Group Support Systems and Action Research: An Empirical-Action Research Cycle

Group Support Systems and Action Research: An Empirical-Action Research Cycle

Wm. Benjamin Martz Jr., Toru Sakaguchi
DOI: 10.4018/jsita.2010101504
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Research in Information Systems, specifically Group Support Systems (GSS), lends itself well to Action Research. From its original definition in 1985, GSSs have included a human component, the facilitator thereby providing an excellent venue for action research. This article proposes that action research acts as a key component in the knowledge accrual process for information systems research. The article demonstrates this proposal by developing a four-phased empirical-action research cycle based on McGrath et al.’s (1982) empirical research cycle, Baskerville’s (1997) action research cycle, and the call to include the practitioner’s view in empirical research as posited by Kerlinger’s (1986) suggested goals for non-experimental studies. Finally, the proposed empirical-action research cycle is applied directly to a GSS field study wherein a group uses a GSS for a real-world problem of business process reengineering. The details of the study are discussed using the four phases in the model.
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Over twenty years ago, DeSanctis and Gallupe (1985) outlined the concept of group decision support systems (GDSS). Their definition derived its origin from the decision support systems that supported individual decision makers. The definition suggested by the authors was that: “a GDSS is an interactive, computer based, system which facilitates solutions of unstructured problems by a set of decision makers working together as a group.” (DeSanctis & Gallupe, 1985). One of the seminal ideas within the definition was the inclusion of a group facilitator; a person potentially involved with the GDSS meeting as a “chauffer.”

The main function of this class of software is to enhance the productivity of groups; similar to the way that electronic spreadsheets and word processors enhance the productivity of individuals. Manual group-oriented, problem-solving techniques (Martz et al., 1992) were the basis for the early software designs with the ultimate functional goal being to aid “goal directed group work” (Jessup & Valacich, 1993). In attacking the basic process losses of traditional face to face meetings, GDSS software created advantages for groups using it including: parallel and simultaneous input, e.g. all participants talk at once; opportunities for more equal input, e.g. comments are more evenly distributed among participants; a full unbiased record of a group’s activities recorded by the computer, e.g. the computer captures exactly what the users enter; anonymity whereby inhibitors to participation are minimized e.g. the impact of group member power and status is minimized in an anonymous environment; and, mechanisms can be encoded in the software that disable and discourage disruptive behavior by individual group members (Nunamaker et al., 1991). As this body of research continues to mature, researchers (Chidambaram, 1996; Walther, 1992; Sambramunthy & Poole, 1992; Zigurs & Buckland, 1998) have developed more formal theories, Social Information Processing Theory (SIP), Adaptive Structuration Theory (AST), Task Technology Fit (TTF), to try to understand and to explain the interaction of technology with groups in a GSS setting.

Over time, the notion of GDSS expanded beyond simply helping a group make a decision given a set of information, to include helping the group generate the needed information, thereby losing the “D” and becoming the more generic term, GSS. Ayre and Gottesman (1994) listed three main categories and over 20 sub-categories of groupware and catalogued over 80 commercial products available at that time.

In the aggregate, research in GSS has produced ambiguous results (Briggs et al., 1998; Fjemested & Hiltz, 1999; Dennis & Wixom, 2002). Some specific research has been done on the impact of groupware on task and group productivity characteristics such as social loafing (Shepherd et al., 1996), performance due to task complexity (Benbasat & Lim, 1993), satisfaction (Gopal et al., 1993), affective reward (Reinig et al., 1998), creativity (Nagasundaramm & Bostrom, 1995), perceived participation and attitude towards performance and team members (Dennis & Garfield, 2003) again with varying degrees of results. Some research shows positive results in developing the information needed to solve a problem (Jessup & Valacich, 1993) while other research contends that GSSs negatively impacts some group processes such as building consensus (Diehl & Stroebe, 1987; Cappel & Windsor, 2000), time to make decisions (Cappel & Windsor, 2000), and satisfaction with experience (Parent et al., 2000).

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