Systems Design with the Socio-Technical Walkthrough

Systems Design with the Socio-Technical Walkthrough

Thomas Herrmann (University of Bochum, Germany)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-264-0.ch023
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Socio-technical systems integrate technical and organizational structures and are related to various stakeholders and their perspectives. The design of socio-technical systems has to support this integration and to take the differing perspectives into account. To support this goal, the design concepts have to be represented with appropriate documentation methods, which combine formal and informal aspects. Communication processes have to be facilitated which systematically refer to these kinds of documentation. Therefore a socio-technical, semi-structured modeling method (SeeMe) is introduced. It represents socio-technical concepts with diagrams which can be developed, evaluated and improved by the socio-technical walkthrough (STWT). This facilitation method—together with a corresponding software-tool—has proven to be suitable for socio-technical design in complex, practical projects.
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A maximum of explicitness leads to a minimum of understandability

—Ungeheuer, 1982

(translated from the German p. 328)



Socio-technical systems comprise the interaction and dependencies between aspects such as human actors, organizational units, communication processes, documented information, work procedures and processes, technical units, human-computer interactions, and competencies. They are characterized by continuous evolution which is influenced by interests, conflicts and power relations. The socio-technical walkthrough (“STWT,” Herrmann, Kunau, Loser and Menold, 2004a; Herrmann, Loser and Jahnke, 2007) is a methodological approach to take this multitude of aspects into account and to make them the subject of communication, negotiation and decisions in the course of the development of socio-technical systems. The documents which accompany the STWT mirror these aspects and build bridges between the developing competencies, organizational change, programming or configuration of software and identification of appropriate hardware. We suggest that the expectations of the various stakeholders being involved are better met:

  • • the more technical and organizational structures as well as relevant competencies are integrated and aligned to each other, and

  • • the more the different perspectives of the stakeholders are taken into consideration, valued and integrated during the discourse which accompanies the participatory design and evolution of socio-technical systems.

Systematical support of socio-technical system design can be based on a wealth of methods, guidelines and principles, for example design principles according to Eason (1988)Cherns (1976) and (1987); “ETHICS,” Mumford, (1995); “scenario-based design,” Carroll, (1995); or “socio-technical requirements-engineering,” Jones & Maiden, (2005). The background of Participatory Design (e.g. “MUST,” Kensing, Simonsen and Bødker, 1996) provides guidance on how to integrate the experience of different stakeholders. However, the documentation of the requirements and concepts which accompany the design process do not usually sufficiently support an integrated view on varying aspects such as technical and organizational structures. The experience within a series of practical projects reveals that the available approaches, like prototyping, diagrams of use cases, story boards, mock-ups as well as a set of different visualizations (e.g. for contextual design Holtzblatt, 2002) do not sufficiently support an integrated (over-)view of the interrelationships between the aspects of socio-technical systems. For example, prototypes direct the feedback of evaluators on issues of screen design and lead to a neglect of issues concerning work processes and cooperation between users.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Socio-Technical Diagram: Graphical representation of a system which can be based on a predefined modeling notation.

Walkthrough: Deliberate inspection of the documentation of a system which applies step-by-step a selected set of prepared questions.

Contingency: Characterizes those relations between a stimulus and a system’s reaction which are possible but not necessary.

Stakeholder: all roles which are affected by or have an interest in a socio-technical system

Semi-Structured Modeling: Systematic description of a socio-technical system which combines context-free specifications which vague descriptions.

Socio-Technical Documentation: All kinds of representations, including diagrams, which describe the structures and processes of the interplay and integration between a social system and its technical components.

Vagueness: Incomplete specifications within the documentation of a socio-technical system which are either incomplete or possibly, but not necessarily, incorrect under certain conditions

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