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Rob Kling (Center for Social Informatics, Indiana University—Bloomington):
"Socio-Technical Approaches to IT-Supported Groupspace Designs: Learning from Failures"

Judith Donath

Tuesday, April 1, 2003, 4:00 PM EST

Bartos Theatre, MIT Media Lab (E15)

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In this talk, Kling examines certain types of IT applications that support professional work and communication as integrated socio-technical networks rather than as software used in social/organizational contexts. Civil engineer Henry Petroski notes that the designers of reliable long-span suspension bridges (like the Brooklyn Bridge) learned key design principles by carefully studying the failure modes of earlier bridges. Petroski argues that the science and art of suspension bridge design was advanced by a failure-adverse approach, rather than an approach that tried primarily to copy previously successful bridges. The socio-technical failure modes of IT applications such as collaboratories, groupware, digital libraries, electronic journals, and "knowledge management" projects are much more subtle than the physical failure modes of bridges.

Kling will discuss some case studies of the socio-technical failure modes of varied IT applications, as well as some intriguing positive examples of the socio-technical design of digital libraries. In addition, he will engage the question of the extent to which the practices of socio-technical design can be conceptually integrated through the systematic study of failure modes and ways to intervene in relevant social and organizational worlds so as to avoid them.

Since the early 1970s Rob Kling has studied the social opportunities and dilemmas of computerization for managers, professionals, workers, and the public. He examines computerization as a social process with technical elements, and has studied how intensive computerization transforms work and how computerization entails many social choices. He has also explored the ways that complex information systems and expert systems are integrated into the social life of organizations. He has conducted studies in numerous kinds of organizations, including local governments, insurance companies, pharmaceutical firms, and hi-tech manufacturing firms. He has written about the value conflicts implicit in and social consequences of computerization which directly effects the public. He is currently studying the effective use of electronic media to support scholarly and professional communication.

Rob Kling completed his undergraduate studies at Columbia University and his graduate studies in artificial intelligence at Stanford University. Between 1966 and 1971 he held a research appointment in the Artificial Intelligence Center at the Stanford Research Institute. He has held faculty positions at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, UC-Irvine, and UC-Irvine's Center for Research on Information Technology and Organizations and Graduate School of Management. In August 1996, he joined the faculty at Indiana University, Bloomington as professor of information science and information systems. He directs a new interdisciplinary research center at IU, the Center for Social Informatics, and also directs the Master of Information Science degree program.

A full version of Rob Kling's bio is also available.

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