Spaces and situations that frame weak signals - the example of hygiene and hospital planning
This article discusses the question: Are weak signals independent of framing and interactions with the environment? The response proposed here is that many of the developments identified by efforts to detect and interpret weak signals are the result of designed interventions that define the repertoire of actions and frames. Very often, as Ansoff argued, actors use a variety of models and filters for seeking and using weak signals. Thus weak signals are not only dependent on the interpretative equipment applied by actors, but from a constructivist perspective the identification of and meaning given to weak signals are strongly influenced by design choices made at the outset. In this sense design is a constitutive element of both the environment and signal detection/use. An example of how design is constitutive of both context and understanding can be found in the history of hospital hygiene. This case study illustrates how dominant regimes of practice, established through the conception of pathogen bacteria and antibacterial treatments and disinfection, are now creating signals that call into question fundamental design of hygiene practices. By examining the epistemic assumptions of scientific disciplines and the designed repertoire of practical responses it becomes clear how contexts and frames of interpretation are constituted and how such contexts and frames then define what is recognised as a weak signal. (C) 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.