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Analyse context of use

Summary

Collect and agree detailed information about:

  • Who are the intended offsiteuser and what are their offsitetask? (Why will they use the system? What is their experience and expertise?)
  • What are the offsitetechnical and offsiteenvironmental constraints? (What types of hardware will be used in what organisational, technical and physical environments?)

This information is an essential input to requirements and the planning of other usability methods. It may be collected at an early stage during planning and feasibility, or in more detail as part of the usability requirements.

Benefits

  • Ensure that all factors that relate to use of the system are identified before design work starts.
  • Provide a basis for designing later usability tests

Method

Planning

A good way to collect the information is to arrange a half-day meeting. Invite stakeholders who have knowledge about the intended users and usage. This may include:

  • project manager
  • user representative(s)
  • developer(s)
  • training
  • support

The first two are key areas. You will also need a facilitator with experience of the method and a person to record the information provided during the meeting.

To obtain information on the context of use, a detailed checklist will be needed (see below).

Before the meeting

  • When using a detailed checklist, to avoid prolonging the meeting it is important to fill in advance any items that are not contentious and highlight the issues that need to be discussed.
  • Provide all participants with a copy of the checklist.

At the meeting

Discuss and fill in each item on the context checklist. Try to obtain consensus where there is uncertainty or disagreement. If information is missing, agree how this can be obtained. Avoid prolonged discussion of minor issues.

After the meeting

Obtain any missing information. If the information is not easily available, arrange a field study to observe users in their work environment.

Circulate to all participants a summary of the conclusions, and the filled in checklist.

Output

A description of the context of use, derived from the completed checklist.

More information

  • Introductory notes on the context of use analysis can be found on the offsitebaseline archive
  • Detailed information on usability context analysis and a comprehensive checklist can be found in the offsiteUsability Context Analysis GuideMS Word[600K] and offsiteformsMS Word[50K].
  • Introductory notes to Context of Use analysis and worksheets in various spreadsheet formats have been produced by offsite Baseline 
  • A simpler checklist can be found in the offsiteRESPECT Handbook.

Variations

This is a simple technique to use when most of the information is already known by the stakeholders.

  • For the simplest systems, the context information can be collected as part of the stakeholder meeting, using a less structured process.
  • If it is impossible to arrange a meeting, the information can be gathered by interviewing the stakeholders or using a questionnaire. This has the disadvantage that there is no opportunity to establish consensus on, and commitment to, the usage characteristics.
  • In more complex situations where the information is not well-understood field studies and offsitecontextual design may be required to collect and analyse the information.

Next steps

The initial context analysis may identify gaps that can be filled by user observation, interviews, survey questionnaires, or user participation in context of use analysis, focus groups or brainstorming.

This will be followed by other activities to elaborate the user and usability requirements, such as generating scenarios to provide examples of usage.

Case studies

Background reading

For a more comprehensive approach, see the book on offsitecontextual design.


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