Situation Awareness Under Task Complexity: The Role of Information

Situation Awareness Under Task Complexity: The Role of Information

Johannes Schmied (Nord University, Bodo, Norway) and Abbas Strømmen-Bakhtiar (Nord Universitetet Handelshøgskolen, Bodo, Norway)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 26
DOI: 10.4018/IJIDE.2020100101
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Performing tasks under task complexity (TC), for example, during the management of a crisis, can be challenging. One relevant research stream has so far dealt with modelling task complexity while another research stream has established the importance of situation awareness (SA) during crisis management. This study takes into consideration these two research streams and builds a model on how SA is achieved under task complexity. The research shows that information of high information quality (IQ) reduces the level of task complexity, and influences—as well as is influenced by—situation awareness. The practice of collecting and disseminating relevant and timely information as a critical resource in improving SA should be carried out continuously. This continuous process can be improved by using information technologies as automating tools. Moreover, the study shows how shared mental models can improve SA under task complexity. A case study approach, based on qualitative data focusing on theory building, is applied. Unit of analysis is a Norwegian hospital.
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We adopt the definition of “task as behaviour requirements” by Wood (1986, p. 62), stating that tasks are a behavorial responses of an individual. The aim of these responses is to reach a “specific level of performance” (Wood, 1986, p. 62). In our interpretation, the definition can include more than one person, as several individuals within and across organizations can be joining to perform the responses.

We use the definition of task complexity (TC) by Hærem, Pentland, and Miller (2015), who in turn draw upon Oeser and O'Brien (1967). Both sets of scholars establish TC similar to a decision tree. According to Hærem et al. (2015), tasks are paths and potential routes to reach particular goals in the network. This creates nodes and ties which may in addition change over time, which gives a dynamic element to complexity (Wood, 1986). In contrast to simple tasks, the more choices that are possible in order to reach goals (Wood 1986), and the more unexplainable interrelations of components in the network of actors (Flood 1987), the more complex is a task. As our systems and organizations evolve into more complex systems, dealing with TC has become more urgent (Campbell, 1988; Hærem et al., 2015).

Although in literature on complex systems there is a focus on situation awareness (SA) as part of the decision process, TC is less of an issue (Endsley, 2001; Wright, Taekman, & Endsley, 2004). However, coming back to Hærem et al. (2015) and Campbell (1984), complex systems and complex tasks are so interwoven that we believe SA is central within TC as well. We use the SA definition by Endsley (2001), which is also supported by Wright et al. (2004, p. 4). Endsley (2001, p. 4) defines SA as a 3-level model consisting of “Perception of the elements in the environment”, “Comprehension of the current situation” and “Projection of future status”. High stress and high workload may additionally hinder SA (Wright et al., 2004).

When comparing the studies by Hærem et al. (2015) and Campbell (1984) with the studies by Endsley (2001) and Wright et al. (2004), there is one more aspect which becomes clear: Information and the quality of information appear to be important for both assessing tasks and gauging their complexity when it comes to SA (Endsley, 2001; Wright et al., 2004). In our view, both Hærem et al. (2015) and Campbell (1984) give this aspect too marginal consideration. We define information as “know who, what, where, when and how many” (Ackoff, 1989). In contrast to Ackoff, we also include how-to (Ackoff, 1989). We start with the information quality (IQ) definition by Nelson, Todd, and Wixom (2005), stating that quality of information is created by the level of completeness, accuracy, format and currency of the information. However, throughout the analysis, we find out that the given model requires a different look at the information-related parameters.

This study investigates the role of SA under task complexity. In addition, it poses a fundamental question connected to SA under TC – whether information may play a more significant role than previous research suggests.

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