Using Communication Norms in Socio-Technical Systems

Using Communication Norms in Socio-Technical Systems

Hans Weigand (Tilburg University, The Netherlands)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-264-0.ch016
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Abstract

Often socio-technical systems are designed simply on the basis of what the user asks, and without considering explicitly whether the required process structure is right and wrong. However, poor communication may cause many problems. Therefore, a design cycle should always include diagnosis, and in order to be systematic, the (process) diagnosis should be model-based and driven by explicit communication norms. Such a diagnosis process is outlined and illustrated with a case from a financial service process. Furthermore, it is shown that recognition of universal communication norms can also improve tool design and quality management of socio-technical systems in general.
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On the other hand, in a society whose communication component is becoming more prominent day by day, both as a reality and as an issue, it is clear that language assumes a new importance.

—Jean-Francois Lyotard

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Introduction

Traditionally, designers of information systems often follow a “waiter strategy”. That is, they collect requirements from the customer, and build a system that meets these requirements. However, what if the customer asks for a wrong system, a system that arguably will cause trouble in the form of misunderstandings, inefficiencies and failures? So designers have learned to be a bit cautious: do not take the wishes of the users and the current ways of working at face value. However, what are the criteria that we should apply then? Is it just intuition based on experience? In this chapter, we suggest another more systematic way.

Before doing that, we first recall that today’s Internet-age information systems are much more communication than computation systems. They include not only workflow management systems and enterprise resource systems, but also applications that support complex communication processes, like discussion and group decision making, and many kinds of collaborative work such as group authoring, often not under the control of one single organization. It is becoming increasingly essential to view the technical systems as being embedded in a social context, to consider the socio-technical system as a whole, including the people and their relationships.

In order to deal with these new requirements, Ronald Stamper has argued that we need to move away from the traditional information flow paradigm, in which positivistic modelling aimed at producing automated solutions is central. Instead, an information field paradigm is needed (Stamper, 2000). At the core of this paradigm are fields of norms. Norms bind groups of people together. Shared norms constitute what is called the “social reality” –something not given once for all, but constantly in the process of being redefined and renegotiated. Note that “norm” should not be interpreted in the narrow sense of laws or ethical rules imposed by some society or institution. A norm is any rule (mostly implicit) that we apply in our daily practice and that we expect others to apply. Often, but not always, they have a rationale: not following the norm has some undesirable outcome. There are several kinds of norms: how to behave in a certain situation, how to interpret a certain term, how to draw conclusions; etc.. Some norms are context-specific; some are more general or even universal.

This chapter focuses on an important subgroup of norms that can be characterized as “communication norms”, for the obvious reason that these are the norms most relevant to communication systems. We are specifically interested in general norms that can provide guidance in process diagnosis and design. What exactly falls under the heading “communication norm” will become more clear when we move on.

Norms are to be distinguished from goals (Mylopoulos, Chung, Yu, 1999). A goal is a certain state that a stakeholder wants to reach or to maintain, whereas a norm corresponds to a shared expectation. A goal is usually specific to a certain time and a certain context, whereas norms tend to have a universal character (although the weight given to the norm may differ from one context to another; and there are also particular norms). For example, profitability is an economic norm in the market; to increase sales of our company by 20% next year, is a goal.

In (Weigand, De Moor, 2003), a certain list of general communication norms was presented based on an analysis of workflow models in the Language/Action Perspective (LAP—cf. Winograd, Flores, 1986; Denning, Medina-Mora, 1995; Dietz, 2005). For example, a communication norm is that organizational actors should commit explicitly to a request, or decline explicitly. If not, the requester and the executor may easily have different expectations with disappointments as a result. Some more norms on the way communication processes are realized by means of signs between actors are analyzed in (Weigand, De Moor, 2007).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Rationalism: the belief that action and decision making should be governed by reason only

Language/Action Perspective (LAP): a perspective on Information Systems that focuses on what people do and achieve when they communicate.

Problem: a difference between the actual state of something and what is desired by some stakeholder.

