below spec, but we can only say it's
possible it will rust faster. We cannot say that it will guarantee
to rust in a certain time. So we need to do testing to double
confirm, to pick up the data (Engineer #2).
Then we fax
over [our building plans] to the registered architects, they
have some guys to vet it, to see if we are on the right tracks,
If everything is ok, fax it back to us and then we will continue
on. So once the base is set, we'll carry through (Architect #5).
Seeking Situation Type #6: Idea Finalizing Situation. As Figure 7 reports,
when respondents saw themselves in idea finalizing situations,
they defined themselves as forming whole pictures in order to
make decisions and/or to reach conclusions. Respondents saw themselves
as using personal or collaborative judgments, so as to come up
with value-added decisions/conclusions.
Respondents expressed their information gaps in these situations
in terms of asking questions about conclusions (e.g. What is the
final decision?) and confirmations (e.g. Will the manager agree
with my decision?). Respondents wanted their answers to help them
by leading them to decisions and providing them with the ability
to make value-added judgments for the benefits of their companies.
The following quotations come from typical respondent narratives
describing idea finalizing situations:
only after when you consolidate all the information then you
begin to think, do you begin to ask, think, do they tie together
to each other? So there is no specific way, it depends. Sometimes
you are able to piece them together. But sometimes what you gathered
previously somehow contradicts what gather now. So you will need
again further clarification from the same people (Auditor #7).
got to create a mental framework on how you want to fit all the
pieces of information together, and once you have done that it
is in your head, that's when you can put it on paper (Engineer #6).
We would just
proposed a solution on the spot to the inspector. We asked, proposed
"Can we put the railing on this side?" They said, "Okay."
So then we'll do it and we take a photograph and show him. It's
a bit of at that moment, what are the questions that are raised,
and what are the alternatives we to come up with. Then you did
it fast, and re-submit.... We may discuss them with the boss
or [other] architects. I told the boss, we did not comply with
this, The boss may suggest something because he is the person
who signs . But I am quite senior, and on simple things, I can
just decide and let him know. For things which affect costs and
have other implications, we let him know. For this circumstance,
I decided myself.
Seeking Situation Type #7: Idea Sharing Situation. As shown in Figure 7,
when respondents saw themselves in idea sharing situations, they
defined themselves as open to communication and needing to share
their information and knowledge with other people. They perceived
themselves as information providers (with the roles of advice
giving, consulting, and debating), and they needed to learn how
to ensure good communication with their audiences.
The idea sharing situation was predominantly characterized by
respondents who expressed having no information gaps in the traditional
sense since they already had all the knowledge they felt they
needed. The most asked questions focused on learning about how
to communicate with others (e.g. What will the audience like to
hear? What is the most important information to be presented to
the audience?). By getting answers to their questions, respondents
wanted to get control, be able to predict, and specifically to
prepare effective presentations which achieved their goals. The
following quotations illustrate some examples of typical idea
sharing situations as described by the three professional groups:
I need to
consider what is best to include in the report. I think a good
audit report should tell the management how the department is
doing, and it should summarize everything that is found during
audit. It should be short because management doesn't have time
to go into details . . . We must know who's reading the report.
Whether what I'm writing inside serves any value, gives any useful
information. That's important (Auditor #7).
. . . thing
that pops up in my mind is whether we are talking too mean to
them. Since they are the design center, we can't say your design
is lousy...we should not be too mean to them. Other than that,
we'll be talking about engineering or scientific data, there
is nothing to argue. If the test is okay, it's okay; if it's
not okay, it's not okay (Engineer
. . . usually
the important thing is the clarity of information, no matter
to the clients or to the contractors. You have to be clear to
the clients so you won't misunderstand each other. You agree
with each other. To the contractor is the same thing, because
once you give out information and it is not clear and it's built
according to that information, there will be a lot of argument
so clarity is important. So what would be in my mind is to make
sure that we understand their questions, what the clients want
from me, and after that, whatever information I give to the person
Seeking Situation Type #8: Approval Granting Situation. As Figure 7 displays,
when respondents saw themselves in approval granting situations,
they defined themselves as observing or monitoring as they had
to give permission to others who could then carry out decisions
and tasks. Only four architects and one engineer reported that
they constructed this information seeking situation type in facing
These five respondents expressed their information gaps in terms
of asking questions about facts (e.g. What are all the facts to
support the application?) and confirmation (e.g. Is the information
given correct?) so they could make decisions regarding giving
approval to and supervising others. The following quotations illustrate
some examples of typical approval granting situations:
the product is being manufactured, we have to keep an eye on
it to make sure there aren't any process changes. Even a change
in the position of the wiring can affect the performance. Sometimes,
procurement has changed the parts -- we have to be made aware
of that. Everything is controlled. There are supposed to be no
changes to the product unless we approve it. For anyone to change
the design of the product, we need to be informed, and secondly
we have to give an approval. It depends on whether there is a
design change. If it's a part that we feel will affect the performance
of a product...for this product, I'll do a test. For this product,
it's now on hold. But there will come a day when the suppliers
are changed so we still have to test (Engineer #8).
