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This paper deals with internal challenges that the human factors/ergonomics (HFE) research faces when wishing to strengthen its contribution to development of work systems. Three established characteristics of high-quality HFE, i.e., HFE takes a systems approach, HFE is design-driven, and HFE focuses on two closely related outcomes, performance and well-being, are taken as a starting point of a methodological discussion, in which conceptual innovations, e.g. adopting the technology-in-use perspective, are proposed to support development of HFE towards the high-quality aims. The feasibility of the proposed conceptual choices is demonstrated by introducing a naturalistic HFE analysis approach including four HFE functions. The gained experience of the use of this approach in a number of complex work domains allows the conclusion that becoming design-driven appears as that most difficult quality target for HFE to reach. Creating an own design discipline identity in a multi-voiced collaboration is the key internal challenge for human factors/ergonomics.
7. Discussion and conclusions
In the beginning of this paper I quoted the HFE strategy paper (Dul et al., 2012) that introduces the high-quality human factors/ ergonomics and its qualifications: systems approach, design-driven, and focus on performance and well-being. Drawing on our own experience, it seems that of the three aims the most difficult one to reach in practice is to become design-driven. When approaching this goal the other two goals will have to be tackled, too. The challenge of developing a design-driven approach is the dilemma of maintaining a scientific orientation in a developmental study, in which specific problems are solved and particular solutions created. It is clear that practical HFE consultancy is required by the industries for evaluation of products or environments, or fixing problems with regard to them. In many cases the services of the consultants are well-focused and they are considered sufficient by the industry. The role of HFE research would be to step in when practical problems are evident but difficult to frame, and for which solutions are not available off the shelf. When offered the possibility to solve difficult problems in operations or design the analytical and methodical strengths of HFE come to use. Systemic approach and concepts would facilitate understanding the domain and identification of the problems, which are typically manyfaceted and require diversity of views. The capability to comprehend the problems assumes sensitivity to the particularities of the context, and readiness to acquire knowledge from the domain experts. It is helpful if previous experience of the domain exists but often, in difficult or rare problems, the added value comes from the possibility to transfer experience from other domains.