Communication norm: a rule governing communication practices based on shared expectations

Quality: a characteristic of something that is of value to someone or for a certain task

Communication: a complex social process in which people coordinate their behavior by creating and maintaining a shared definition of the situation

Diagnosis: an analysis process that aims to reveal the causes of a complaint or expressed problem

Complete Chapter List

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Editorial Advisory Board
Table of Contents
Foreword
Ben Shneiderman
Preface
Brian Whitworth, Aldo de Moor
Acknowledgment
Brian Whitworth, Aldo de Moor
List of Reviewers
Prologue: General Socio-Technical Theory
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Chapter 1
Brian Whitworth
A socio-technical system (STS) is a social system built upon a technical base. An STS adds social requirements to human-computer interaction (HCI)... Sample PDF
The Social Requirements of Technical Systems
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Chapter 2
Matti Tedre
This chapter introduces the reader to some social research characteristics that are central to the social study of computer science. It introduces... Sample PDF
The Social Study of Computer Science
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Chapter 3
Ann Borda, Jonathan P. Bowen
This chapter introduces the concept of a Virtual Organization (VO), using the Internet to link geographically separated participants in an efficient... Sample PDF
Virtual Collaboration and Community
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Chapter 4
David Davenport
This chapter analyses the effect that social values have on the design of technical systems. Beginning with an examination of the role technology... Sample PDF
The Social Derivation of Technical Systems
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Chapter 5
Ken Eason, José Abdelnour-Nocera
This chapter sets the traditional focus of socio-technical systems theory on primary work systems in a modern context where information and... Sample PDF
Socio-Technical Theory and Work Systems in the Information Age
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Chapter 6
Peter Day
This chapter introduces the community engagement strategy of the Community Network Analysis (CNA) project and considers its significance to research... Sample PDF
An Engagement Strategy for Community Network Research and Design
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Chapter 7
Cleidson R.B. de Souza, David F. Redmiles
This chapter reviews the socio-technical relationship between organizational and software structure. It describes the early theoretical work about... Sample PDF
On the Alignment of Organizational and Software Structure
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Chapter
Ronald K. Stamper
Prologue: Socio-Technical Perspectives
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Chapter 8
Catherine Heeney
The chapter discusses the traditional expectations about privacy protection and argues that current models for the governance of data do not... Sample PDF
Privacy and the Identity Gap in Socio-Technical Systems
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Chapter 9
Ronald Leenes
Second Life can be seen as a social microcosmos in which fairly normal people lead a social life and where social needs develop. Privacy is one of... Sample PDF
Privacy Regulation in the Metaverse
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Chapter 10
David Tuffley
This chapter introduces a process reference model of leadership for integrated teams operating in virtual environments. Geographically dispersed... Sample PDF
Leadership of Integrated Teams in Virtual Environments
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Chapter 11
Monique Janneck
For a technology use to be successful, the circumstance of its introduction into a use context—or recontextualization— is crucial. The users of a... Sample PDF
Recontextualising Technology in Appropriation Processes
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Chapter 12
Petter Bae Brandtzæg, Jan Heim
The last few years have seen a substantial growth in online communities such as MySpace and Facebook. In order to survive and increase in size... Sample PDF
Explaining Participation in Online Communities
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Chapter 13
Malcolm Shore
This chapter is about the way in which computer hackers invoke social networking paradigms to support and encourage their activities. It reviews the... Sample PDF
Cyber Security and Anti-Social Networking
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Chapter 14
Wilson Huang, Shun-Yung Kevin Wang
This chapter examines the gaps that arise between reactive social control systems and proactive technology systems. The authors further link these... Sample PDF
Emerging Cybercrime Variants in the Socio-Technical Space
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Chapter 15
Elayne W. Coakes, Peter Smith, Dee Alwis
This chapter presents the argument that service innovation is promoted by supporting divergent interpretations, enlarging the scope of employee and... Sample PDF
Developing Innovative Practice in Service Industries
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Chapter
Mark Aakhus
Prologue: Socio-Technical Analysis
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Chapter 16
Hans Weigand
Often socio-technical systems are designed simply on the basis of what the user asks, and without considering explicitly whether the required... Sample PDF
Using Communication Norms in Socio-Technical Systems
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Chapter 17
Jonas Sjöström, Göran Goldkuhl
This chapter introduces the theoretical framework of Socio-Instrumental Pragmatism (SIP) and illustrates how it has been used as an analytic... Sample PDF
