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The home for sociotechnical systems scholarship

This website is a hub for sociotechnical systems research and teaching. The site is sponsored by the Consortium for the Science of Sociotechnical Systems, and is a home for community building, resource-sharing, and expanding the breadth, depth, impact and visibility of sociotechnical systems scholarship.

Latest sociotechnical systems research

Addressing Sociotechnical Gaps in the Design and Deployment of Digital Resources in Rural Kenya

Proceedings of the 33rd Annual International Conference on the Design of Communication

Jose Abdelnour Nocera
Souleymane Camara

We argue that designing any aspect of information technology requires an understanding of sociotechnical gaps. These gaps are inherent issues deriving from the difference between what is required socially, or culturally, and what can be done technically. In the context of a British-Kenyan project, we introduce an approach for addressing sociotechnical gaps in the design and deployment of digital resources in resource-constrained and culturally different environments. We illustrate how despite having an online, asynchronous tool to visualise sociotechnical gaps among different stakeholders in a design team, we had to complement it with a pen and paper design metaphor elucidation exercise to elicit and visualise locally meaningful user interface elements.

Radical innovation in scaling up: Boeing’s Dreamliner and the challenge of socio-technical transitions


Rebecca Slayton
Graham Spinardi

Radical technological innovations are needed to achieve sustainability, but such innovations confront unusually high barriers, as they often require sociotechnical transitions. Here we use the theoretical perspectives and methods of Science and Technology Studies (STS) to demonstrate ways that existing theories of innovation and sociotechnical transitions, such as the Multi-Level Perspective (MLP), can be expanded. We test the MLP by applying STS methods and concepts to analyze the history of aircraft composites (lightweight materials that can reduce fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions), and use this case to develop a better understanding of barriers to radical innovation. In the MLP, "radical innovation" occurs in local niches—protected spaces for experimentation—and is then selected by a sociotechnical regime. The history of composite materials demonstrates that radical innovation could not be confined to "niches," but that the process of scaling up to a wholly new product itself required radical innovation in composites. Scaling up a process innovation to make a new product itself required radical innovation. These findings suggest a need to refine sociotechnical transitions theories to account for technologies that require radical innovation in the process of scaling up from the level of sociotechnical niche to regime.

Medication-related cognitive artifacts used by older adults with heart failure

Health Policy and Technology

Robin S. Mickelson
Matt Willis
Richard J. Holden

Objective To use a human factors perspective to examine how older adult patients with heart failure use cognitive artifacts for medication management. Methods We performed a secondary analysis of data collected from 30 patients and 14 informal caregivers enrolled in a larger study of heart failure self-care. Data included photographs, observation notes, interviews, video recordings, medical record data, and surveys. These data were analyzed using an iterative content analysis. Results Findings revealed that medication management was complex, inseparable from other patient activities, distributed across people, time, and place, and complicated by knowledge gaps. We identified fifteen types of cognitive artifacts including medical devices, pillboxes, medication lists, and electronic personal health records used for: 1) measurement/evaluation; 2) tracking/communication; 3) organization/administration; and 4) information/sensemaking. These artifacts were characterized by fit and misfit with the patient’s sociotechnical system and demonstrated both advantages and disadvantages. We found that patients often modified or “finished the design” of existing artifacts and relied on “assemblages” of artifacts, routines, and actors to accomplish their self-care goals. Conclusions Cognitive artifacts are useful but sometimes are poorly designed or are not used optimally. If appropriately designed for usability and acceptance, paper-based and computer-based information technologies can improve medication management for individuals living with chronic illness. These technologies can be designed for use by patients, caregivers, and clinicians; should support collaboration and communication between these individuals; can be coupled with home-based and wearable sensor technology; and must fit their users’ needs, limitations, abilities, tasks, routines, and contexts of use.

Understanding Why Quality Initiatives Succeed or Fail: A Sociotechnical Systems Perspective

Annals of Surgery

Douglas A. Wiegmann

Surgeons serve a vital leadership role in driving quality and patient safety initiatives in the operating room. Achieving success requires both an in-depth understanding of the intervention and the complex dynamics of the elements involved in the implementation process. To aid in this endeavor, the present article describes a Model for Understanding System Transitions Associated with the Implementation of New Goals (MUSTAING). The model highlights important variables associated with implementation success. It also provides a tool for diagnosing why certain interventions may not have worked as intended so that improvements in the implementation process can be made. Finally, the model offers a general framework for guiding future implementation or “how to” research.

In Face on Facebook: Brooklyn's Drag Community and Sociotechnical Practices of Online Communication

Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication

Jessa Lingel
Adam Golub

Recently, Brooklyn has seen an explosion of drag culture, with dozens of performers taking the stage in any given week. Social media plays a vital role for members of this community, simultaneously allowing self-promotion and community solidarity. Drawing on focus group interviews, we analyze the communication practices of Brooklyn's drag performers, examining both the advantages and drawbacks of social media platforms. Using conceptual frameworks of faceted identity and relational labor, our discussion focuses on affordances and constraints of multifaceted identity in online contexts and theories of seamful design. We contend that by analyzing online communication practices of drag performers, it becomes possible to identify gaps between embedded ideologies of mainstream social media technologies and the localized values of outsider communities.

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