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Re-examining and re-conceptualising enterprise search and discovery capability: towards a model for the factors and generative mechanisms for search task outcomes.

Cleverley, Paul Hugh


Paul Hugh Cleverley


Simon M. Burnett

Laura J. Muir


Many organizations are trying to re-create the Google experience, to find and exploit their own corporate information. However, there is evidence that finding information in the workplace using search engine technology has remained difficult, with socio-technical elements largely neglected in the literature. Explication of the factors and generative mechanisms (ultimate causes) to effective search task outcomes (user satisfaction, search task performance and serendipitous encountering) may provide a first step in making improvements. A transdisciplinary (holistic) lens was applied to Enterprise Search and Discovery capability, combining critical realism and activity theory with complexity theories to one of the worlds largest corporations. Data collection included an in-situ exploratory search experiment with 26 participants, focus groups with 53 participants and interviews with 87 business professionals. Thousands of user feedback comments and search transactions were analysed. Transferability of findings was assessed through interviews with eight industry informants and ten organizations from a range of industries. A wide range of informational needs were identified for search filters, including a need to be intrigued. Search term word co-occurrence algorithms facilitated serendipity to a greater extent than existing methods deployed in the organization surveyed. No association was found between user satisfaction (or self assessed search expertise) with search task performance and overall performance was poor, although most participants had been satisfied with their performance. Eighteen factors were identified that influence search task outcomes ranging from user and task factors, informational and technological artefacts, through to a wide range of organizational norms. Modality Theory (Cybersearch culture, Simplicity and Loss Aversion bias) was developed to explain the study observations. This proposes that at all organizational levels there are tendencies for reductionist (unimodal) mind-sets towards search capability leading to fixes that fail. The factors and mechanisms were identified in other industry organizations suggesting some theory generalizability. This is the first socio-technical analysis of Enterprise Search and Discovery capability. The findings challenge existing orthodoxy, such as the criticality of search literacy (agency) which has been neglected in the practitioner literature in favour of structure. The resulting multifactorial causal model and strategic framework for improvement present opportunities to update existing academic models in the IR, LIS and IS literature, such as the DeLone and McLean model for information system success. There are encouraging signs that Modality Theory may enable a reconfiguration of organizational mind-sets that could transform search task outcomes and ultimately business performance.


CLEVERLEY, P.H. 2017. Re-examining and re-conceptualising enterprise search and discovery capability: towards a model for the factors and generative mechanisms for search task outcomes. Robert Gordon University, PhD thesis.

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Jul 7, 2017
Publicly Available Date Jul 7, 2017
Keywords Workplace information searching; Information systems; Enterprise search; Information discovery; Serendipity; Faceted search; User satisfaction; Search literacy; Google habitus; Knowledge management
Public URL
Award Date May 31, 2017


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