Academic journal article Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology

Socio-Technical Theory and Knowledge Construction: Towards New Pedagogical Paradigms?

Academic journal article Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology

Socio-Technical Theory and Knowledge Construction: Towards New Pedagogical Paradigms?

Article excerpt


Socio-technical theory hypothesizes the presence of two subsystems in every organization or corporate; they are the technical sub-system and the social sub-system.

Many researchers, notably at the Tavistock Institute in London, while studying the resistance of the work force to innovation and especially to the introduction of technological systems for work automation, suggested that a fit between the two sub-systems was needed for the overcoming of the workers' difficulties and for the achievement of the expected benefits from management.

The features that scholars hypothesized for the two sub-systems were (Watson, 2004):

* the technical sub-system is much more than the sum of the equipment in the organization; it can be identified with the process responsible for the conversion of system inputs into system outputs. The conversion process must be continuously controlled to be sure that system goals can be achieved;

* the social sub-system, on another hand, is much more than the set of technical control tasks to be performed by people. Technical tasks are combined with individual jobs and with responsibilities assigned to groups. Any analysis and redesign of the social sub-system implies a revision of the jobs and of the corresponding social roles, for the implications they have on the technical sub-system and for the extent to which they enhance or reduce the quality of working life for the individuals and the groups involved in production.

The cornerstone of the socio-technical approach is that the fit is achieved by a design process aiming at the joint optimization of the subsystems; any organizational system maximizes performance only if the interdependency of the subsystems is explicitly recognized. Hence, any design or redesign must seek out the impact each subsystem has on the other, and planning must aim at the achievement of superior results by ensuring that all the subsystems are working in harmony.

The scheme in Figure 1 synthesizes the socio-technical approach and its components (Bostrom & Heinen, 1977).


More recently, the importance of the consideration of individuals' participation in the life of the organization increased, and a leading role for autonomous and/or semiautonomous groups within the organization and for communities of practices was recognized (Coakes, 2004). Groups and communities of practices (CoPs) arise from special social relationships and are made by individuals, which are motivated to participation by common sets of interests and are willing to develop and share both tacit and explicit knowledge. This is especially true in the knowledge society, where the "socio" appellation in socio-technology takes new meanings and assigns a greater value to knowledge, which is socially constructed and developed in the interactions among people.

Today there is common agreement on the enhancement induced into organizations by communities and on the role they play in the fostering of professional development and on organizational learning.

From Case Studies to a New Model for Socio-Technical Approach

In this section the results of some experiences the author made while cooperating with M. Palma, professor of Latin paleography, are summarized. The experiences reported below are based on special Web sites (mostly information systems), which are used both for research and teaching.

The effects of the systems on students and researchers led the author to compare the results of paleography students with the outcomes many scholars found on communities of learners and, what's more, on communities of practices.

The observed results have been used to support new models for knowledge development also if no superposition with the hypotheses and the ideas reported in the first paragraph could be detected.

The web sites have been planned to manage bibliographical data on medieval manuscripts; some among them also implement the processes usually adopted from researchers to collect bibliographical data. …

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