Socio-Instrumental Pragmatism in Action
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Chapter 18
Paul J. Bracewell
Analytics provides evidence for objective corporate decision-making. Lack of understanding of analytical techniques can create confusion amongst... Sample PDF
A Framework for Using Analytics to Make Decisions
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Chapter 19
Mikael Lind, Peter Rittgen
Setting up co-design processes involving several stakeholders is a complex task. In this chapter the authors have looked upon experiences from... Sample PDF
The Challenges of Co-Design and the Case of e-Me
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Chapter 20
Harry S. Delugach
Automated tools are often used to support software development workflows. Many of these tools are aimed toward a development workflow that relies... Sample PDF
Formal Analysis of Workflows in Software Development
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Chapter 21
Dorit Nevo, Brent Furneaux
This chapter reviews the significance of expectations to information systems development with particular emphasis on the process of requirements... Sample PDF
The Role of Expectations in Information Systems Development
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Chapter 22
Jeff Axup
With mobile technologies increasingly weaving themselves into the fabric of our communities, it would be beneficial to increase our understanding of... Sample PDF
Building a Path for Future Communities
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Chapter
Thomas Erickson
Prologue: Socio-Technical Design
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Chapter 23
Thomas Herrmann
Socio-technical systems integrate technical and organizational structures and are related to various stakeholders and their perspectives. The design... Sample PDF
Systems Design with the Socio-Technical Walkthrough
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Chapter 24
Anders I. Mørch
This chapter presents a translational approach to socio-technical design, as a new approach to the theorybased design of user interfaces, supported... Sample PDF
Applied Pragmatism and Interaction Design
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Chapter 25
Manuel Kolp, Yves Wautelet
Information systems are deeply linked to human activities. Unfortunately, development methodologies have been traditionally inspired by programming... Sample PDF
A Social Framework for Software Architectural Design
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Chapter 26
Designing for Trust  (pages 388-401)
Piotr Cofta
Designing for trust is a methodology that attempts to design our perception of trust in information systems, in the long-term expectation that such... Sample PDF
Designing for Trust
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Chapter 27
Dan Dixon
Three decades ago the concept of pattern languages were introduced in the field of architecture and they have since become widely used in... Sample PDF
Pattern Languages for CMC Design
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Chapter 28
Anton Nijholt, Dirk Heylen, Rutger Rienks
In this chapter the authors discuss a particular approach to the creation of socio-technical systems for the meeting domain. Besides presenting a... Sample PDF
Creating Social Technologies to Assist and Understand Social Interactions
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Chapter 29
Jos Benders, Ronald Batenburg, Paul Hoeken, Roel Schouteten
This chapter sketches an Organization Design perspective called “Modern Socio-technical Design”, and subsequently discusses the implementation of... Sample PDF
A Modern Socio-Technical View on ERP-Systems
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Chapter 30
Mary Allan, David Thorns
The chapter introduces the Bourdieuean habitus and field theory as a framework for an alternative way of investigating how perceptions of Media Rich... Sample PDF
Being Face to Face: A State of Mind or Technological Design?
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Chapter 31
Rebecca M. Ellis
This chapter introduces the work of sociologist Pierre Bourdieu and his concepts of “the field” and “capital” in relation to eBay. In any given... Sample PDF
Applying Bourdieu to eBay's Success and Socio-Technical Design
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Chapter 32
Christopher A. Miller
This chapter focuses not on technology mediation of human relationships, but rather on human-like relationships with technology itself. The author... Sample PDF
Relationships and Etiquette with Technical Systems
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Chapter
Anton Nijholt
Prologue: Socio-Technical Implementation
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Chapter 33
Laura Anna Ripamonti, Ines Di Loreto, Dario Maggiorini
The necessity of supporting more and more social interaction (and not only mere information sharing) in online environments is the disruptive force... Sample PDF
Augmenting Actual Life Through MUVEs
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Chapter 34
Mohamed Ben Ammar, Mahmoud Neji, Adel M. Alimi
Affective computing is a new artificial intelligence area that deals with the possibility of making computers able to recognize human emotions in... Sample PDF
The Role of Affect in an Agent-Based Collaborative E-Learning System Used for Engineering Education
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Chapter 35
Pernilla Qvarfordt, Shumin Zhai
Eye-gaze plays an important role in face-to-face communication. This chapter presents research on exploiting the rich information contained in human... Sample PDF
Gaze-Aided Human-Computer and Human-Human Dialogue
