Wednesday, 16 September 2009

In Collaborative Search, is Perception Everything?

After reading a fascinating series of tweets on what constitues success in collaborative information seeking, between Jeremy Pickens, Sharoda Paul, Brynn Evans, and Gene Golovchinsky this morning (I woke up some hours after the dicussion), it struck me how important the difference between actual and perceived information need is in collaborative searching activities.

In scenarios where a group of friends are working together to organise a holiday, for example, then every member in the group is working on a perceived collective need. If several people are helping one person solve their problem, then the central person is (hopefully) working on an actual information need, but all their helpers are working on a perceived version of that persons need.

Sharoda Paul has been studying collaborative searching behaviour in medical environments. I haven't asked her directly about it, but in the worst case everyone is working to solve a patients need. All the medical staff are working on perceived information needs, with many, I would suspect, working on perceived versions of other peoples perceived information needs. A nurse might be working to what she thinks the doctor needs to solve the problem they think the patient has.

So what do we know about the difference between actual and perceived information needs? I picked it up in Jarvelin and Ingwersen's 2004 paper that preceded their big book 'The Turn'. The turn talks about it more, but concludes that its relatively underexplored. It appears to be a commonly used term in medical papers about how patients view their illnesses. Related topics, however, have been popular, such as Sensemaking and the elements of communication in collaborative search. Sharoda presented some fascinating work at CHI2009 after her time working at MSR on sensemaking of previous collaborative searchers. Nikhil Sharma has also presented some fascinating work on sensemaking of handovers, between shifts in hospitals for example.

I'm sure the topic has been broached in papers, and is being addressed in part by these related topics, but it seems like collaborative information seeking provides a great opportunity to study perceived and actual information needs, and provide insights back to collaborative search efforts. I'm looking forward to more collaborative search and sensemaking workshops to come! any at CHI2010?