Users as Developers: A Field Study of Call Centre Knowledge Work

Users as Developers: A Field Study of Call Centre Knowledge Work

Beryl Burns (University of Salford, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-136-0.ch008
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We report the findings of a field study of the enactment of ICT supported knowledge work in a Human Resources contact centre, illustrating the negotiable boundary between what constitutes the developer and user. Drawing upon ideas from the social shaping of technology, we examine how discussions regarding producer-user relations require a degree of greater sophistication as we show how users develop technologies and work practices in-situ. In this case different forms of knowledge are practised to create and maintain a knowledge sharing system. We show how as staff simultaneously distance themselves from, and ally with, ICT supported encoded knowledge scripts, the system becomes materially important to the project of constructing the knowledge characteristic of professional identity. Our work implies that although much has been made of contextualising the user, as a user, further work is required to contextualise users as developers and moreover, developers as users.
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In this chapter we offer insights into how a group of users interact with what can be seen as a knowledge sharing system—an ICT-supported repository used by call centre staff who offer expert advice on employment issues as HR management workers. The study provides a case of ICT-enabled knowledge sharing, insights into complex knowledge work in what is often regarded as a highly standard, rules-based environment and, in particular, we emphasize the role of knowledge in systems development and use. To do this we focus upon the roles of users in the development, tailoring, and maintenance of “the knowledge” component of the system in everyday practice. Our research question was: How is knowledge made by professional users, and given the presence of ICTs in our field site, what is their role in this practice, if any? Drawing upon the social shaping tradition, which we shall expand upon later, we argue for the recognition of the, oft politically constructed and negotiable boundary between developers and users. In the remainder of this section, we briefly set our view of knowledge as a practice.

Although there are those who privilege ICTs as “the” mechanism for capturing, storing, and disseminating knowledge, this has been challenged as lacking insight into different kinds of knowledge and its provisional situated nature (Blackler, 1995; Fleck, 1997; Marshall & Brady, 2001; Sutton, 2001). For example, knowledge may be embodied (knowledge about how to do something, gained through doing), embedded (where routine arrangements are deployed), embrained (akin to the holding of conceptual skills and cognitive abilities), encultured (rooted in shared understandings), and encoded (conveyed by signs and symbols) (Blackler, 1995; Collins, 1993). However, it has been further argued that greater insights can be gained by studying the processes of knowledge construction, rather than trying to describe and define its different forms. Knowledge is mediated by various things, situated in a given time and place, provisional in that it is socially constructed, pragmatic in that it is purposive and object oriented, and contested as it has links with power and politics (Blackler, 1995). Blackler (1995) therefore recommends that we focus upon the systems through which people achieve their knowing, on the changes that are occurring within such systems, and on the process through which new knowledge may be generated. Indeed, it has been further argued that rather than simply define or describe knowledge networks, the challenge is to show how particular practices and discourses sustain networks of power-knowledge relations (Knights, Murray, & Willmott, 1993). For example, historically, task-continuous status organisations were prevalent where functional and hierarchical differentiation coincided. In this environment, positions were defined, by, among other things, knowledge ownership (Offe, 1976). But modern organisations are said to exhibit increased task-discontinuation structuring of status and the function of work performed (Hardy & Clegg, 1996). We therefore emphasize the need to go beyond simplistic notions of knowledge as a commodity to be extracted and transferred (Walsham, 2001). Knowledge may be used in innovation appropriation processes to provide access to other relevant knowledge and systems and as a political tool in support of particular interests (Hislop, Newell, Scarbrough, & Swan, 2000). Knowledge informs and justifies how we act, when it is taken as “truth,” especially when it is understood as neutral and authoritative, then it is powerful (Alvesson & Willmott, 1996). As mentioned earlier, knowledge is situated and therefore it is necessary to understand that knowledge construction is somewhat predetermined by the fact of “growing up” in a society (Mannheim, 2004), in our case, an organisation. Thus we have to be careful to avoid an excessively volunteeristic account of knowledge work in which actors are depicted as autonomous agents who possess sufficient resources to make their network a reality (Knights et al., 1993). Indeed, as Orlikowski (2002, 2006) argues the role of material forms, systems, spaces, and infrastructures in everyday knowledgeable practice are important.

