Cláudio Sapateiro
Superior School of Technology, Polytechnic Insitute of Setúbal, Estefanilha, Setúbal, Potugal
Pedro Antunes
Faculty of Sciences of the University of Lisbon, Bloco C6 - Piso 3 - Sala 6.3.19
Campo Grande, 1749-016 Lisboa, Portugal
Keywords: Emergent Work Processes, Collaboration, Situation Awareness, Social Networks.
Abstract: When existing information systems and organizational procedures lacks to support work needs, people
engage in informal networks of relations and make use of their tacit knowledge promoting this way the
emergence of unstructured work activities. To improve the consistency and effectiveness of such practices
we propose a model and a prototype to assist collaboration needs in such scenarios. Our contribution
defends the need of the construction of a shared awareness to improve situation understanding and
collaboration. Supported on the Reason’s Swiss Cheese model for accidents we propose the use of a
collaborative constructed artifact: Situation Matrixes (SM), to relate the different situation dimensions. The
information needs in the existing contexts of action where the situation unfolds, will be supplied by different
views over the (sub)set of matrixes.
The existing work processes in organizations are
supported in a continuum of structured and
unstructured activities (Sheth, Georgakopoulos et al.
1996). Unstructured activities usually emerge from a
lack of support of existing Information Systems (IS)
and/or organizational procedures to deal with
unplanned situations.
The most common approaches to IS development
focus on identifying the structure of work processes
to produce a system specification. However, many
unknown a priori variables, both external (e.g.,
market dynamics, natural disasters) and internal
(e.g., latent processes or work structures) are among
the factors that may promote the emergence of
unstructured work activities. Within these
unstructured activities we include exception
handling, business process reconfiguration and crisis
To get the work done when facing such unstructured
scenarios, people usually engage in informal
relationships and make use of their tacit knowledge
in an opportunistic manner, which quite often
reveals as a source of innovation, creativity and
We find in the research literature several projects
addressing business process reconfiguration and
exception handling e.g. (Kammer, Bolcer et al.
2000). The research reported in our work goes
beyond the specific context of exception handling
towards the much more complex scenario of
emergent work processes supported in unstructured
activities. We characterize such scenarios in the
following way (Markus, Majchrzak et al. 2002): No
best structure or sequence, Typically distributed,
Dynamically evolving, Actor roles unpredictable
and Unpredictable contexts.
When organizations deal with crisis management
even contingency plans may be challenged by
particular situations.
The concept of resilience, which may be
characterized as a comprehensive endeavor towards
increased organizational resistance and flexibility
dealing within exceptional situations, has recently
emerged (Hollnagel and Woods 2006). This concept
encompasses that technology and in particular
information systems should be analyzed and
Sapateiro C. and Antunes P. (2008).
In Proceedings of the Tenth International Conference on Enterprise Information Systems - HCI, pages 359-362
DOI: 10.5220/0001693403590362
designed to incorporate resilience concepts and
contribute to organizational agility. Considering our
concrete research objectives, we aim to increase
organizational resilience by focusing on the
technology support: developing a model and tool
supporting collaborative unstructured activities in
emergent situations.
In the next section we review this problem in more
detail. Section 3 will present some related work. In
Section 4 we describe in detail the proposed
collaboration model. In section 5 we make some
practical considerations about the collaborative tool
and its implementation. Finally, we discuss the work
done so far and present directions for future research
and development.
Many effective collaborative structures used in such
emergent situations are not present in the
organizations charts. People very heavily rely on
their own networks of relationships to find
information and make decisions. Regarding
technology support, nowadays we still cannot
provide flexible/agile software tools that may be
reconfigured or redesigned at run-time to
accommodate unexpected and unpredicted
requirements emerging in dynamic real life
situations. Many unpredicted situations are solved
with a mix of activities inside and outside formal
organizational rules, procedures, tools and systems.
We defend that a shared understanding of the
situation is fundamental to bring some coherence
and efficiency concerns to unstructured activities.
We note however there are a number of cognitive
factors affecting SA, such as perception, attention,
workload or training that are difficult to tackle with
technology (Endsley 1988).
An additional difficulty to SA technology
support is to devise information sharing,
coordination and collaboration mechanisms avoiding
work overhead, seamlessly integrating with current
work practices and minimizing the gap between the
perceived and the real situations.
From an analysis of the proceedings of the
International Community on Information Systems
for Crisis Response and Management conferences
(ISCRAM) between 2004 and 2006, some recurrent
concerns may be identified: Shared awareness of
crisis situations, information and knowledge
management, information representation, usability
and interface design concerns. Studies like (Milis
and Walle 2007) and (Kanno and Futura 2006) also
emphasises communication, information
management and SA as major endeavours.
