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Current Projects
Past Projects Past Project Abstracts

Current Projects

Problem or issue to be addressed: Large scale computing infrastructures (referred to as cyberinfrastructures in the U.S. and e-science initiatives elsewhere) frequently fall far short of articulated goals and expectations. In spite of ample literature about the development and implementation of information technology (IT) in the information science, computing and business domains, stories of cost over-runs and failed systems abound. Several recent studies have suggested that only 1 in 3 IT projects succeed, where success is defined in terms of projects delivered on time, on budget and with promised features.

Research outlined here seeks to develop new insights to guide the development and implementation of cyberinfrastructures by looking in a new direction -- at how visual artists understand and interact with the technologies they use in their daily art practices.

The purpose of this project is to learn about the material characteristics of technology to inform the development of a typology to guide system design and implementation. Visual artists work with a variety of technologies in their daily art practice. For example, photographers use cameras, lenses and papers; acrylic painters use paints (in varying pigmentation strength and thickness), mediums and gels, brushes, palette knives and other technologies. As they work, artists develop knowledge of the affordances and constraints of the technologies with which they work, which they often exploit for creative effect. Artistic practices have given rise to insights about the nature of technology that may be applicable to the use of technology in other contexts-- for example that context matters (e.g., in perception of color), that altering the scale of a piece of art can change how viewers see or read it, etc.

This project seeks to develop new strategies to guide cyberinfrastructural development by focusing on the material aspects of technology. Research outlined here is rooted in science, technology and society studies, and is part of a 'new sociology of art' which seeks to apply the insights from the sociology of art to "non-art 'stuff'" and frames questions so they are compatible with social constructionism. This research addresses theoretical gaps in science, technology and society studies and information sciences literatures by focusing on the material aspects of technology. It responds to calls for bold new approaches to studying the materiality of technology and calls to compare radically different technologies by exploring the materiality of technology by investigating how visual artists think about technology, and using insights generated to develop a typology of technology affordances and constraints, which will be applied to cyberinfrastructures.

Potential Contribution of Research to the Advancement of Knowledge: This research has the potential to yield new insights about the nature of technology, which can help guide development and implementation of computing infrastructures in the future, and will contribute to the development of new theoretical models in science, technology and society studies. The resulting typology will help those involved in the design and implementation of technology in general and cyberinfrastructures in particular by serving as a means through which the complexity of technologies can be made more transparent. Developing a better understanding of the characteristics and properties of technology can help us develop strategies and mechanisms for anticipating and responding to the complexities of contemporary technological systems. This work will help build a dialogue between artists and technologists, both of whom serve to benefit from greater interaction across what is often perceived as an art/ technology divide.

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The HeIDE Team will improve the quality of evidence used in decision making about information technologies (IT) used for collecting epidemiological data in BC by conducting research about IT use for epidemiological data collection. We will:

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The areas of focus:

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Past Projects

Although it is common knowledge that boys and girls, men and women are biologically different and that their experiences bring them into contact differently with their physical and social environments throughout their lifespan, research in environment and health has been slow to translate this knowledge into methodologically sound studies that adequately consider sex and gender. The paucity of  information in this area has vital implications for health, health services and preventive intervention strategies for children, adolescents, family members involved in paid and non-paid work, and the elderly. The overall objective of this proposal is to integrate gender/sex considerations into research in health and environment throughout the lifespan.

To achieve this goal, we have set up a pan- Canadian interdisciplinary research team, building on recognized Canadian expertise in environment and health and in quantitative and qualitative methods to take account of gender and sex. The emerging team will:
  1. develop and refine interdisciplinary quantitative and qualitative methods for integrating gender/sex considerations in Canadian and international research in environment (including workplace and health);
  2. establish strong collaborations with community-based and public health partners working in environment and health, in order to come to a richer understanding of the real-life mechanisms linking environmental health to sex and gender;
  3. train and mentor young researchers;
  4. initiate multi-centre, multi-disciplinary research demonstrating the scientific importance of integrating gender/sex considerations into research and intervention in health and environment. We propose a participatory structure with partners working in the field of environment and health and a 5-year progressive research and activities plan grounded in on-going research in environment and health across Canada.

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"A medical registry is a place where data, records, or samples are kept and made available for research or comparative study” (Merriam-Webster, n.d.). The term registry also refers to “the systems and processes involved in the establishment, support, management, and operation” of disease registers (Medical Dictionary Online, n.d.). Research outlined here will yield an understanding of work practices in a Cape Town hospital’s emergency department. Setting up health registries—whether paper based or electronic-- requires an understanding of how work is carried out in specific medical contexts, in order to ensure that the systems and processes put in place to collect and manage registry data are compatible with existing work practices.

