Contextual Inquiry and Requirements Shaping

  • Peter M. Bednar
  • Christine Welch


A primary purpose of traditional systems analysis is seen as ‘capture’ or ‘elicitation’ of user requirements, in order to produce specifications as a basis for information systems design. Such a view presupposes that user requirements are pre-existing, and that the particular ‘users’ concerned know what they are, and can therefore articulate them. We argue that these assumptions cannot be taken for granted. If a system is to be created which is useful to particular individuals, we suggest they need to take ownership and control of the analysis themselves. By exploring their own experiences, aspirations and sense-making processes in the context of their problem space, they enable richer and more comprehensive understandings to emerge. A creative process of requirements shaping is then promoted. Our focus, therefore, moves away from problem description by an external analyst, towards contextual inquiry, which supports creative thinking and problem re-definition by those individuals most affected. We discuss contextual inquiry and requirements shaping to facilitate exploration of multiple, simultaneous and dynamic roles of the same autonomous individuals, separately and collectively. Their purpose is to enable emergence of reflective, shifting perspectives, leading to deepened understandings of problem experiences. It is then possible for resolutions to be created that address experiences, rather than descriptions, of problems.


Business Process Information System User Requirement Problem Space Contextual Inquiry 
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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter M. Bednar
  • Christine Welch

There are no affiliations available

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