Digitally-Mediated Collaboration

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.

5 elements of designing platforms for digitally mediated collaboration: Wicked Problems and Boundary-Spanning Collaboration, Design Emergence in Complex Organizations, 
Managing Organizational Knowledge, Systems Thinking and SSM,
Human-Centered Design Methods:

Figure 1. Core Elements of Designing Platforms for Digitally-Mediated Collaboration

Wicked Problems and 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.

Design Emergence in Complex Organizations: As multiple stakeholders negotiate the goals and boundaries of change initiatives, these naturally evolve to incorporate the organizational learning that results from the collaborative processes of problem and work/business process representation and debate. Real-world design is much more protracted and complex than envisaged in the planning stage. Design choices are emergent. Technology and process design, organizational innovation, problem-solving, and management decision-making are inextricably intertwined.

Managing Organizational Knowledge:  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.

Systems Thinking and SSM: Systemic thinking is critical for the organizational sensemaking required for change management in the real world. On this site, I have included my overview of Soft Systems Methodology, the approach to organizational and IT change created by Peter Checkland. It adopts a divide-and-conquer approach, where a complex situation is broken down into relevant subsystems of human activity, each of which is explored from the perspectives of those involved in that activity. This approach is increasingly influential in guiding change management, as it embodies the key distinction between user-centered design and human-centered design. I have found it immensely useful in surfacing perspectives from subjects in research studies, as well as an approach to early requirements analysis in change management projects.

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.

This site looks at each element above in turn, exploring the design implications and integrating the threads to produce a coherent account of how to approach human-centered design in practice.