that the . . . checks were correct. We are telling the clients,
this has reached the first story, and they can collect money
from the purchaser. We are liable (Architect #2).
Seeking Situation Type #9: Design Generating situation. As Figure 7 displays,
when respondents saw themselves in design generating situations,
they defined themselves as coming up with new ideas and concepts.
Only architects reported that they this saw themselves in this
information seeking situation in facing their tasks.
The architects expressed their information gaps in terms of asking
questions about design (e.g. How to make use of the contour in
the design?), alternative ideas (e.g. What are the various possibilities
to use this piece of land?) and opinions of others (e.g. What
ideas do my boss and colleagues have?). By getting answers to
their questions, they saw themselves as gaining intuitive ideas
and interpretations. The following is a verbatim quote from an
architect describing a design generating information seeking situation:
to always be reading. Because architecture is always changing,
there are new things, new ideas, new concepts being done. It
helps to keep you creative, I suppose...you shouldn't really
read only when you start a project, I suppose. That would be
copying. When it comes to design, there is no answer. It's not
like an exam. It helps if you are very imaginative and a creative
Seeking Situation Type #10: Approval Seeking Situation. Figure 7 shows that when
respondents saw themselves in approval seeking situations, they
defined themselves as being led by others. Only architects and
one engineer reported that they saw themselves in approval seeking
situations while facing their job tasks. These architects and
engineer expressed their information gaps in terms of asking closed-ended
questions about confirmation (e.g. Have I complied with all regulations?
Is the distance of the car park from the road within legal requirements?)
Answers to these questions were seen as helping by getting the
approvals needed. The following quotations illustrate some examples
of typical approval seeking situations as described by the architects
and one engineer:
So in that
case [realizing that because of higher priority demands he would
not have time to complete all the measurements for the design
center] I won't have time, say, to complete all the measurements.
So what I would do is maybe I can get four out of the eight measurements.
I'll go back and talk to the requestor of the test they are people
from the design center. They wanted me to test something to verify
it. Then I talk to them and say well I know you wanted me to
test all eight, but in this case, will it do if I test four,
because I have this and this and this constraint. Then if it's
yes, it's fine, If it's no, then...it is a situation I can't
deal with. And the person really needs it, then we'll see what
other alternatives are. Can someone else do it? (Engineer #6).
In this stage,
the anxiety is more, because all the technical requirements are
there. Different technical departments have different requirements,
and we are worried that we cannot comply....The problem is there
are a lot of departments that have different requirements, and
they keep changing. So we try to update ourselves....So sometimes,
because there are so many things you cannot remember by heart,
you may miss out on one or two items. So what we did was, we
submitted proposals to all these departments. And when they came
back, we looked and saw whether all the things could be complied
of the Three Professional Groups
The analytic mandate for the presentation of the 10 information seeking situation
types described above was maximum homogeneity within a situation type in terms
of the contingent intersection of the three points of analysis -- situation,
gaps, and help/uses. Thus, the analysis above proceeded without regard to the
substantive differences in the task worlds of auditors, engineers, and architects.
