Dissertation Abstract
Search Practices in the United States Congress

The dissertation investigated search practices in the United States Congress to understand organizational information behavior. Search practices are socially constructed information activities. While information behavior describes activity involving knowledge, organizational information behavior describes shared knowledge activity. The dissertation describes how and why Congressional staffers use search technology to find legislative information. Like other organizational archives, legislative information is a mix of unstructured digital assets, documents and data. Unlike others, legislative information is public, has no copyright and is available on at least ten internal, commercial and Internet computer systems.

Drawing on an interpretive inductive research paradigm, a naturalistic field study generated qualitative data for a descriptive case study. Participants were House and Senate legislative staffers. Analytic induction, the method of analysis, considered interviews, observations, documents and the search interfaces of six legislative systems. The research questions examined legislative information needs, Internet search interfaces, legislative system choices and search experiences with three 111th Congress high-profile bills.

Staffers used search technology to make sense of the legislative process. The results suggest that organizational information behavior may be described by synchronous parallel search activity. Collective search is introduced to bridge the gap in the literature between collaborative and individual information retrieval. As an interdisciplinary study, the theoretical implications address organizational memory, sensemaking, technology-fit, and information seeking. The concrete implications illuminate scholarship on legislatures. The study made a contribution to organization behavior and information systems design.

The results are summarized in a model that describes patterns of search interface design and organizational information behavior. The legislative search practices model depicts staffers using search technology to comprehensively query, to quickly identify, or to accurately select sources based on events in the legislative process. Legislative interfaces, according to the analysis, favored known-item searching while presenting barriers to other information needs. Although search practices have adjusted to accommodate, the search infrastructure compromises in-depth retrieval of legislative history. A conceptual framework illustrates the challenges of search interface design for organizations. The information alignment framework suggests that search infrastructure for organizations is a balance between practices, systems, archives and interface design.

Dissertation Committee

Dr. Mary Granger  (Advisor)

Dr. Lori Brainard

Dr. D. Christopher Kayes

Dr. Phyllis Langton

Dr. Nicholas J. Belkin (Rutgers University)

Dr. Stuart Umpleby