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Chapter 36
Licia Calvi
The chapter presents and combines the results of two case studies dealing with online communities1 in order to understand under which conditions... Sample PDF
How to Engage Users in Online Sociability
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Chapter 37
Ivan Launders
The UK National Health Service (NHS) provides the opportunity to undertake local socio-technical system design to help staff maximize the... Sample PDF
Socio-Technical Systems and Knowledge Representation
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Chapter 38
Claire de la Varre, Julie Keane, Matthew J. Irvin, Wallace Hannum
This chapter describes the design of a sociotechnical system to support rural high school students in an online distance education (ODE) course. The... Sample PDF
Social Support for Online Learning
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Chapter 39
Jeremy Birnholtz, Emilee J. Rader, Daniel B. Horn, Thomas Finholt
This chapter uses the theoretical notion of common ground to explore remote participation in experimental research. On one hand, there is a desire... Sample PDF
Enabling Remote Participation in Research
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Chapter
Starr Roxanne Hiltz
Prologue: Socio-Technical Evaluation
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Chapter 40
John M. Carroll, Mary Beth Rosson, Umer Farooq, Jamika D. Burge
Socio-technical systems are social systems that incorporate technological infrastructures. At the group level of analysis, the most important... Sample PDF
Community Collective Efficacy
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Chapter 41
Tanguy Coenen, Wouter Van den Bosch, Veerle Van der Sluys
This chapter views social networking sites as supporting social capital and the advantages which derive from it, namely emotional support... Sample PDF
An Analysis of the Socio-Technical Gap in Social Networking Sites
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Chapter 42
Olga Kulyk, Betsy van Dijk, Paul van der Vet, Anton Nijholt, Gerrit van der Veer
This chapter addresses awareness support to enhance teamwork in co-located collaborative environments. In particular, the authors focus on the... Sample PDF
Situational Awareness In Collaborative Work Environments
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Chapter 43
Janet L. Holland
This chapter deals with research on the development and use of an assessment instrument for measuring affective satisfaction in online learning. The... Sample PDF
A Scale of Affective Satisfaction in Online Learning Communities
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Chapter 44
David Hinds, Ronald M. Lee
In this chapter, the authors suggest how measures of “social network health” can be used to evaluate the status and progress of a virtual community.... Sample PDF
Assessing the Social Network Health of Virtual Communities
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Chapter 45
Bertram C. Bruce, Andee Rubin, Junghyun An
This chapter introduces situated evaluation as an approach for evaluating socio-technical innovation and change. Many current evaluations simply... Sample PDF
Situated Evaluation of Socio-Technical Systems
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Chapter 46
Heike Winschiers-Theophilus
Communities all over the world have established their own value systems which do not necessarily correlate with the intrinsic values of technology.... Sample PDF
Cultural Appropriation of Software Design and Evaluation
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Chapter
Charles Steinfield
Prologue: The Future of Socio-Technical Systems
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Chapter 47
Peter J. Denning
Wicked problems (messes) are tangled social situations that are too costly to stay in and too intransigent to get out of. Collaboration is essential... Sample PDF
Resolving Wicked Problems through Collaboration
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Chapter 48
Rachel McLean
As a social activity, the shopping experience can not be recreated or improved through technical design alone. This chapter proposes that there is... Sample PDF
The Myth of the e-Commerce Serf to Sovereign Powershift
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Chapter 49
Theresa Dirndorfer Anderson
This chapter explores the challenges associated with teaching the principles of socio-technical systems in the dynamic climate that characterizes... Sample PDF
Teaching the Socio-Technical Practices of Tomorrow Today
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Chapter 50
Isa Jahnke
The chapter describes an empirical study of a socio-technical community—as an extended part of an institution— with the aim of revealing its... Sample PDF
Socio-Technical Communities: From Informal to Formal?
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Chapter 51
Laurence Claeys, Johan Criel
This chapter introduces the concept of critical user participation as a means to see the socio-technical gap in context aware applications as an... Sample PDF
Future Living in a Participatory Way
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Chapter 52
Paul Hodgson
This chapter analyses the formation and generation of social trust through communications technology in postmodern society, and presents some... Sample PDF
The Impact of Communications Technology on Trust
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Chapter 53
Kenneth E. Kendall, Julie E. Kendall
This chapter explores the social, organizational, and individual impacts of emerging information technologies using the advent of recent... Sample PDF
Good and Evil in the Garden of Emerging Information Technologies
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About the Contributors