The intent of the section that follows is to attend to the substantive worlds
of the three professional groups and ask specifically what evidence emerged
that professional context impacted information seekers such that the three professional
groups differed in their likelihood of naming information seeking situations
of different types. Table 1 and Figure 8 display the percentages of the information
seeking situations of each type reported by the three professional groups. Table
1 also shows the baseline ns on which the percentages were calculated. The intent
in presenting quantitative data at this point is to provide an organizing tool
for qualitative presentations and not to use quantitative data in the more traditionally
accepted sense of prediction and inference. This task is, however, slated for
Table 1. Percentages of the sense-making instances experienced
by the three professional groups which were coded into each of
the ten information seeking situation types.
Figure 8. A graphic portrayal of the data presented in
Table 1 showing percentages of sense-making instances
experienced by the three professional groups which were coded into each of the
ten information seeking situation types.
In reading Table 1, the ns present the total number of each information
seeking situation type as reported by auditors, engineers and
architects. For example, the 8 auditors altogether reported 256
sense-making instances, 11 of which were coded as task initiating
information seeking situations. In the table, the ns are
reported in brackets to distinquish them from the percentage
calculations. Percentages were calculated based on the number
of information seeking situations of each type divided by the
total number of sense-making instances that a particular professional
group encountered. For instance, for auditors 4.3% of their sense-making
instances were coded as task initiating information seeking situations.
An examination of Table 1 and Figure 8 showed that for the most
part -- in fact for 90% of all sense-making instances -- the three
professional groups shared common constructions of information
seeking situations. Each group described at least an average of
one sense-making instance in each of the first seven information
seeking situation types -- task initiating, focus forming, idea
assuming, idea rejecting, idea confirming, idea finalizing, and
idea sharing. The commonality between the professions is most
clearly shown in Figure 8 where one sees that for the first seven
information seeking situation types there is remarkable similarity
in the rise and fall of the bars indicating the percentage of
sense-making instances for each professional group which were
coded into each of the situation types.
There were three information seeking situation types which were
reported primarily by architects -- approval granting, design
generating, and approval seeking. These situations appeared to
be built into the architects' work processes. For instance, generating
design concepts represented a typical work task for the architects.
With regard to approval granting, the architects were required
to submit their building plans for government approval before
they could proceed to construction work. Further, they were required
to oversee the construction process and issue certificates and
letters to the contractors which placed them in approval granting
situations. These work processes are specific to architects (but
not to auditors and engineers), and thus impacted architect reports
of the types of information seeking situations which they saw
themselves encountering. For architects, 38 (17.3%) of 215 sense-making
instances fell into these three situational types. For engineers,
the comparable percentage was 1.2%, for auditors, 0.0%.
Among the seven information seeking situation types that were
common to all three professional groups, there were remarkably
few differences in the frequencies with which the professionals
saw themselves in these situations. There were, however, a few
First, auditors reported more frequently seeing themselves in
focus-forming situations than engineers and architects -- 26.2%
of auditor sense-making instances were coded as focus forming
information need situations compared to 10.3% for eningeers and
9.8% for architects. As pointed out by the auditors, they act
as external parties who check on business entities once or twice
a year. Thus, they are not as familiar with how the business entities
function, nor as aware of the changes evolving within the company
over time. A great portion of their audit time is used to come
up with an audit scope, in order to decide on which specific areas
to investigate in depth within the audit period. The following
quotations provide some examples to show the emphasis that auditors
placed on forming a better focus for of the audit scope:
As an auditor,
you always constantly face setbacks . . . . If you come across
any setback, you go back and reconsider your objectives and reformulate
your strategy and go in again. It's like driving a car -- start,
in, stop, and change gears again. It is always changing. It's
the . . . puzzle of internal auditing. If you go by one approach
across the board for all industries, I think it's going to be
very tough. Tough because of different cultures, different sets
of people -- they react differently. Different kinds of industry,
different inherent problems with the company, in fact industry.
The worse thing is the management is different, because the management
plays a very important part. So there are many factors involved.
Then perhaps through trial and error, you will pick up on that
auditing, your job is very varied. You may be auditing accounts
one year, and next year you're auditing a settlement department.
All this information you need to get it from different people,
from different sources. There is no one standard source which
provides all the information you need. So as an auditor, you
have to use your own initiatives and discretion where to get
information, whether you can get it here or there (Auditor #6).
