Somewhere Around That Number: An Interview Study of How Spreadsheet Users Manage Uncertainty

by   Judith Borghouts, et al.

Spreadsheet users regularly deal with uncertainty in their data, for example due to errors and estimates. While an insight into data uncertainty can help in making better informed decisions, prior research suggests that people often use informal heuristics to reason with probabilities, which leads to incorrect conclusions. Moreover, people often ignore or simplify uncertainty. To understand how people currently encounter and deal with uncertainty in spreadsheets, we conducted an interview study with 11 spreadsheet users from a range of domains. We found that how people deal with uncertainty is influenced by the role the spreadsheet plays in people's work and the user's aims. Spreadsheets are used as a database, template, calculation tool, notepad and exploration tool. In doing so, participants' aims were to compute and compare different scenarios, understand something about the nature of the uncertainty in their situation, and translate the complexity of data uncertainty into simplified presentations to other people, usually decision-makers. Spreadsheets currently provide limited tools to support these aims, and participants had various workarounds.


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