Why Do The Orders Go Wrong All The Time?: Exploring Sustainability in an E-Commerce Application in Swedish Public School Kitchens

Why Do The Orders Go Wrong All The Time?: Exploring Sustainability in an E-Commerce Application in Swedish Public School Kitchens

Christina Mörtberg (University of Umeå, Sweden & University of Oslo, Norway), Dagny Stuedahl (University of Oslo, Norway) and Sara Alander (University of Oslo, Norway)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-057-0.ch034
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In this paper we discuss sustainability, particularly social and cultural sustainability, in relation to an e-commerce application used in the kitchen of a Swedish public school. The notion of sustainability got its public definition through the Brundtland Commission and the report Our Common Future in which ecological as well as economic and social dimensions were underlined. An additional dimension, culture, has recently unfolded. The data reported in this paper were collected in public school and pre-school meal production. This is a large, institutional, tax-funded activity in Sweden as all pre-schools, compulsory schools and most upper secondary schools serve free lunch to the children and students. We discuss how an e-commerce application complicated the daily routines in the school kitchen rather than making the ordering of food stuff easier or more flexible and how small things that mattered in the staff’s day-to-day activities shed light on the application’s problems and weaknesses. Following Agenda 21, we relate these shortcomings to sustainability and also to participation. The discussion builds on social and cultural sustainability and participatory design with a focus on the involvement of users in design and implementation of IT systems and services.
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Today, green or sustainable design is given particular attention in architecture and urban planning, industrial development and development of energy systems. Central issues are physical and technological principles, environmental and health considerations. Other aspects include choice of low-impact materials, energy efficiency, quality and durability, reuse and recycling, as well as service substitution, standardization and modularity. The technological focus has primarily been on the development of appropriate technologies that create an overlap between technology and context, as well as cutting the use of resources.

In information systems (IS) design or design of information technology (IT) sustainability has, above all, been used with a focus on durability (Braa et al. 2004; Byrne 2005; Byrne & Sahay 2007) or how IT can support a sustainable development of future societies – and less on how the principles of sustainable development can be integrated into the design of future IT services and systems. To use sustainability in this way is probably a consequence of its general meaning. Cheney et al. (2004, p. 226) argue, for example, that sustainability was about ‘permanence and implies notion of durability, stability and eternalness’. Although durability is part of the dominant discourse, others also exist. For example Blevis (2006, 2007) has moved beyond durability when he integrates sustainability into interaction design. His rationale is to reduce the use of materials in order to minimize ecological footprints.1 While Blevis’s focus is on ecological issues, Mörtberg et al. (forthcoming) also include the concepts social and cultural sustainability in IT design. Their focus is on standards, formats, and routines in digital design and how to find sustainable ways of living with technologies (Mörtberg et al. forthcoming). The exploration builds on two research projects: e-government in municipalities in Sweden and the reconstruction of a Viking boat in Norway. Mörtberg et al. discuss how a standard identifier (OCR number) of the invoices causes additional work for the person in a municipal account office responsible for the invoicing process – the design based on the identifier was not sustainable enough without manual interventions to correct inappropriate functionalities of the systems. In the reconstruction of the Viking boat, Mörtberg et al. also illustrate the necessity of paying attention to the users’ creation of meanings and values in order to design connections between present understandings and the standards used for archiving cultural objects, narratives and knowledge. They conclude how important it is to also integrate social and cultural sustainability in the design of sustainable IS/IT and services – i.e., as a prerequisite in the creation of sustainable societies.

Shapiro (2005) argues that it is estimated that large scale IT systems are either not used or they do not work according to the specification in around 75 per cent of cases. Shapiro does not discuss the high rate of failures in terms of sustainability, but he argues for the use of participatory design (PD) approaches in order to reduce the rate of failure. The main focus in PD is on participation and how to involve a range of practitioners in IT design in order to design a system that is based on those who work with it in practice. Our argument to tie together PD and sustainability is based on what PD researchers emphasize:

[Accordingly,] IT usage is regarded sustainable to the extent that it contributes to a balance in the development, use, and protection of a company’s resources. This should be done in ways that accommodate the company’s existing goals and needs, without jeopardizing its future development potentials (Bødker et al. 2004, p. 54).


Good IT design requires knowledge of work practices in order to determine which company traditions are fundamental and sustainable, and which are outdated. Put in a different way, only when a design team has fundamental knowledge of existing work practices can it arrive at what we call a ‘sustain- able design’(Bødker et al. 2004, pp. 140–141).

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