Corealisation: A Radical Respecification of the Working Division of Labour in Systems Development
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This thesis develops and assesses an alternative approach to developing IT systems in complex organisational settings, aiming to equip IT professionals with an orientation to design that allows them to create uniquely work affording artefacts that closely fit the working practices of those working with them. This involves a radical respecification of the working division of labour in systems development. Regular reports of failing IT projects have lead to a sense of an ongoing crisis that persists despite the development of various candidate remedies over the past decades. This thesis starts with a critical appraisal of various issues encountered in systems development, conceptualisations of design work and a discussion of the problem of “informing design”. A review of various approaches taken to address this issue reveals that the relationship between ‘design’ and ‘use‘ and between ‘designers’ and ‘users’ is at the heart of the matter. Drawing on ethnomethodology as a means of studying work as a socially organised, situated activity, I then introduce the notion of corealisation as a radical respecification of design. Corealisation aims to erase the boundaries between ‘design’ and ‘use’ by fostering a longitudinal partnership between IT and non-IT professionals orienting to the work on and with IT systems as a whole rather than as separate processes. It takes seriously the ethnomethods of all parties, calling practitioners to consider exactly what it is that they and their fellow members know and use in doing the work of IT design: how the work to be supported gets done in the here-and-now, with these resources at hand rather than according to some representation of how work gets done that is external to the setting and has little or no connection to the purpose at hand. An ethnographic study of work in a manufacturing plant and of IT design in this setting provides the background for the subsequent discussion of the programme of corealisation, especially the notion of design qua member. The thesis goes beyond traditional research methodologies by documenting and reflecting upon the researcher’s experiences as a corealiser of systems, working with other members of the setting. This highlights the importance of having a familiarity with the ‘biography’ of a place as a resource for design work. Finally, the thesis discusses various aspects of corealisation, drawing out implications for the social organisation of design work, especially issues of participation, the use of representations in design work, aspects of dependability and, last but not least, the question of how widely the approach of corealisation may be applied.