Examining Group Process through an Information Behaviour Lens: How Student Groups Work with Information to Accomplish Tasks
Toze, Sandra L.
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Organizations increasingly rely on groups of knowledge workers to make decisions, design products, manage projects, and develop strategy. Information is central to group task accomplishment. Typical models of information seeking have focused on the individual, or on social or collaborative seeking. Groups represent a unique level, with specific attributes (interaction, interdependence, awareness and shared understanding) that need to be better understood and supported. The objective of this research was to understand information needs, seeking and use in groups. Group work was deconstructed to identify how groups, working on multiple tasks over time, identified their information needs, found and used information. Seven groups were observed as they spent 60 hours in 25 different sessions in a Group Work lab completing course assigned projects independent of this study. Group interactions were recorded on video, and computer-based activities were captured in log files. This method addressed a key methodological challenge of studying groups, allowing the complex details of group work to be captured as they unfolded naturally over time. The first phase of analysis examined the procedural aspects of group work and found that groups shifted between three phases: Planning, Doing, and Monitoring. Within each phase the following elements of group information process were identified and described: the information tasks, information task goals, information activities, sources, tools, artefacts, roles and shifts in participation. Groups looked for information to satisfy eight different goals, requiring 19 different information activities, as well as specific sources and tools to generate new artefacts. Ten roles were observed within the groups to manage their information activities, and participation fluctuated from individual through to the group. The relationship between these elements was described. Finally integrative analysis revealed that the groups did not have good mechanisms for managing information needs, and encountered the greatest difficulties trying to use information. Suggestions were made for tools and processes to facilitate more effective group work. Group information process was defined and conceptually modelled extending our understanding of information use by groups, and adding to theories and models in Information Science and Group Research. Additionally this research contributed a new method for studying groups.