Our long term goal is to develop guidelines to support development of computer supported health registries in low and middle income countries (LMICs). Research outlined here will be undertaken as a pilot study in order to demonstrate the utility of ethnographic research as a means of supporting design of health registries in LMICs. It will also showcase the contributions our team can make to improvement of epidemiological data collection in LMICs, which in turn will place us in a more competitive position in competing for international grants.

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Background: In 2003, the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority (VCH) chose Mid-Main Community Health Centre (Mid-Main) as one of the clinics to receive primary health care renewal funds. A portion of the funding has been used to purchase and implement an electronic medical record (EMR) system that has some capacity to support chronic disease management through patient registries. In implementing their electronic medical record, Mid-Main has had ongoing contact with Elaine Grenon, Director of New Practice Design with the VCH Primary Health Care Network. In addition, Mid-Main has worked with Dr. Ellen Balka (professor and research scientist at Vancouver Coastal Health) who is the principal investigator of ACTION for Health, a 4-year, $3 million project that has focussed on the role of technology in the production, consumption, and use of health information. Since 2003, several ACTION for Health research projects have been carried out at Mid-Main, including a project which investigated the implementation and use of Wolf Medical Systems’ electronic medical record. The proposed project seeks to build on existing partnerships between Mid-Main, Wolf Medical Systems, VCH, and Balka’s research group through 3 related ‘knowledge to action’ projects of interest to all parties.


Project objectives are to support the translation of knowledge to action through:
  1. Demonstration of enhanced use of data from electronic medical records in support of continuity of care in clinical settings and practice research. This project will focus on building capacity within Mid-Main to increase use of electronic record data to support practice improvement initiatives, particularly those targeted at the population of people who live with 3 or more chronic conditions within the cardiovascular and respiratory clusters, and people with persistent mental illness, who have been identified by VCH as using disproportionately high levels of health service resources.
  2. Knowledge translation (KT) from research literature to local users (Mid-Main and VCH) and from local users (Mid-Main) to decision makers (VCH) and technology producers (Wolf), and subsequently potential electronic record adapters, about challenges related to enhanced use of electronic records for management of patients with multiple chronic conditions.
  3. Translation of primary research results into good practice guidelines. In B.C., the Ministry of Health has developed a chronic disease management toolkit (CDM Toolkit) used by Mid-Main and other practices. Plans for management of patients with multiple co-morbidities involve increased use of the CDM Toolkit. Primary research will be undertaken in order to better understand how the CDM Toolkit is being used, and identify issues associated with data sharing between clinics and the CDM Toolkit. Results will be disseminated as a good practice guide, suitable for use by clinics.

That knowledge translation activities will result in evidence of practice changes at Mid-Main, evidence of utilization of research results by VCH, and reflected in software (Wolf).

Research Plan

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Many claims have been made about the benefits of networked computing, which is often touted as a way to increase efficiency through improvements to service delivery, record keeping, and data collection and analysis. The health sector has been increasingly subject to computerization: computers are the focal point of increased data collection activities (the production of health information), the internet is increasingly being seen as a means of disseminating health information to patients and their families (the consumption of health information), and advanced data analysis is increasingly supporting policy, treatment and financial decision making (the use of health information by health sector staff)

Although government spending aimed at computerization of the health sector has been high (along with expectations about the benefits that on-line health information and computerization will yield), little has been invested in determining whether or not existing programs are meeting stated goals. The research program outlined here will determine whether or not existing programs aimed at internet delivery of health information to health consumers and computerization of health sector jobs undertaken in efforts to improve both sector efficiencies and health outcomes are achieving stated goals, and preserving what Canadians value in our health system. Our goal is to achieve a fuller understanding of the complex ways health information is produced, consumed and used by lay people, and produced and used by health sector professionals, in order to inform the design of policies and systems. We will identify socio-technical issues, challenges and constraints to the realization of Canada’s vision of the New Economy in the area of health information, through case studies employing qualitative and quantitative methods, to achieve an understanding of health information technology (HIT) which can be used to inform policy about its use, and development of new systems.

  1. explore whether or not the introduction of information technology into the health sector is meeting stated policy objectives, and protecting what Canadians value in their health system (equity, compassion, individual and collective responsibility, respect for others, effectiveness and efficiency);
  2. explore the use of the internet as a means of gaining access to health information, and specifically, to determine what roles information intermediaries (people and/or hardware and software who help information seekers find the information they need) fill when those around them seek health information via computers; and
  3. look at the challenges that arise (including the need for computer skills, organizational and work design changes) when new IT is introduced into health sector work places.

