The Performative Production of Trace Data in Knowledge Work
The digitalization of organizational settings can provide seemingly unprecedented visibility into knowledge work practices through trace data. Although trace data could be a boon for monitoring knowledge work that has traditionally eluded detailed oversight, the broader literature on data suggests that increasing behavioral visibility through trace data can also motivate reactions that reduce the transparency of work practices and question the validity of the data. To reconcile these contrasting views, we draw from performativity and conduct an in-depth case study of trace data production in a learning management and analytics system at an international business school. We find that once knowledge workers become aware of trace data in the system, they start to shape not only their own actions against the anticipated uses of the data but also the actions of their colleagues, subordinates, and even their students. We conceptualize the changes as first- and second-order prefiguration and discuss how prefigurative changes go beyond gaming, impression management, and transfiguration work discussed in the literature. Finally, we theorize configuration work as metawork that emerges from the need to pay constant attention to how knowledge work practices produce trace data and to keep aligning the practices with data-based monitoring. The results contribute to the literature by shedding light on when, how, and to what effect trace data from knowledge work are performed.
History: Accepted by Suprateek Sarker, Senior Editor; Monideepa Tarafdar, Associate Editor.
Supplemental Material: The online appendix is available at https://doi.org/10.1287/isre.2019.0357.