Comparing American and Finnish oral information behavior



This poster presents preliminary results a field study conducted to compare oral information behaviour in and large and one small, developed country. Recognizing the interdependence between context and orality, the study asks whether a model developed to identify oral documents may be extended to study oral information in general and in different context. The poster present results from a field study with interview and observation data from a large and a small developed nation.


Information behaviour findings reveal that professions prefer to talk when interacting with information (Case, 2007; Leckie, Pettigrew, & Sylvain, 1996; Taylor, 1991; others). Research also suggests that orality is preferred for accessing new information (Daft & Lengel, 1983; Huotari & Chatman, 2005; Mackenzie, 2005; Turner, 2009; Wilkinson, 2001). Numerous more recent studies substantiate these findings and suggestion, but few focus on oral information at the onset (e.g., in the research questions and design). This study strives to help correct this trend by using a recently articulated model to investigate orally-based information (Turner, 2009).

Orality, or word of mouth transactions, is recognized as being context dependent (Solomon, 1997; Talja et al., 1999; Tuominen et al., 2002, 277). The model for studying oral information (Turner, 2009) emerged from research conducted in a large, developed nation. In this investigation I ask whether the model can apply to information behaviour in a small, developed nation.


The model provides a way to determine what information an utterance conveys and how (Turner, 2009). Based on Frohmann's explanation (2004) of how documents have properties, the model moreover facilitates the identification of practices that make it possible for a document to be informative (Turner, 2009). Although the study from which it emerged used it to identify oral documents, this study applies it to explore oral information behaviour in two different contexts. Applying the model in this manner can substantiate that how the model facilitates the identification of oral documents. It can also determine whether the model can be used to study orally-based information in general.

Research goal

This study responds to the following research questions: how does information conveyed orally in a large, developed country compare to information conveyed orally in a small, developed nation? Can Turner's model (2009) be used to identify oral documents in a different national context? Can Turner's model (2009) be used to identify what information an utterance conveys?


field study data organized into five cases, three in the United States and two in Finland. Each case involves two observations and one interview with a middle manager talking with a small group of staff members from the same information institution.

Observation data is gathered to study how participants use of orally-based information in situ (Krathwohl, 1998). Partially structured interview data provides insight into how participant's oral information behaviour is situated among their interactions with information made available in other modes.

Aspects of the research design ensured adequate data. Information institutions have contexts replete with a parent organization(s); customers; and, numerous internal departments and external entities (e.g., professional associations, labour unions, institutional member organizations, vendors, funding agencies and more). Professionals, specifically mid-level managers, have access to a significant amount of information because they work within these and other organizational sub-contexts.

Additionally, research participants were from one large and one same developed nation. The literature has addressed how frequently American managers in information institutions leave one position for another, which is considered essential for career ascension (McAnally & Downs, 1973; Veaner, 1990). By contrast for Finns, this type of mobility is less common and less of an option. These two contexts provide an opportunity to extend and test Turner's model (2009) in a different context.


Initial analysis of the data reveal how context influences the oral information behaviour of professionals. For example, there is some evidence that Finnish professionals rely less on oral information behaviour than their U.S. counterparts. This data reflects the how Finnish professionals increasingly have a multi-national customer base given Finland's role within the broader context of European Union. Continued analysis of the data will include an effort to determine whether this is a consistent pattern in the data and to identify evidence of what may be replacing information interactions that would have been oral under different circumstances.

Research participants were from developed nations states of two different sizes. The United States has more resources, which seems to indicate more professional opportunities. However, Finnish professionals also assume a number of different roles, work within a variety of organizational contexts, and become involve in a variety of professional development activities. While American professionals may engage in such opportunities by changing positions or instituions, Finnish professionals may engage in this manner while working in the same position within the same institution. Data is emerging from the participants' active engagement in these sorts of professional activities.

Design considerations

The research design gains strength in how in repeats a study. And, a weakness lies in how all research activity relied on the English language, which is not one of Finland's two national languages; they are Finnish and Swedish. This strategy relied on the participants multilingual abilities, but they typically conduct business in English. The data may reflect Finland's active efforts to incorporate European Union lead international traditions. Continued analysis of the data is anticipate to address these issues more.


In summary, this poster preliminary results of research project that explores in oral information behaviour in two different context. The main contribution of this poster lies in its potential to substantiate a model identifying oral documents and studying oral information in general (Turner, 2009).


I am grateful to have received assistance in the form of a Fulbright Fellowship with its support from the Fulbright Center (Helsinki, Finland), the Center for International Mobility (Helsinki, Finland), the Louis Roth Endowment Award, and the Department of Information Studies and Interactive Media at the University of Tampere (Finland).