Putting work, work roles and tasks together

Submitted by Isto Huvila on Tue, 11/04/2008 - 08:23

There is a significant body of information science literature on both tasks and 'work' and how they relate to human information behaviour. It is rather typical that in task based research, work is something broader , but it is seldom described in a very precise way. In work based research, on the other hand, the investigation seldom penetrates to the level of individual tasks and if it does, the references are typically far from being very rigorous. 

yes, I know, you might say that I am aggravating the state of research, but still it is rather peculiar that there has been rather little interest in looking tasks and work together. In a paper published just a few moments ago in the Journal of Documentation (reference in my publications), I propose an approach to look at work and work roles as a specific context to the task based approaches. Work and work roles do not have to be 'something' broader in comparison to tasks. I would rather like to put it in a way that they are, indeed, broader, but rather specific, notions.

Purpose: Both task-based and work oriented research approaches have proved their value in information science research. A task is a workable analytical unit of human activity, which brings the level of explication close enough to cater for individual actions and their consequences. Similarly, work and work roles have been effective concepts at explicating the broad patterns of professional information activity. Major issues of the existing approaches are the difficulty of conceptualising the contexts of tasks and the relatively high level of abstraction of a work level scrutiny. The purpose of this paper is to discuss how the concepts of ‘work’, ‘work role’ and ‘task’ might be integrated into a common research agenda. We suggest that the explication of work and work roles might serve in providing additional understanding on the formation of the purposes, meanings and values, which guide the shaping of the activities conceptualised as tasks.
Methodology/Approach: The issue is discussed in general with a reference to an empirical study of information work of archaeology professionals informed by the notion of work role. 
Findings: It is suggested that the broader notions of work and work roles are useful concepts for explicating the context of more specific tasks.
Research limitations/implications: The suggested approach brings together task and work – work role-based research and provides a basis for exploring human information activity from a broader perspective than before and thus improving the general understanding of why and how information is used as it is used.
Practical implications: The study provides an approach to conceptualise the ways how people work with information and lays the ground for improving information management and organisation practices.
Originality: There has been little prior discussion about integrating the task and work-based approaches. We suggest that the explication of work and work roles might serve in providing additional understanding on the formation of the purposes, meanings and values, which guide the shaping of the activities conceptualised as tasks.

Huvila, Isto: Work and work roles: a context of tasks. JDOC 64(6), 797–815.