SI 501: Contextual Inquiry and Project Management (Fall term)

A common source of frustration in organizations is the way information is communicated — or more often, not communicated. Whether the information breakdown occurs within the organization or with its external publics, the results can be lost business, poor morale, or general inefficiency. But help is at hand, and best of all, it's free.

The School of Information seeks applications from organizations that would like to have an analysis of their information flow process and receive recommendations on how to make it more efficient and effective. "Contextual Inquiry and Project Management" is a 14-week, client-based course at the School of Information. In this course, a group of four to six master's students perform an in-depth analysis of a process flow of organizational information use from several perspectives at no cost to the organization.

Working directly with a local partner organization — such as an archive, corporation, government agency, library, museum, nonprofit organization, or school — the student group will analyze current communication and information flows and offer specific suggestions that can help to make these processes more effective and efficient. Our students have worked with more than 200 such partner organizations over the past several years.

At the end of the semester, student teams prepare oral presentations and written reports. Clients are invited to attend the presentations, which will be held at the School of Information in December. They will also receive a report detailing the student team's findings and recommendations.

Past projects have included:

  • The analysis of information flow that occurs between a board of directors and volunteers at a local wildlife care organization from the processing of incoming reports regarding injured mammals on through to the placement and care of the animals
  • The review of a health clinic's telephone queue and voicemail system, establishing a formal protocol for routing phone calls and messages from patients, medical specialists, pharmacists, funders, and vendors to appropriate staff
  • An examination of how a government agency plans, creates, and disseminates information about current events and projects to regional employees to encourage collaboration and decrease the duplication of effort among employees
  • An evaluation of how information flows in a product development organization from the generation of new ideas, through market research, finance, and the actual development of the product
  • The study of a public library's process to acquire and weed materials among its three branches

Ideal clients meet the following criteria:

  • Have a formal or informal information process already in place, that needs improvement
  • Provide 5-10 people that are involved in the process and willing and able to be interviewed by the student team
  • All potential clients are required to complete a Project Proposal and sign a Client Agreement form.
  • Clients come from a range of industries including nonprofits, university departments, corporations, libraries, and travel agencies. There is no right or wrong type of organization.
  • Clients must be within 50 miles of Ann Arbor; preference is given to local projects.


If you are interested in participating as a client or learning more, contact:

Shamille Orr
University of Michigan School of Information
Career Development Office
(734) 647-7650

Last day to accept proposals: August 20