Contextual Reasoning

Different stakeholders use different data and privilege different uses of given data. Making decisions cooperatively requires the ability of all parties to examine the validity of the information produced by other CIS members. To do this, a person needs to be able to identify who or where the information has come from, the context for its production and dissemination, and the motives for the information gathering. Without this it is possible to misinterpret or misapply the information, putting all parties at risk for error and liability. To support cooperative decision-making practices, a CIS needs to encourage users to include background information to support contextual reasoning: around who and where the information has come from, why it was gathered, the intentions for use, and the conceptual frame of reference used to produce the information.

Guiding Questions

How are participants encouraged to provide background to their data?
What are the mechanisms? What background is needed?
How to avoid making this ‘extra’ work?

Further Information

One of the major challenges of a CIS revolves around how diverse stakeholders engage with the data within. Each group might interpret data differently, drawing on different interpretive contexts and previous experiences, their understanding of the situation at hand, the stakeholders they are engaged with, and their routine practices. Much of what a given set of data is based upon cannot be translated for other groups, since it reflects not just different terminologies or contexts but different ways of acting in the world. Supporting contextual reasoning helps make sure that one group's data is not misused or misapplied, avoiding unintentional liabilities. In addition, collaboration requires common expectations and shared goals, which are not possible without understanding the why and the how of the information being shared. Working with this context to understand these different practices and forms of reasoning will make for more ethical interactions.


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Bannon, L.J. and Schmidt, K. (1989) CSCW: Four characters in search of a context. In John M. Bowers, Steven D. Benford (Ed.) Studies in Computer Supported Cooperative Work (3-16)North-Holland, Amsterdam, Netherlands. [Link]
Bernard, L., Kanellopoulos, I., Annoni, A., and Smits, P. (2005). The European geoportal––one step towards the establishment of a European Spatial Data Infrastructure. Computers, Environment and Urban Systems, 29(1): 15–31. [DOI] [Link]
Schmidt, K. and Bannon, L. (1992). Taking CSCW seriously. Computer Supported Cooperative Work 1 (1): 7–40. [DOI] [Link]

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