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Finding disturbances in on-farm biogas production


When implementing innovations, disturbances are very likely to take place. Disturbances are undesirable because they can lead to unwanted outcomes, such as economic losses and work overload to workers. However, they can be powerful opportunities for learning and re-designing innovations. Here, we will present activity theoretical tools for analyzing disturbances in a way that they could be used as learning opportunities. We illustrate the proposed tools by analyzing a disturbance that took place during the implementation of a project of biogas production. By interpreting the disturbance process with a network of activity systems, we found that on-farm disturbances were formed as ruptures, innovations and asynchronies originated in other activity systems. This finding suggests that disturbances are outcomes of the functioning of networks, rather than simple results of failure of individuals or technical devices. The proposed tools could be used in interventions to help practitioners and ergonomists to recognize the systemic and networked nature of problems, and therefore, realize that they may require the collaboration of actors from different activities. In this sense, disturbances may be turned into opportunities for learning and developing innovations. We conclude by discussing how the method could be used in ergonomic design and intervention.