The introduction of new technology in the health sector will be explored in relation to what Canadians value about our health system, by academics representing communications, law, computer science, psychology, social work, sociology, science, technology and society and library and information sciences, in cooperation with diverse partners in library and community settings, non acute health care settings and hospitals. Research will focus on issues emerging when IT is used in health settings by the general public, health care workers and marginal groups (e.g., low income citizens). The role of technology in the production, consumption and use of health information will be explored through multi-method case studies in Canada, Austria, Australia, the UK and Netherlands, and results will be communicated to diverse audiences including health system administrators and policy makers, academics, and other stakeholder groups. Research will focus on the use of IT by lay people (health literacy, and the role of information intermediaries in health information provision), health care professionals (e.g., related to changing work practices that accompany new information technology, as well as the challenges related to the introduction of standard practices imposed by information technology), and ethical and legal issues (e.g., privacy of health information, the ethics of identifying potential health service recipients through health data sets).

The potential for innovation in this proposal lies in its socio-technical orientation, deriving from a social informatics perspective, which gives primacy to the social contexts in which human interaction with computers occurs, and which “examines the design, uses, and consequences of information and communication technologies in ways that take into account their interaction with institutional and organizational contexts” [1: 217]. The project is also innovative in bringing together team members with proven track records working across disciplinary divides, who are skilled at bringing academic insights to bear on real world problems in meaningful ways.

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In their efforts to solve problems related to the implementation of technology in the workplace, scholars and practitioners with a wide range of disciplinary backgrounds have turned their attention either to research that can be loosely grouped under the heading of participatory design of technology (see for example Schuler & Namioka, 1993), or to research in the area of ergonomics (see for example Wilson & Corlett, 1990). Unfortunately, researchers working on technology implementation problems from within a participatory design framework have not, to date, communicated much with researchers addressing the implementation of technology from an ergonomic perspective. And, with few exceptions, advocates of neither participatory design nor ergonomics have incorporated feminist analyses of technology into their work, despite the fact that extensive earlier work (for example Linn, 1987 and Suchman & Jordan, 1988) has shown that theoretical insights about the implementation and use of technology are gained through a focus on gender as a subject of study.

The objectives of this research were:

  1. to conduct a comparative study of participatory design of technological systems and ergonomic approaches to the design of technology, with special emphasis on how each paradigm addresses skill, gender, design methodology and user participation;
  2. to identify how ergonomic and participatory design practitioners accomplish the goals of the paradigm they are working within, and what factors, if any, constrain them from realizing those goals;
  3. to determine to what extent system designers and engineers incorporate practices that derive from either ergonomics or participatory design into their work processes.

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Past Project Abstracts

Dr. Ellen Balka serves as an Academic Mentor for the PCHR training program

The PCHR  training program is structured to act like a powerful magnet that attracts exceptional mentors and learners from across Canada and internationally to generate solutions to immediate problems in the health sector.

PCHR's most unique and innovative feature is the creation of community-based learning environments that complement formal coursework. This approach means shared learning across diverse university and community target groups through problem-based teamwork on actual community research priorities.

The three target learner groups are graduate students from multiple disciplines and programs, transdisciplinary postdoctoral fellows, and community program managers/learners/policy makers.  

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Dr. Ellen Balka serves as a co-investigator for the Best Practices for Coordinated Health Promotion and Health Services in Midlife project

Project Objectives:

Greater integration of preventive and clinical care, and of the formal health care systems with informal and self-care in the community, based on evidence-based planning, decision making, and resource allocation.

The following statements outline principles intended to assist decision making and research planning as we work to realize our vision and mission.

  1. Local partnerships to build better research and practice knowledge development and application

  2. Accelerate development and implementation of best practices within our partner communities, with cross-cutting initiatives to expand our knowledge base about best practices

  3. Work towards theory-based and tested integrated health information systems which include personal, social networks, clinical, and population health variables

  4. Create a learning and training organization that prepares research producers and research consumers to work closely together towards improved health for Canadians

  5. Maintain a focus on health in midlife and how (a) healthy lifestyles, (b) patterns of care (self, informal, and formal), and (c) health status (including quality of life with its physical, mental, emotional, and social health dimensions) change over time with aging

  6. Invest in communications, knowledge management, and diffusion as an ongoing, organizing, and facilitating process

There are three components to the Best Health Practices in Midlife Project: the Coordinating Centre, the Cardiovascular Health Best Practices Project and Promoting Action Towards Health.

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Last update: March 31, 2011