There is a
prior stage, which is called the audit planning stage. We have
to plan the audit, and we've got to understand the client's business,
which is the most important thing in any audit. If you do not
understand the client's business, you would not know what is
reasonable, what is the focus of the audit, and what you are
looking for. If you know what you are looking for, you don't
have to do unnecessary work to gather evidence (Auditor #8).
A second distinction
between the three professions was that engineers reported somewhat
more frequently seeing themselves in idea rejecting situations
involving the handling of conflicting and unexpected information.
Thus, 18.1% of the engineers' sense-making instances were coded
as idea rejecting information seeking situations compared to 12.9%
and 12.6% respectively for the auditors and architects sense-making
instances. As pointed out by the engineers, their work role is
to ensure that the electronic products manufactured by their companies
are up to specified quality standards. Most engineers chose to
share as their typical tasks how they tackled problems related
to product failure. They explained that a great portion of their
working time goes to investigating the causes of product failures,
and to exploring why testing results were unexpected. The following
quotation exemplifies how the engineers experienced these idea-rejecting
For this project,
I am dealing with an external vendor, and the vendor is in the
US. So my task is to do the testing on the product before we
accept their proposal to buy their chip. First, I do the testing.
Second, I tell the vendor my test findings. Then I wait for their
update, and then I do the test again. For example, for my sound
card, there will be a driver update if there are any bugs in
the driver. So after I receive the new driver, I'll do another
round of testing. So this process is actually repeating (Engineer
reported less frequently seeing themselves in idea confirming
situations than auditors and engineers. For architects, 9.3% of
sense-making instances were coded as idea confirming situatons
compared to 16.4% and 17.4% for auditors and engineers respectively.
This was due to the architects' structured work process as defined
by laws in Singapore. Especially when confirming building plans
and design concepts, architects reported that they had little
to no power. Instead, they saw themselves as being in approval
seeking situations -- being led by others and having to wait for
others' approval. For example, one architect mentioned she wanted
to confirm whether a piece of state land in front of her client's
property could be used for a carriage way to her client's house.
However, as her narrative shows, the Land Office in Singapore
would not entertain her questions:
The Land Office
doesn't entertain questions. It's only after we make submission
the Development Control Division will consult the plan, then
submit the plan to the Land Office to consult them on this piece
of land. Say there is a piece of state land in front of the development,
so the land office will give the advice and say the client has
to make this piece of state land into his land....There is a
risk behind every project. Other than that, sometimes certain
areas are under comprehensive development guide plan, DGP as
they call it. Those are confidential until they are published
to the public. Those are also the things that we are very worried
about....We might be proposing, working very hard on something.
At the end of the day, this piece of land is acquired for North-East
MRT line. So that's it. That's the end of the project (Architect #7).
In summary, this
study used the Sense-Making Methodology to develop a typology
of ten information need situations, which were referred to in
this study as information seeking situation types. These situation
types were extracted inductively by examining descriptions of
sense-making instances faced by employees in work tasks in three
professions -- auditing, engineering, and architecture. The Sense-Making
Triangle metaphor was applied deductively to isolate situations,
gaps, and uses/helps as described by each respondent for each
sense-making instance. The identification of information seeking
situation types, then, involved an intersection of the application
of a deductive analytical tool from Sense-Making with the inductive
force of the data.
Seeking and Use as a Dynamic Process
From this analysis, seven information seeking situation types
were found to be both common and similiarly frequent for all three
professional groups. However, some differences across professional
groups were noted. First, the architects reported three additional
"information seeking situation" types, which were not
reported by auditors, and scarcely reported by engineers. These
additional types were approval granting, design generating, and
approval seeking. Second, auditors reported more often facing
focus forming situations while engineers more often faced idea
rejecting situations. Finally, architects reported proportionately
fewer idea confirming situations because their occupational roles
rarely gave them final say.
