An information system (IS) is not simply an assemblage of hardware and software. Increasingly, we see a move towards the ‘objectualization’ of social relations, as objects progressively displace persons as relationship partners in distributed or virtual organizations. The digital mediation of work provides challenges for distributed collaboration, shared understanding, and joint decision-making. My work explores how groups that span multiple knowledge domains collaborate, how we can manage group memory and knowledge in virtual communities and project groups, and the implications for how we design the socio-technical assemblage of processes, knowledge-sharing, and decision-making/management roles that is provided by a digital information system.
Boundary-Spanning Collaboration: I have explored the processes underlying the co-design of business processes and information systems in boundary-spannning groups across multiple studies. We are faced with a wicked problem: one that can only be resolved through stakeholder argumentation, rather than analysis. Choices in the design of technology and the effects of alternative forms of technology on work are formed by definitions of organizational problems and, in turn, affect how organizational problems are defined. So design choices are emergent. Technology and process design, organizational innovation, problem-solving, and management decision-making are inextricably intertwined.
Knowledge Creation & Sharing in Virtual Groups: An additional complication is introduced when groups collaborate using digital technologies. The tension between local, context-specific knowledge & practices, and the global, generic knowledge & practices formalized at the organization level present major challenges when managers attempt to define requirements for enterprise-spanning systems, or to investigate organizational problems. This exacerbates the distributed understanding found in problem-solving or online learning groups. This research thread investigates how virtual groups and communities construct and manage various forms of group memory to support collaboration.
Human-Centered Design Methods: Human-centered design ensures that information system design and configuration choices support, rather than constrain, the exercise of human skills, knowledge and capabilities. The objectification of human attributes, such as knowledge, expertise, and the capability for informed decision-making has led to design choices that severely constrain the ability of humans to recover from machine-instigated problems. We need design approaches and representations that model salient aspects of the system of human activity, not just the mechanistic operations to be automated or codified into the system.