Coordination mechanisms: Towards a conceptual foundation of CSCW systems design

  • Schmidt K
  • Simone C
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Abstract

The paper outlines an approach to CSCW systems design based on the concept of 'coordi-nation mechanisms.' The concept of coordination mechanisms has been developed as a generalization of phenomena described in empirical investigations of the use of artifacts for the purpose of coordi-nating cooperative activities in different work domains. On the basis of the evidence of this corpus of empirical studies, the paper outlines a theory of the use of artifacts for coordination purposes in cooperative work settings, derives a set of general requirements for computational coordination mechanisms, and sketches the architecture of Ariadne, a CSCW infrastructure for constructing and running such malleable and linkable computational coordination mechanisms. A major research issue in CSCW is to understand how computer systems can be instrumental in reducing the complexity of coordinating cooperative activities, individually conducted and yet interdependent. In fact, the issue was identified and defined with admirable precision quite early in the history of CSCW, by Anatol Holt: 'The new capabilities at which coordina-tion technology aims depend on finding and installing appropriate conceptual and structural units with which to express tasks, their diverse relations to each other and to the people who ultimately bear responsibility for them.' 'To be useful, this must be done in a flexible yet well-integrated manner, with plenty of leeway for the unpredictability of real life.' (Holt, 1985, p. 281). Since then, this issue has been investigated by a range of eminent CSCW researchers. The initial results were not encouraging, however, in that coordination facilities were experienced as excessively rigid, either because the underlying protocol was not accessible and could not be modified (e.g., The Coordinator, cf. Winograd, 1986; Winograd and Flores, 1986; Flores et al., 1988), or because the facilities for changing the protocol did not support actors in modifying the protocol (e.g., DOMINO, cf. Kreifelts et al., 1991a; Kreifelts et al., 1991b).

Author-supplied keywords

  • Ariadne
  • Articulation work
  • Artifact
  • CSCW environments
  • Cooperative work
  • Coordination
  • Coordination mechanisms

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Authors

  • Kjeld Schmidt

  • Carla Simone

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