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?


Sharoda said...

Great post Max! I agree that there might be a difference between actual information need and perceived information need. Also in longitudinal, non-synchronized (using Gene and Jeremy's taxonomy), complex collaborative information seeking activities (like that which occurs over a patient's illness trajectory in a hospital) the information need might evolve as multiple people find and make sense of information and pass on the products of their sensemaking to others. Would be a fascinating study to actually trace how different people who participate in a collaborative search perceive the information need and how it evolves over time.
PS: Thanks for mentioning my work!

Brynn Evans said...

I loved this post, too, Max! I think the actual versus perceived information need is worth studying in the web domain as well. How people help others while doing web search may or may not be that similar to how people do it in physical settings. (Guess we'll have to wait for Sharoda's dissertation to learn more about both sides!)

Glad you chimed in on this, even if it wasn't in real-time. Just goes to show the power of blogs and non-real-time media still :)

jeremy said...

Is there a difference between perceived vs. actual info need in an explicitly collaborative setting.. verses in an individual setting?

Let me give an example: A user searching for a digital camera to buy. That individual user's information need is to find a camera that offers really good image quality. And that same individual's perception of his/her own information need is that a camera with a lot of megapixels is required. So the expression of that need is in terms of megapixels.

However, after you hit 6-7 megapixels, often what matters most about image quality is not whether you have 8 or 12 or 15 megapixels. Rather, what matters is the quality of the lens, the glass that sits between the scene and the image sensor. You'll get more quality out of good glass than you will in going from 8 to 15 megapixels.

So hopefully at some point in the search task, that user will "sensemake" and figure out what he/she should really be looking for in order to get good image quality: glass not megapixels.

Until that happens, however, there will be a gap between the perceived and the actual info need. Even for a single individual.

This isn't just a problem for collab search. Correct? It's a problem for info seeking in general? So does collab search add any additional complications, that individual search does not have?

Max L. Wilson said...

Thanks for your comments. I completely agree with things like studying digital vs in-person.

@Jeremy. It's certainly real in solo information seeking, where its so far been documented. I think the real difference is, even across digital mediums, is that there is this person to person perception, which may itself be a persons perception of another person, rather than potentially evolving introspective perception. it could get like chinese whispers of perceived information needs. In fact, if peoples own perceptions of their information needs are evolving that makes it harder for other people to accurately perceive it.

its got a lot of tie ins with collaborative sensemaking. and nikhil's handover stuff for sure.

i think its gonna have as much to say about collaborative search as collaborative search has something to say about perceived information needs. could be very interesting.

luxury bali villa said...

Hi Max. It's really good article. And this is the article which truly given me some fruitful result of reading today. It was really informative.