MIS40670 – The Activity Checklist

The Activity Checklist – V. Kaptelinin, B. Nardi & C. Macaulay

This paper presents a tool shaped by general theoretical approach of Activity Theory. Activity theory provides a broad theoretical framework for describing the structure, development, and context of human activity. In the 1990s, activity theory has been applied to problems of human–computer interaction by an international community of scholars and practitioners.

Two basic ideas animate activity theory:

(1) the human mind emerges, exists, and can only
be understood within the context of human
interaction with the world; and

(2) this interaction, that is, activity, is socially and culturally

These ideas are elaborated in activity theory into a set of five principles as

Object-Orientedness: Every activity is directed toward something that objectively exists in the world, that is, an object

Hierarchical Structure of Activity: Interaction between human beings and the world is organized into functionally subordinated hierarchical levels. Leont’ev differentiated among three levels: activities, actions, and operations.

Internalization and Externalization: Emphasis on the fact that internal activities cannot be understood if they are analyzed separately, in isolation from external activities.

Mediation: Emphasis on social factors and on the interaction between people and
their environments.

Development: Requires that human interaction with reality be analyzed in the context of development.

To make application of activity theory more practical, the article introduces an analytical tool, the Activity Checklist. The Activity Checklist is intended to be used at early phases of system design or for evaluating existing systems. Accordingly, there are two slightly different versions of the Checklist, the “evaluation version” and the “design version.” Both versions are used as organized sets of items covering the contextual factors that can potentially influence the use of a computer technology in real-life settings. It is assumed that the Checklist can help to identify the most important issues, for instance, potential trouble spots, that designers can address.

The structure of the Checklist reflects the five basic principles of activity theory. Since the Checklist is intended to be applied in analyzing how people use (or will use) a computer technology, the principle of tool mediation is strongly emphasized. This principle has been applied throughout the Checklist and systematically combined with the other four principles. It results in four sections corresponding to four main perspectives on the use of the “target technology” to be evaluated or designed:

1. Means and ends — the extent to which the technology facilitates and constrains the attainment of users’ goals and the impact of the technology on provoking or
resolving conflicts between different goals.

2. Social and physical aspects of the environment — integration of target technology
with requirements, tools, resources, and social rules of the environment.

3. Learning, cognition, and articulation — internal versus external components of
activity and support of their mutual transformations with target technology.

4. Development — developmental transformation of the foregoing components as a

Having gone through the article I would say that it is an excellent tool to be used during the Analysis & Design phase of a  software development project. The article “suggest that practitioners follow the items in the Checklist repeatedly at various phases of design or evaluation. A quick initial run should identify the most important potential trouble spots and filter out the rest. Further runs may result in finding patterns, revising previously made judgments about the importance or unimportance of certain issues, and formulating requests for more information, if necessary.”

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