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Table of Contents
Steve Clarke
Chapter 1
Jeremy Fowler
Although the discipline of information systems (IS) development is well established, IS failure and abandonment remains widespread. As a result, a... Sample PDF
Information Systems Success and Failure—Two Sides of One Coin, or Different in Nature? An Exploratory Study
Chapter 2
Jeanette Eriksson, Yvonne Dittrich
This chapter reports on a case study performed in cooperation with a telecommunication provider. The telecom business changes rapidly as new... Sample PDF
Achieving Sustainable Tailorable Software Systems by Collaboration Between End-Users and Developers
Chapter 3
Marvin D. Troutt, Douglas A. Druckenmiller, William Acar
This chapter uses some special usability and ethical issues that arise from experience with what can be called captive end-user systems (CEUS).... Sample PDF
Usability, Testing, and Ethical Issues in Captive End-User Systems
Chapter 4
Jonathan P. Caulkins, Erica Layne Morrison, Timothy Weidemann
Spreadsheets are commonly used and commonly flawed, but it is not clear how often spreadsheet errors lead to bad decisions. We interviewed 45... Sample PDF
Do Spreadsheet Errors Lead to Bad Decisions? Perspectives of Executives and Senior Managers
Chapter 5
Lixuan Zhang, Randall Young, Victor Prybutok
The means by which the U.S. justice system attempts to control illegal hacking are practiced under the assumption that hacking is like any other... Sample PDF
A Comparison of the Inhibitors of Hacking vs. Shoplifting
Chapter 6
Dewi Rooslani Tojib
he last decade has seen the proliferation of business-to-employee (B2E) portals as integrated, efficient, and user-friendly technology platform to... Sample PDF
Developing Success Measure for Staff Portal Implementation
Chapter 7
Peter Baloh
Improving how knowledge is leveraged in organizations for improved business performance is currently considered as a major organizational change.... Sample PDF
Contingencies in the KMS Design: A Tentative Design Model
Chapter 8
Beryl Burns
We report the findings of a field study of the enactment of ICT supported knowledge work in a Human Resources contact centre, illustrating the... Sample PDF
Users as Developers: A Field Study of Call Centre Knowledge Work
Chapter 9
Raymond R. Panko
This chapter describes two experiments that examined overconfidence in spreadsheet development. Overconfidence has been seen widely in spreadsheet... Sample PDF
Two Experiments in Reducing Overconfidence in Spreadsheet Development
Chapter 10
Steven John Simon, David Paper
Voice recognition technology-enabled devices possess extraordinary growth potential, yet some research indicates that organizations and consumers... Sample PDF
User Acceptance of Voice Recognition Technology: An Empirical Extension of the Technology Acceptance Model
Chapter 11
Peter P. Mykytyn
Colleges of business have dealt with teaching computer literacy and advanced computer application concepts for many years, often with much... Sample PDF
Educating Our Students in Computer Application Concepts: A Case for Problem-Based Learning
Chapter 12
Elaine H. Ferneley
End user development (EUD) of system applications is typically undertaken by end users for their own, or closely aligned colleagues, business needs.... Sample PDF
Covert End User Development: A Study of Success
Chapter 13
Steven Hornik, Richard D. Johnson, Yu Wu
Central to the design of successful virtual learning initiatives is the matching of technology to the needs of the training environment. The... Sample PDF
When Technology Does Not Support Learning: Conflicts Between Epistemological Beliefs and Technology Support in Virtual Learning Environments
Chapter 14
Tom Butler
The study’s objective is to arrive at a theoretical model and framework to guide research into the implementation of KMS, while also seeking to... Sample PDF
A Theoretical Model and Framework for Understanding Knowledge Management System Implementation
Chapter 15
Jun Xu, Mohammed Quaddus
This chapter develops a model of adoption and continued use of knowledge management systems (KMSs), which is primarily built on Rogers’ (1995)... Sample PDF
Exploring the Factors Influencing End Users' Acceptance of Knowledge Management Systems: Development of a Research Model of Adoption and Continued Use
Chapter 16
Wei-Na Lee
In today’s global environment, a myriad of communication mechanisms enable cultures around the world to interact with one another and form complex... Sample PDF
Classifying Web Users: A Cultural Value-Based Approach
Chapter 17
Annette Hallin, Kristina Lundevall
This chapter presents the mCity Project, a project owned by the City of Stockholm, aiming at creating user-friendly mobile services in collaboration... Sample PDF
mCity: User Focused Development of Mobile Services Within the City of Stockholm
Chapter 18
Cristina Hava Muntean, Gabriel-Miro Muntean
Lately, user quality of experience (QoE) during their interaction with a system is a significant factor in the assessment of most systems. However... Sample PDF
End-User Quality of Experience-Aware Personalized E-Learning
Chapter 19
High-Tech Meets End-User  (pages 302-320)
Marc Steen
One challenge within the high-tech sector is to develop products that end users will actually need and will be able to use. One way of trying to... Sample PDF
High-Tech Meets End-User
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