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Table 3 Potentially valuable contributions of the ANT approach in a study exploring the introduction of electronic health record software

From: Actor-Network Theory and its role in understanding the implementation of information technology developments in healthcare

Key notion Valuable contributions of this notion Implications for our study How the study would look if it was not informed by ANT
Translations Detailed insight into the complexity of different forces at play when artefacts are introduced in a new context - this can also help to inform sampling considerations Insight into how the software (which was designed by computer scientists) is integrated into the healthcare environment Might be tempted to neglect the design context and examine the adoption context in isolation
Active role of objects How objects can actively transform established practices by influencing the way human actors are associated The software is viewed as actively transforming the way care is delivered rather than being a relatively passive piece of equipment Software may be viewed as passive, which may lead to underestimating its influence
Analytical method and theory development As a conceptual tool to guide the research process, frame the research questions, collect and interpret data and theorise about potential explanations Focus on a certain technology as a case and sampling different human parties associated with it, notion of networks can help to conceptualise connections and active role of objects can help to theorise about potential outcomes Sampling may neglect potentially important actors, may result in a limited and a-theoretical approach
Generalised symmetry Can help investigators to resist imposing a priori differences between actors Helps to recognise that objects can create unpredictable outputs and have agency Prior assumptions of dualism between humans and objects may distort the analysis
Enrolment Can help to explore how different parties/actors are enrolled into a network and how relationships are formed over time Helps to map out interests of different parties and how the most powerful (e.g. managers) try to enrol the users in adopting the software May not be able to capture the different effects and stages of change in detail
Flux and changing nature of reality A tool for exploring how complex relationships between actors and effects come about through movements in the network (e.g. power relationships, social effects) Helps to conceptualise how change is a process and context dependent A rigid view of reality may be too simplistic and mask the complexity of change