Beki Grinter

Sharing Instruments: The First Home Networking Study

In discipline, empirical, HCI, research on July 26, 2011 at 8:37 am

At CHI this year, I made a note to myself that I wanted to start using my blog to share some of the instruments I have used in the past. I offer them in the hopes that people will find them useful.

To begin I wanted to share some of the materials I used in the first home network study, the results of which appeared in ECSCW in a paper titled “The Work to Make a Home Network Work.”

The study consisted of two phases. First, we asked participants to fill out an inventory. Obviously it was important to collect information about what people owned. Some of this was easier to do by person, some of this was easier to do by room since some devices are owned personally and others seem to make more sense to ask about by location.

We used the results of this to tailor the following interview so that we did not ask people questions about things they did not have. We also used it to screen people to make sure that they had enough equipment to constitute a home network. The latter was useful when talking to people who might describe home network in ways that did not meet our criteria.

As we developed these materials, I remember spending a lot of time trying to figure out whether these instruments would get everything. It also became clear as we went through this that we needed to define home network. Yes, this seems obvious in retrospect, but there is nothing like designing study instruments to reinforce and clarify what must be done prior to going ahead with the research itself.

Although I never did anything with it, I also decided that it might be interesting to collect data that would allow us to compare our participants homes with other visions of smart homes. At the time, the Consumer Electronics Association had a Smart Home Rating chart. I added material to the inventory to see where our participants fell on that Smart Home Rating scale. Although I have mostly focused on qualitative research, I am not adverse to being able to align results with other data sets that might help broaden the impact of the findings. Census data is one useful resource in this regard. The U.S. Census Bureau collects far more than just data about people, also about housing stock, and even things like number of staircases in the average home (this is useful to know if you are designing robots for the home).

The second phase consisted of an interview and a sketching exercise. We asked each member of the household to draw their own version of the network without talking to each other. It was also one of the first things we did. The exercise was followed by a home tour, where we asked the family to take us around the house to the locations of home networking and ask them questions about what was going on there. The second phase culminated with a sit down interview to go over any topics that had not been covered.

The sketching exercises were a method I had never tried before. Some people were a bit nervous about drawing, citing an inability to draw, but it was extremely useful for understanding what people thought their home network compromised, how people thought about the organization of the network, and just to get the participants thinking about their home network. The final outcome meant that by the time they got to the home tour they had places to take us and things to talk about. The interview flowed from the sketches well it seemed to me anyway.

Please let me know if you have questions, or whether there are other things you would like me to share.

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