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

Pilot error versus sociotechnical systems failure: a distributed situation awareness analysis of Air France 447

Theoretical Issues in Ergonomics Science

Paul M. Salmon
Guy H. Walker
Neville A. Stanton

The Air France 447 crash occurred in 2009 when an Airbus A330 stalled and fell into the Atlantic Ocean, killing all on board. Following a major investigation, it was concluded that the incident resulted from a series of events that began when the autopilot disconnected after the aircraft's Pitot tubes froze in an adverse weather system. The findings place scrutiny on the aircrew's subsequent lack of awareness of what was going on and of what procedure was required, and their failure to control the aircraft. This article argues that this is inappropriate, instead offering a systems level view that can be used to demonstrate how systems, not individuals, lose situation awareness. This is demonstrated via a distributed situation awareness-based description of the events preceding the crash. The findings demonstrate that it was the sociotechnical system comprising aircrew, cockpit and aeroplane systems that lost situation awareness, rather than the aircrew alone.

Understanding Human-Machine Networks: A Cross-Disciplinary Survey

arXiv:1511.05324 [cs]

Milena Tsvetkova
Taha Yasseri
Eric T. Meyer
J. Brian Pickering
Vegard Engen

In the current hyper-connected era, modern Information and Communication Technology systems form sophisticated networks where not only do people interact with other people, but also machines take an increasingly visible and participatory role. Such human-machine networks (HMNs) are embedded in the daily lives of people, both or personal and professional use. They can have a significant impact by producing synergy and innovations. The challenge in designing successful HMNs is that they cannot be developed and implemented in the same manner as networks of machines nodes alone, nor following a wholly human-centric view of the network. The problem requires an interdisciplinary approach. Here, we review current research of relevance to HMNs across many disciplines. Extending the previous theoretical concepts of socio-technical systems, actor-network theory, and social machines, we concentrate on the interactions among humans and between humans and machines. We identify eight types of HMNs: public-resource computing, crowdsourcing, web search engines, crowdsensing, online markets, social media, multiplayer online games and virtual worlds, and mass collaboration. We systematically select literature on each of these types and review it with a focus on implications for designing HMNs. Moreover, we discuss risks associated with HMNs and identify emerging design and development trends.

The user as network

First Monday

Karen E. C. Levy

The user has become central to the way technology is conceptualized, designed, and studied in sociotechnical research and human-computer interaction; recently, non-users have also become productive foci of scholarly analysis. This paper argues that a focus on individualized users and non-users is incomplete, and conflates multiple modes of complex relation among people, institutions, and technologies. Rather than the use/non-use conception, I argue for conceptualizing users as networks: as constellations of power relations and institutional entanglements, mediated through technologies. To illustrate, I offer a case study of Nexafed, a tamperproof formulation of pseudoephedrine. The market for Nexafed seems nonexistent in traditional use/non-use terms, but when we construe the user more broadly — as a network of interpersonal, legal, and institutional relationships, consisting of multiple modes of relation between people and technology — not only does the drug’s market make sense, but we also understand how new motivations (social shame, mistrust, robbery, gossip) can act as salient drivers of technology use. The Nexafed case illustrates the utility of a networked perspective to develop more nuanced theoretical understandings of use and non-use in sociotechnical relations, beyond the direct human-technology interface.

Business processes in the agile organisation: a socio-technical perspective

Software & Systems Modeling

Charles Crick
Eng K. Chew

This paper takes a cross-disciplinary view of the ontology of “business process”: how the concept is treated in the IS research literature and how related concepts (with stronger human behavioural orientation) from organisation and management sciences can potentially inform this IS perspective. In particular, is there room for socio-technical concepts such as technology affordance, derived from the constructivist tradition, in improving our understanding of operational business processes, particularly human-centric business processes? The paper presents a theoretical framework for understanding the role of business processes in organisational agility that distinguishes between the process-as-designed and the process-as-practiced. How this practice aspect of business processes also leads to the improvisation of various information technology enablers, is explored using a socio-technical lens. The posited theoretical framework is illustrated and validated with data drawn from an interpretive empirical case study of a large IT services company. The research suggests that processes within the organisation evolve both by top-down design and by the bottom-up routinisation of practice and that the tension between these is driven by the need for flexibility.

Contagious Offsite Work and the Lonely Office?: The Unintended Consequences of Distributed Work

Academy of Management Discoveries

Kevin Rockmann
Michael Pratt

Research in the area of offsite work arrangements (telework, remote work, etc.) has generally been focused on understanding how the experience of being offsite changes work attitudes and performance. What has been largely neglected is an investigation of how offsite work changes the experience of being in the onsite office. In a qualitative study of a Fortune 100 company on the forefront of allowing offsite work, we examine how the prevalence of offsite working arrangements influences perceptions of the onsite office as well as decisions regarding where one works. We find that individuals desire a co-located office environment as an opportunity for both social ties and work collaborations. In this distributed organization, however, that opportunity is largely not present. Individuals are working offsite for many traditionally known reasons, but also because of how they imagine others are making their work location decisions. In this way, offsite work is seemingly spreading in a contagious way: individuals choose to work offsite as co-workers are choosing to work offsite, a finding we support in a follow-up quantitative study. We suggest that work in this area refocus to include contagion effects of offsite work and the potential for negative effects of working in a depopulated onsite office.

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