Just by being present in an organization, the systems analyst changes it. However, unobtrusive methods such as sampling, investigation, and observing a decision maker’s behavior and interaction with his or her physical environment are less disruptive than other ways of eliciting human information requirements. Unobtrusive methods are considered to be insufficient information-gathering methods when used alone. Rather, they should be used in conjunction with one or many of the interactive methods studied in the previous chapter. This is called a multiple methods approach. Using both interactive and unobtrusive methods in approaching the organization is a wise practice that will result in a more complete picture of human information requirements.
This chapter has covered unobtrusive methods for information gathering, including sampling; investigation of quantitative and qualitative data in current and archived forms; and the observation of the decision maker’s activities through the use of the analyst’s playscript, as well as observation of the decision maker’s physical environment through the use of STROBE.
The process of systematically selecting representative elements of a population is called sampling. The purpose of sampling is to select and study documents such as invoices, sales reports, and memos, or perhaps to select and interview, give surveys to, or observe members of the organization. Sampling can reduce cost, speed data gathering, potentially make the study more effective, and possibly reduce the bias in the study.
A systems analyst must follow four steps in designing a good sample. First, there is a need for determining the population itself. Second, the type of sample must be decided. Third, the sample size is calculated. Finally, the data that need to be collected or described must be planned.
The types of samples useful to a systems analyst are convenience samples, purposive samples, simple random samples, and complex random samples. The last type includes the subcategories of systematic sampling and stratified sampling. There are several guidelines to follow when determining sample size.
Systems analysts need to investigate current and archival data and forms, which reveal where the organization has been and where its members believe it is going. Both quantitative and qualitative documents need to be analyzed. Because documents are persuasive messages, it must be recognized that changing them might well change the organization.
Analysts use observation as an information-gathering technique. Through observation they gain insight into what is actually done as users interact with information technology. One way to describe how decision makers behave is to use an analyst’s playscript that documents each of the major players’ activities.
In addition to observing a decision maker’s behavior, the systems analyst should observe the decision maker’s surroundings for important clues as to how well the system fits the user. One method is Structured Observation of the Environment (STROBE). A systems analyst uses STROBE in the same way that a film critic uses a method called mise-en-scène analysis to analyze a shot in a film.
Several concrete elements in the decision maker’s environment can be observed and interpreted. These elements include (1) office location, (2) placement of the decision maker’s desk, (3) stationary office equipment, (4) props such as handheld devices and PCs, (5) external information sources such as trade journals and use of the Web, (6) office lighting and color, and (7) clothing worn by the decision maker. STROBE can be used to gain a better understanding of how decision makers actually gather, process, store, and share information in order to get their work done.
Once you have mastered the material in this chapter you will be able to:
- Recognize the value of unobtrusive methods for information gathering.
- Understand the concept of sampling for human information requirements analysis.
- Construct useful samples of people, documents, and events for determining human information requirements.
- Create an analyst’s playscript to observe decision-maker activities.
- Apply the STROBE technique to observe and interpret the decision maker’s environment and interaction with technologies.