We had considered to our proposal the
contributions from several research areas,
highlighting: contexts representation (Bouquet,
Ghidini et al. 2002; Brezillon 2008), social networks
(cross, Borgatti et al. 2000; Liben-Nowell and
Kleinberg 2003), situation awareness e.g. (Gutwin
and Greenberg 2002), exception handling (Kammer,
Bolcer et al. 2000), technology adoption (Bansler
and Havn 2003; Bygstad 2005), and visual
representation (Erickson 2001; Thomas and Cook
Some remarks about the above studies
contribution for our proposal, follows:
Regarding contexts works we are adopting the
definition of contexts which states that: contexts are
a relational property and is managed moment by
moment (Dourish 2004).
In what concerns with social network analysis,
existing works typically do not address real-time
enactment, which is mandatory in our context.
As mentioned earlier is this paper, the problem
addressed by our research goes beyond dealing with
business process exceptions, towards support to
emergent work processes heavily relying on
unstructured activities.
In respect to awareness research, the vast
majority of works had focused in specific
context/domain proposals (a product perspective),
while we emphasize a process perspective,
considering the information acquisition behaviour
and the resources available for processing that
information into decisions and actions.
As may be read in cognition studies, information
visualization improve information sense making and
may constitute a driver for technology adoption. For
both mentioned goals we also emphasize the need of
information visualization in our proposed model.
Considering that in crises contexts both rule-based
(contingency plans) and knowledge-based behaviors
will coexist, we focus our research focus in the
knowledge-based behavior. In this domain one
abandon models guidance and adopt map guidance
for situated action (Suchman 1987; Gasson 1999)
when facing situations that the existing models and
procedures doesn’t cope with a particular emerged
ICEIS 2008 - International Conference on Enterprise Information Systems
We propose the use of a shared artifact to organize
actions and relations, for both internalize and
externalize information and knowledge (Nonaka and
Takeuchi 1995) in order to develop SA. The
proposed model supports the collaborative
construction of SA by sharing individual
assessments, facilitating collective sensemaking
activities and providing situated framing (Gasson
Our proposal was inspired by the Swiss Cheese
model for accidents (Reason 1997) which posits that
for an accident to occur, an alignment of holes
(weaknesses, latent problems,...) in different
organizational dimensions must occur. We defend
that in order to construct SA, essential to mitigate a
crisis, the involved actors should be able to manage
different situational dimensions (e.g. involved
actors, actions, resources, goals, etc.). Regarding the
representation issues of SA, we adopt a perspective
proposed (Miles and Huberman 1994), using several
types of matrixes to represent qualitative
information. We therefore defend the use of
Situation Matrixes (SM) to correlate the situation
dimensions (e.g., goals/actions, actions/actors, …
see Figure 1). The dimensions of the circles that
mark the correlation are directly related with how
strongly (qualitative assessment) is perceived that
correlation. Of course for a useful sense making of
the gathered information (semantics), we are
assuming that people operating under such
circumstances are professionals in their work and
trained with the proposed methodology.
As situations evolve, more information may be
brought into the SA (e.g., more actors involved,
more actions proposed, ...) and organized in existing
and/or new dimensions.
Figure 1: Situation Matrixes.
We focus our actual concerns in the SA
(re)presentation and usability issues. One key aspect
to consider is related to the user interface: users
should easily obtain an overview of the situation in
which they are involved, and should efficiently
manage the relevant awareness information. The
developed prototype may be accessed from a
desktop computer as well as from a Personal Digital
Assistant (PDA). The PDA will allow supporting a
more operational level, which entails how awareness
information is maintained in the field of action. For
a more tactical level SM can be managed in a
desktop computer. The developed prototype is
presented in Figure 2.
Figure 2: Developed prototype.
Keeping information up to date in such unstructured
activities without adding overhead work presents
some difficulties. For instance, status reports are
hard to track due to their dependence of explicit user
declarations. To address this problem, we adopted a
pulling strategy. As SA information becomes old,
users are prompted to report their validity, combined
with a visualization schema to express the
degradation of the quality of the information
presented in the system.
The contribution presented in this work mainly
defends that a collaborative SA model is essential to
develop a shared understanding of an unplanned
scenario. Similar collaborative approaches exist and
are already used in some domains. For instance,
flight operations and firefighters adopted a Crew
Resource Management (CRM) training, which
concerns not so much the technical knowledge and
skills but rather the interpersonal skills used for
gaining and maintaining situational awareness,
solving problems and taking decisions.
The next step in our work will focus on the
collaborative management of SM.
Once we refine our prototype an evaluation should
be made. In order to validate the proposed model we
must evaluate its impact against organizational
elements: the nature of work; individuals;
organizational communication; relationships;
organizational structure and processes (Vyhmeister,
Mondelo et al. 2006).
This work was partially supported by the Portuguese
Foundation for Science and Technology, Project
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