User Requirements Elicitation - A Framework for the Study of the Relation between User and Artefact

Abstract: The aim of this thesis is to gain a deeper understanding of the relation between the user and the technical artefact and, further, how this relation can be studied for the formulation and assessment of user requirements. A tentative framework for the study of the user-artefact relation has been derived from adapted theory and experiences from seven empirical studies. In this framework, the artefact is regarded as a mediating tool in an activity. In order to understand its mediating role, artefacts must be studied as part of a use activity.

The framework suggests that five dimensions need to be explored and analysed on different levels in order to fully understand the role of, and the requirements for, an artefact in a use activity. The analysis moves between "higher" levels of analysis, related to motives and goals, and a 'lower' level, related to the specific, local circumstances which trig specific operations.

The framework is developed as a tool for thought and discussion in the process of designing and evaluating user requirement studies. In order to evaluate the usefulness of the framework, seven empirical studies have been analysed. In each case, the framework has lent itself to illustrate the strengths and weaknesses of each methodological approach. It has allowed an assessment in terms of the respective coverage of the information elicited in each study in relation to a desired complete picture. The results show that the model has a potential for describing and explaining the outcome of studies with different methodological approaches, as well as systematic comparisons of the character of the information elicited.

Furthermore, the framework suggests that not all information and, hence, not all requirements are equally accessible. The introduction of breakdown provides us with a concept that is useful both in explaining what users can and cannot express verbally: what is accessible through interviews and what is accessible through observations. Elicitation of user requirements is shown to be not only a 'collection of information', it is a process through which we aim to understand the relation between the user and the artefact. The results demonstrate how time becomes an important sixth dimension in relation to the study of the user and the artefact.

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