An Exploration of Resilience and Values in the Co-Design of Sociotechnical Systems

An Exploration of Resilience and Values in the Co-Design of Sociotechnical Systems

Balbir S. Barn (Middlesex University, London, UK) and Ravinder Barn (Royal Holloway, University of London, Egham, UK)
Copyright: © 2016 |Pages: 17
DOI: 10.4018/IJSS.2016010101
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The notion of resilience is becoming an important consideration in addressing the needs of vulnerable individuals and groups in the public sector. In Information Systems development, resilience has often been treated as a non-functional requirement such as scalability and little or no work has aimed at building resilience in end-users through systems development. Sociotechnical approaches while not specifically addressing resilience, have strived for a balance between technology and humans. While there are many variants of sociotechnical approaches, in this paper the authors introduce a refinement of the value sensitive action-reflection model used in co-design, first introduced by Yoo et al, that recognises the tension between values and resilience. The authors report on their activities of using this approach for a project aimed at developing mobile apps for promoting better engagement between young people in conflict with the law and their case workers in the UK youth justice system. They examine the ambiguity created when designer and stakeholder prompts change their role and purpose during the co-design process and discuss the impact of this on resilience building for the end-user and the possible implications for Information Systems design processes.
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Today's Information Systems are driven by the need for ubiquitous availability in a hyper-connected world. In such a context, information systems may collect or curate data from sensors, and make processed information available on mobile devices utilising connectivity through wifi or mobile data connections. A consequence of this is a new and possibly unsustainable demand on the need to preserve key human (moral) values such as privacy, security and autonomy whose loss may have a detrimental effect of the resilience of end-users. So it becomes incumbent on designers of information systems to ensure that stakeholders can make adequate representations of their value concerns as part of the design process. This is a formulation that has parallels to the optimisation (between technical and social systems) explicitly developed in the sociotechnical approach advocated by Mumford (1983). However, the challenge of involving users and their values in the design process is manifestly difficult and the nuances of how values of security / privacy and autonomy become incorporated into the design process remains an on-going problem. Mumford, reflecting on the sociotechnical approach similarly recognises the same challenge (Mumford, 2006). Critically, the domain in which information systems may be introduced can also attenuate these challenges. Hence, information systems aimed at end-users from marginalised or largely excluded communities can make these challenges particularly difficult.

Resilience has its origins in materials sciences and eco-systems but its discussion is now prevalent in fields such as psychology, security and the social sciences. Against the many notions of resilience, a working definition of resilience from the OECD that should suffice is: “[Resilience] is the ability to cope with changes in capacity, effectiveness or legitimacy. These changes can be driven by shocksor through long-term erosions (or increases) in capacity, effectiveness or legitimacy” (OECD, 2008).

In Information Systems (IS) research, resilience has often been viewed through the lens of non-functional requirements and examined in terms of scalability, reliability, maintainability and availability. Mairiza et al. (2010) in a systematic review of non-functional requirements identifies such “ilities” as common non-functional requirements. What has not been easily understood or investigated in the context of IS research at least, is how resilience is manifested or could be engendered in end-users as a result of an intervention such as the introduction of a system. Indeed, the many variants of IS evaluation models such as the Technology Acceptance Model (Davis, 1993) and Unified Theory of User Acceptance of Technology (Venkatesh et al., 2003) do not include resilience as a determining factor and therefore resilience is not assumed to contribute to acceptance of systems. Given the limited literature linking resilience of end-users and Information Systems one may conjecture that the relationship lacks substance. We propose that a study of value may help develop a better understanding of this relationship.

Unlike resilience, the notion of value (beyond a monetary sense) has been investigated in discussions of how values could be integrated into the software engineering process in the seminal article by Suchman (1997) and then subsequently by Friedman and her colleagues on Value Sensitive Design (Friedman, 1996).

In this paper we claim that value is intrinsically related to resilience by proposing that addressing value based concerns in IS systems design can encourage and engender resilience in the end-users of systems. Consider the following two potential scenarios:

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