Three key affordances for serendipity: Toward a framework connecting environmental and personal factors in serendipitous encounters

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Purpose - Serendipity is an interesting phenomenon to study in information science as it plays a fundamental - but perhaps underestimated - role in how we discover, explore, and learn in all fields of life. The purpose of this paper is to operationalize the concept of serendipity by providing terminological 'building blocks' for understanding connections between environmental and personal factors in serendipitous encounters. Understanding these connections is essential when designing affordances in physical and digital environments that can facilitate serendipity.
Approach - In this paper, serendipity is defined as what happens when we, in unplanned ways, encounter resources (information, things, people, etc.) that we find interesting. In the outlined framework, serendipity is understood as an affordance, i.e. a usage potential when environmental and personal factors correspond with each other. The framework introduces three key affordances for facilitating serendipity: diversifiability, traversability, and sensoriability, covering capacities of physical and digital environments to be diversified, traversed, and sensed. The framework is structured around couplings between the three key affordances and three key personal serendipity factors: curiosity, mobility, and sensitivity. Ten sub-affordances for serendipity and ten coupled personal sub-factors are briefly outlined. Related research is compared with and mapped into the framework aiming at a theoretical validation. The affordance approach to serendipity is discussed, including different degrees and types of serendipity.
Findings - All the terminological 'building blocks' in the framework are seen to resonate with the included related research. Serendipity is found to be a commonplace phenomenon in everyday life. It is argued that we cannot "engineer" nor "design" serendipity per se, but can design affordances for serendipity. Serendipity may thus be intended by designers, but must always be unplanned by users. The outlined affordance approach to serendipity points to the importance of our sensory-motor abilities to discover and explore serendipitous affordances.
Research implications/limitations - Implications of the framework for designing physical and digital environments with affordances for serendipity are briefly considered. It is suggested that physical environments may have a primacy regarding affordances of sensoriability for facilitating serendipity, and digital environments a primacy regarding traversability, whereas physical and digital environments may afford similar degrees of diversifiability. In future research, the framework needs further empirical validation in physical and digital environments.
Originality/value - No other research has been found addressing affordances for serendipity and connections between environmental and personal factors in similarly detailed ways. The outlined framework and typology may function as a baseline for further serendipity studies.
TidsskriftJournal of Documentation
Udgave nummer5
Sider (fra-til)1053-1081
Antal sider29
StatusUdgivet - 13 okt. 2017

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