From ethnography to the EAST method: A tractable approach for representing distributed cognition in Air Traffic Control

GH Walker, NA Stanton, Christopher Baber, L Wells, H Gibson, P Salmon, D Jenkins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

65 Citations (Scopus)


Command and control is a generic activity involving the exercise of authority over assigned resources, combined with planning, coordinating and controlling how those resources are used. The challenge for understanding this type of activity is that it is not often amenable to the conventional experimental/methodological approach. Command and control tends to be multi-faceted (so requires more than one method), is made up of interacting socio and technical elements (so requires a systemic approach) and exhibits aggregate behaviours that emerge from these interactions (so requires methods that go beyond reductionism). In these circumstances a distributed cognition approach is highly appropriate yet the existing ethnographic methods make it difficult to apply and, for non-specialist audiences, sometimes difficult to meaningfully interpret. The Event Analysis for Systemic Teamwork method is put forward as a means of working from a distributed cognition perspective but in a way that goes beyond ethnography. A worked example from Air Traffic Control is used to illustrate how the language of social science can be translated into the language of systems analysis. Statement of Relevance: Distributed cognition provides a highly appropriate conceptual response to complex work settings such as Air Traffic Control. This paper deals with how to realise those benefits in practice without recourse to problematic ethnographic techniques.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)184-197
Number of pages14
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2010


  • air traffic control
  • situational awareness
  • distributed cognition
  • command and control


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