Thus, by employing the Sense-Making Methodology to study information
seeking and use as embedded in time and constructed in movement
through time-space, an important finding emerged: that professionals
belonging to three different workplaces encountered seven common
"information seeking situation" types. The extraction
of these commonalities is valuable because previous studies have
mainly highlighted differences rather than commonalities between
This study represents, of course, only a modest beginning. Further
qualitative and quantitative research needs to examine whether
the information seeking situation types which emerged in this
study are applicable to larger samples of these professional groups
as well as to professionals involved in other contexts. Further
research also has to be conducted to explore additional possible
information seeking situation types which have not appeared in
this study. And, quantitative predictive analyses need to be conducted
that explicitly test the basic proposition which drives this entire
study: that there are systematic ways to examine information seeking
and use that go beyond the traditional approaches which assume
that information seeking and use varies across time-space by domain,
or across time-space based on enduring characteristics of information
seekers. The systematic entry proposed here focuses on attending
to and categorizing systematically micro-moments of gap-facing
(i.e. sense-making instances) by utilizing Sense-Making's verbing
conceptualizations as methodological tools.
Of course, in proposing the idea of the seven common and three
unique information seeking situations, we must emphasize that
these are a result of the intersection between the realities of
these information seekers as they described their situations and
the deductive organizational tools derived from Sense-Making.
The question remains: what is the most useful way to typologize
these information seeking situation categories? In this study,
we allocated separate category status to sense-making instances
involving the seeking and granting of approval. Conceptually,
however, these categories could be redefined as idea confirming
and idea finalizing situations respectively. By going up this
level of abstraction we find a commonality between architects,
auditors and engineers which the lower level data analysis did
not. An important empirical question to ask is what level of abstraction
in categorizing the information seeking situation types yields
the most useful typology in terms of research prediction and,
even more importantly, potential practice applications. This is
an important illustration of a central premise that underlies
the Sense-Making Methodology -- that our methodological moves
have as much to do with our research results as the warrants of
our data collections. These are inextricably tied to each other
and must be addressed simultaneously.
One of the major
limitations of traditional approaches to conducting user studies
of information seeking and use is that despite numerous studies
in different contexts, researchers still have limited clues as
to how to make use of the scattered findings to arrive at higher
levels of generalization across contexts (Kuhlthau, 1998; Reneker,
1993). In most of these studies, researchers have adopted a "domain"
approach as they aimed to find constancies of information seeking
and use behaviors across time for people belonging to particular
workplace domains. As a result, many independent findings have
emerged that highlight differences between domains, but the findings
seem to have limited utility in developing higher level generalizations
Contrasting with the "domain" approach is an emerging
"dynamic" approach, whereby researchers propose that
even within a domain, there are differences in people's information
seeking and use behaviors at different times, usually construed
as in different situations and/or different contexts. Researchers
have called for the need to study why a person might engage in
one form of information-seeking behavior at a particular time
(Borgman, 1996; Belkin, 1983; Dervin, 1992; Katzer and Fletcher,
1992). Research responding to this mandate has yielded a research
genre focusing on information seeking and use in context. The
mandate implies, of course, that what is neded is systematic classification
of contextual and/or situational factors. This study aimed to
provide one such classification by utilizing the meta-theoretical
and methodological tools offered by Sense-Making.
 The data in
this paper comes from the dissertation in progress of the senior
author. A preliminary report was published as Cheuk (1998).
 Two international conferences focusing on "Information
Seeking in Context" have been held recently: in August 1996
at the University of Tampere, Finland; in August 1998 at the University
of Sheffield, United Kingdom. Another is scheduled for August
2000 in Goteborg, Sweden. Papers at these conferences illustrate
the increasing number of contexts in which user studies
are conducted and the increasing variety of conceptual approaches
being brought to bear. Proceedings are available for the first
conference: see Vakkari, Savolainen, and Dervin (1997).
 See, for example: Atwood & Dervin, 1982; Dervin, Nilan
& Jacobson, 1981; Dervin, Jacobson, & Nilan, 1982; Dervin
& Clark, 1987.
 See, for example: Dervin, in press; Dervin, 1998.
 The most recent comprehensive understanding of how Sense-Making
meta-theory has informed methodology and methods to study human
information needs, information seeking and use behaviors is found
in Dervin (in press).
 See, in particular: Dervin, in press; Dervin, 1998.
 See, for example: Chen & Hernon, 1982; Dervin, 1992.
 The category schemes used here come primarily from: Dervin,
1983; Dervin, 1991.
 All interviews were conducted by the senior author.
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