Virtual Ecology of Work
Jens Rasmussen and Annelise Mark Pejtersen Risø National Laboratory
This chapter examines the design of information systems to support work in a period of rapid change of technology, market conditions, and company policies. Under such conditions, effective systems can no longer evolve by incremental empirical adjustment. Design must be based on a predictive conceptual framework.
For many modern work systems, stable work procedures are not the norm. Many tasks are discretionary. Explicit consideration of goals and constraints and an exploration of the boundaries of acceptable performance are required. For this reason, the object of modeling can no longer be the "task," but must include all the features of the work environment and the interpretation of these features by the actors. The interaction of task and operator constraints creates the task ad hoc.
Basically, human actors are goal directed, adaptive mechanisms. Great diversity in behavioral patterns is found among the members of an organization. No two individuals are occupied by the same activity; nor will a task be performed in exactly the same way twice. The variety of options with respect to "what to do when and how" in many work situations is immense. In order to predict why a particular piece of behavior is chosen instead of another possible pattern, we have to understand how the degrees of freedom (i.e., the action alternatives in a particular situation) are eliminated so that one unique sequence of behavior can manifest itself. As long as action alternatives remain, behavior is indeterminate until a choice is made. In other words, we have to identify the constraints which shape behavior by guiding the choices taken by the individual together with the subjective performance