Contextual inquiry is a semi-structured interview method to obtain information about the context of use, where users are first asked a set of standard questions and then observed and questioned while they work in their own environments.

  • Four principles define the contextual inquiry method:
    • Context: To understand the ongoing experience and tacit knowledge of the worker, it is critical that the researcher observe details in context.
    • Partnership: This is similar to a master/apprentice model, watching, asking questions, and seeking to understand how the data more reliably reflects reality.
    • Interpretation: What researchers see and hear must be interpreted for meaning and double-checked with participants on-site.
    • Focus: The researcher must learn to expand beyond personal focus to see more in the participant’s world, picking up on idiosyncrasies and contradictions.
  • This is used to understand communication flows, the sequence of tasks, artifacts, tools, and the influence of culture and the physical environment on work.
  • Interview multiple people in different user segments before synthesizing contextual inquiry findings.

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