Investigating Appropriation and Reinvention along a Design Process with Adaptive Structuration Theory: A Case of an Information System in Archaeology

Investigating Appropriation and Reinvention along a Design Process with Adaptive Structuration Theory: A Case of an Information System in Archaeology

Tommaso Federici (University of Tuscia, Italy) and Alessio Maria Braccini (University of Tuscia, Italy)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6256-8.ch015


The literature states that when an information system is introduced to support and manage group activities a complex pattern of actions (appropriation and reinvention) can be observed. Such actions might lead to an actual use of the system different from the desired one. The Adaptive Structuration Theory is commonly used to investigate the change in the users' perceptions about an information system and their relationship with it after such a system is implemented. Appropriation and reinvention of information systems might, however, occur during the design process, contributing in this circumstance, if properly managed, to reinforce the quality of the final artefact and the involvement of the users. With this regard, this chapter discusses the case of the design of an information system to manage archaeological finds, applying the adaptive structuration theory, with some adaptations, to the design phase of an information system. The chapter highlights the presence of appropriation and reinvention by users during the design process and suggests that some managerial actions consequent to such events might contribute to successfully design a system that balances conflicting requirements by heterogeneous groups of users, technology experts, and project leaders.
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The management of archaeological finds is a process that encompasses all the activities per- formed on a find, including excavation, restoration, study, conservation and exhibition (Braccini & Federici, 2010). Information is crucial in this process but it is often not managed properly. Each object found during an excavation is not only a legacy from the past, but also a potential valuable source of information.

What happens in practice to an archaeological find is that after its discovery it starts a new life cycle through which it will cross several stages (among them storage, cleaning, restoration, study, exhibition, grouping or consolidation), sometimes repeatedly (Braccini & Federici, 2010; Federici & Braccini, 2012). During this new life cycle, many different players (such as archaeologists, restorers, storekeepers, archivists, photographers and others) may perform different activities on the find. Each of these activities produces new information and can change the nature of the find, like in the case, for example, of the combination in a single object of fragments found in different moments. At the same time, every action can alter the stock of information embedded in the find, like showed by the later sketched example of the Antikythera mechanism, where a raw metal mass covered by corrals revealed a wheel-geared calculation machine only after an X-Ray inspection (Freeth et al., 2006).

The creation of a brand-new computer-based information system (IS) to track the events, and to record all the possible information in the find management process is a big challenge. On the one hand, such a system has to be designed in detail to reach its highly diversified aims. On the other hand, organizational structures are neither fit (several diverse and not standardized procedures are concurrently in use), nor ready (IT use in operation is a novelty for many actors in the field) to adopt it profitably. An interaction and adaptation between the technology and the organizational environment the technology has to work in is to be expected (Leonard-Barton, 1988; Wagner, Newell, & Piccoli, 2010).

Due to the fact that the finds management domain is a field where it is possible to observe the introduction of an IS in an almost virgin context, and for the importance that information management through IS might have in the find management process, we consider worthwhile to investigate the case of the project named “giSAD – Recouvrement du Potentiel Informatif des Sites Archéologiques Démontés” (“Potential Information Retrieval of Archaeological Mobile Sites”). This project leaded to the design and the development of ArcheoTRAC, one of the first ISs in the archaeological domain that supports the management of the information of finds across their whole lifecycle (Braccini & Federici, 2010; Federici & Braccini, 2012).

This chapter analyses the interaction among subjects involved in the design process of such IS: final users, technology experts, and project leaders. The chapter investigates the events during the design process of an IS in a multi-disciplinary environment, where different groups of users show different, sometimes conflicting, requirements that have to be balanced for the creation of a single technological artefact that will support their information management processes. To investigate this issue the chapter adopts the adaptive structuration theory (DeSanctis & Poole, 1994), which is commonly used to investigate human and technology interaction in the implementation of IS. The adaptive structuration theory posits that individuals and organizations using an IS create perceptions about the utility of the technology itself (DeSanctis & Poole, 1994), and these perceptions influence the way the technology is used, and therefore mediate its impact on users and groups. More specifically in this chapter we propose to extend the application of the adaptive structuration theory, with some refinements, to the design and not to the implementation phase of an IS.

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