exploring the relationship between social science and software development methodologies: a blog by Pascal Belouin

As we have seen, themes such as meaning, interactions, communication, values and identities are widely explored in disciplines such as for instance sociology or psychology. The question then arises of the way sociological theory (for example) could allow a better understanding of the social aspects of interactive systems (again, for lack of a better word): How can we apply social scientific methods (and their theoretical, even philosophical, underpinnings) to complex social processes such as interactive system design and use?

A first area which could be investigated is the way requirement elicitation can be informed by methods borrowed from social and psychological disciplines: From an academic point of view, questionnaires, interviews, focus groups, experiments, ethnographic studies have been applied with success to the design and evaluation of interactive systems (I swear I’ll put a reference there, but you can check HCI literature on the subject!). However, it could be argued that the adoption of such methods has sometimes been rather gestural, and the aim of the approaches presented here is both to rely on strong theoretical bases as well as to provide concrete, ‘real-world’ methods and methodologies for the design and evaluation of interactive systems in a professional environment.

Thus, our approach to the adoption of social scientific methods would rely on a few axes of investigation, presented below:

  • The use and application of tools borrowed from social science to requirement elicitation and interactive system evaluation, and their underlying theoretical and epistemological assumptions
  • The history and evolution of the software development field (apparition of various development methods, academic disciplines, the division of labour within the field…)
  • The impact of ‘personal values’ and mental constructs on the development process, and more precisely on requirement elicitation. The importance of reflexivity for software designers and developers?
  • The application of various sociological frameworks and data analysis methods to the creation of novel software development methods

The goal of the following posts will be to present a few ways in which concepts borrowed from sociology, discourse analysis, ethnography and cultural studies can be used to inform software development.

Related posts:

  1. Social science for software developers – Using tools from social science to inform software design: should software developers also be social scientists?
  2. What does the apparition of agile and user-centric development methodologies mean from an interdisciplinary point of view?
  3. A short and biased history of software development methodologies
  4. Research proposal : A Foucauldian analysis of the evolution of the discourse about software development methodologies
  5. Applying social scientific concepts to domain definition: a short overview
§36 · March 5, 2010 · Theory · Tags: , , · [Print]

1 Comment to “Towards explicitly sociologically-oriented software development methodologies: using social science to inform software design”

  1. These are very interesting thoughts. We have seen that social science methodology like ethnography been applied to the understand the workings of IT. It is nothing more natural than applying social science methodology to a human-computer system. All organizations of today are governed by IT to some degree, it is no longer the individual and the computer that is of interest, but just as much social systems an constructs in relation to a diverse system of IT. I first opened my eyes to this when I read the book “The social life of information” where two researchers from xerox parc took a deeper look at how information is treated in the social-IT setting. IT is much more than the technical job of putting them together, more organizations should consider this before investing in IT.

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