CPSC 689/602--Spring 1997
Computer-Supported Cooperative Work

Paper Report

Title: Computer Systems and the Design of Organizational Interaction
Authors: Fernando Flores, Michael Graves, Brad Hartfield and Terry Winograd
Citation: Flores, F., Graves, M., Hartfield, B., and Winograd, T. (1988). Computer Systems and the Design of Organizational Interaction. ACM Transactions on Office Information Systems 6(2), pp. 153-172.
Reprinted in: Readings in Groupware and Computer-Supported Cooperative Work: Assisting Human-Human Collaboration by Ronald M. Baecker on pp. 504-513

In this paper, the authors express their belief that design is not the contruction of artifacts, but the design of practices and procedures realized through artifacts. They also believe that design should be based on theory, which they see as a laying out of the basic dimensions and distinctions of an area of activity. The advantage of this is that it allows for the formulation of many ideas and gives a sound basis for any decisions made. However, it has the disadvantage of constraining what can be conceived of to those things that can be described by the theory used.

The theory that the authors used in designing the Coordinator is the language as action perspective. This theory describes conversations as consisting of instances of several different kinds of acts. For example, requests, promises, and negotiations. They used this theory by making these speech acts explicit message types within the Coordinator.

The authors then go on to describe the functioning of the Coordinator and its successes. These successes are slightly suspect as later papers have protrayed the Coordinator as a groupware system that, at least to some extent, failed.

The final part of the paper deals with the social environment that all systems must deal with and how the Coordinator interacted with this environment. At this point, the authors admit that the Coordinator works best in an environment of cooperation as opposed to competition. They also say that the Coordinator is most suited to an organization where people are confident in their roles and their power within them. These two assertions lead me to wonder how generally applicable their successful finding are.

The Coordinator provides several features which are not related to the speech act theory which underlies it. These include the ability to attach a reply-by date to a message, threading of conversations, and attributing an open or closed state to a conversation. This leads me to wonder wether it is these features, rather than the speech act theory based features, that have caused the successes that the Coordinator has experienced. These features seem generally useful, and especially given the nature of comments seen in other papers, seem not to be the features of the Coordinator that failed to be used or accepted.

Report prepared by: Tom McCollum, Email: tommc@cs.tamu.edu
Discussion date: 3/3/97            Report date: 3/5/97