“..each member of the work group should have an optimal level of variety; learning opportunities; scope for making decisions; organizational support such as training and good supervision; a job recognized as important by the outside world; and the potential for making progress in the future.” (Mumford, 2006, quoting Fred Emery)
- Is Social. The human portion of its behavior cannot be understood or described at the level of the individual human actor.
- Is Technical. The system must have at least one man-made (technical) component.
- Is sociotechnical. The system’s human (more than one) and technical (one or more) components are actors which each affect the other.
- Is Systemic. It exhibits the basic characteristics of systems (partially derived from [Ropohl, 1999])
a. Its meaning is greater than the sum of its elements
b. Its function is at least in part determined by its structure
c. It cannot be described on just one level of hierarchy
- Is Dynamic. The meaning of a system only begins to emerge once there is an interaction between at least two of its components.
- variation (which can happen both genetically and epigenetically)
- Where do i start?
- How much of the system can i control?
- How much of the system should i control?
- How much variation do i want in the successive generations of the system?
- Is it possible to control the amount of variation in successive generations?
- What are the situations in which this type of design work best? How do i know?
- How do i communicate my design with other stakeholders in a way that allows us all to understand the system?
This problem exists all around us. In business, the concept of the franchise, the ponzi scheme, the chaordic organization [Hock, 2000] are all examples of a design of sociotechnical systems that are meant to evolve, to some extent, beyond the full control of the original designer. In software, open source software is an example of a sociotechnical system that is meant to evolve, to some extent, beyond the full control of the original designer. More recently, sociotechnical systems like Twitter, Facebook, Salesforce, etc. have used API’s as a mechanism for enabling evolution beyond the full control of the original designer. The designers of these systems, however, have a huge task before them.
If they get the initial design right, they enable evolution of their product in one or more successive generations of “offspring” in the form of applications, which, though different from their parent, still maintain some of the characteristics of their shared parent. Twitter, for example, spawned a second generation of applications which, based on the initial design decisions of the Twitter organization, had a certain amount of variation in the population.
Potential Starting Point
One potential starting point for solving this problem is to develop a language with which to talk about systems with these characteristics. In previous personal and professional projects, i have used various visual adaptations of other theories as a way to think through and to (try to) communicate with other stakeholders about such projects. The most problematic part of these projects was the lack of a shared language or shared conception of the salient elements of the project. Here are a few examples of my initial attempts:
Fischer, G., & Giaccardi, E. (2006). Meta-design: A Framework for the Future of End-User Development. In End User Development (pp. 427-457). Retrieved June 8, 2009, from http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/1-4020-5386-X_19.
Giaccardi, E. (2005). Metadesign as an emergent design culture. Leonardo, 38(4), 342-349.
Krippendorff, K. (2007). The semantic turn: A new foundation for design. Artifact, 1(1), 56-59.
Maturana, H. (1997). Metadesign. article hosted by Instituto de Terapia Cognitiva INTECO–Santiago de Chile, available at: www. inteco. cl/articulos/006/texto_ing. htm.
Nelson, H. G., & Stolterman, E. (2003). Design Way: Intentional Change in an Unpredictable World-Foundations and Fundamentals of Design Competence. Educational Technology Publications Englewood Cliffs, NJ, USA.
Simon, H. A. (1996). The Sciences of the Artificial – 3rd Edition. The MIT Press.
When producing anything, it is difficult to know how to approach the relationship between the work and its title. Does the title determine the work? Does the work determine the title? In this case, i will likely be moving from title to work and back again frequently, changing both as i go. For now though, i am using the following working title for my dissertation:
A Framework For The Design of Evolutionary Sociotechnical Systems
My reasoning for this title will become far more clear in the next where i explain the problem i am trying to solve, but the current end goal of the dissertation will be a useful framework (conceptual structure and thinking tool) that a designer or design team (person or people trying to devise a course of action aimed at changing an existing situation into a preferred one [Simon, 1996: 111]) would use when the movement from the existing situation to the preferred one requires the design of a sociotechnical (involving interactions of social actors and technologies) system (the social actors and technologies all affect each other) which, in order to be effective, must evolve (change by passing traits from one generation of the system to instances of the system in subsequent generations) over time beyond of the full control of the original designers.
In order to move along the path toward completing my PhD dissertation, the next step will be a full proposal, submitted to my committee in the Spring semester of 2010, and presented in a public colloquium here at Indiana University. As a way of leading up to this (and perhaps more importantly to try and steal a little bit of the thunder of my colleague Kevin Makice who is doing the same [just kidding, Kevin]), i have decided to work through this process in a blog format, so that anyone with too much free time on their hands – or, i suppose, with an interest in my area of research – will be able to follow along, and perhaps even gain a few ideas along the way. I have already benefited from other intrepid souls like Mark Federman, Dan Lockton and others who have worked through their dissertation in a public format like this.