Practice based research in large-scale organisations

Challenges in complex and safety critical socio-technical systems.

A stream of research focuses on challenges raised by major Information Technology and Information Systems innovation Projects in both complex (like Public Administration or e_Government) and safety critical (like Transports or National Public Health Systems) socio-technical systems.

These challenges might remain undetected or poorly addressed leading to major catastrophes.

They can be addressed from the operator-system interaction point of view, for example when the underlying software logic is not clear to those operating the system, or a warning device becomes counter-productive because of a high rate of false alarms.

Meeting the challenges

Challenges might be addressed at a managerial level by targeting inadequate or biased decision making strategies, risk perception and risk assessment; or by investigating the nature of the management/employee engagement, such as the one investigated by the psychology of contract literature.

Challenges might also be addressed at organisational/societal level where the way an application is conceived is critically examined through an historical/cultural analysis of the processes underlying its development and implementation.

Critical interactions associated with increasing software and more generally with operational system complexity are to be identified at all levels of analysis. This is at the heart of our systemic approach in the study of major software project failures.

A number of undergoing or just completed projects address these challenges.

  • Human system interaction and adaptive behaviour. Through an analysis of thousands of incident reports, we identified functional, rather than erroneous, human-automation interactions.
  • Project Management and software failures. Historical analysis of documents highlighting decision making around the adoption and evolution of systems have shown cultural biases, policy pressures, rationalising biases underlying decisions and trends.
  • Organisational drift into software failures. Ongoing work uses ethnographic methods to investigate organisational drifts while conceiving and adopting new safety critical applications.
  • Organisational resilience engineering. Through interviewing and focused groups we are studying how an organisation prepares to cope with challenges introduced by increasingly complex automated systems.