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PD: Notes from Floyd et al, 1989  
Computer Professionals for 
Social Responsibility 

Participatory Design: Notes from a classic article by Christiane Floyd et al

Randy Trigg

May 8, 1995

Floyd, C., Mehl, W.-M., Reisin, F.-M., Schmidt, G., & Wolf, G. (1989). Out of Scandinavia: Alternative Approaches to Software Design and System Development. Human-Computer Interaction, 4(4), 253-350

This is a wonderfully informative article, especially in terms of the history and roots of the so-called "Scandinavian approach" and several of its best-known projects.

Section 1 inquires as to whether there even is such a thing as a Scandinavian approach:

We came to the conclusion that there is a Scandinavian Approach, but that it is not necessarily a tangible phenomenon for the Scandinavians themselves. The reason for this is that, in our opinion, it consists in certain common features of the different schools, which we consider to be intrinsic, but which are taken for granted in their own cultural setting to the extent that they are not consciously recognized as such. Conversely, the Scandinavians are able to put their finger on the differences between the respective approaches, and in some cases these are the subjects of controversy and discussion. (p. 258) Section 2 looks very briefly at Scandinavian history and culture: Central European observers like ourselves are struck by the fundamental will to establish a social consensus and to bring about a deliberate activation of human resources with a view toward shaping a society that offers a high quality of life to all its members and largely compensates social injustices, that is, to create an egalitarian society. (p. 260, original emphasis) The section proposes a variety of factors that contribute to the particular stance toward technology and design found in Scandinavia. These include: • strong trade unions and associations of employers, and a high degree of cooperativeness between them;

• importance of and investment in adult education in Denmark (see also Susanne's PDC'94 paper);

• the predominance of design as a skill and also a feature of the social infrastructure:

Design aims at reconciling different, someimes conflicting concerns, making optimal use of available resources in order to create high quality products or systems at a reasonable cost. (p. 261-262) • various highly developed forms of cooperation: between researchers in different fields (e.g. computer science and humanities or organization theory); between researchers and industry around "pilot projects" (p. 262); between researchers and trade unions; between trade unions and employers; and finally, in the narrower context of system development, between designers and users of technology.

• a "fundamentally positive attitude" (p. 262) to science and technology. In Scandinavia, the goal is, "to use technology to meaningfully support social systems, while safeguarding human and social values." (p. 262)

• and finally,

The Scandinavian Approach has been largely shaped by nonmilitary needs [in contrast to the US] and is explicitly geared to the use of computers for the benefit of human beings, in pursuance of the overriding goals of humanization and democratization (p. 264)
Section 3 discusses the roots of system design approaches in Scandinavia. According to Figure 1 (p. 265) and the accompanying discussion, the Scandinavian "school" is similar to socio-technical school in that both "support human strengths", but differs in its aim to "contribute to values and self-image of all affected" as opposed to "contribute to control by and values of system owners". [We need to check this (and the more in depth discussion in Section 4.1) against other historians of the socio-technical approach.] According to the discussion on p. 267-268, the sociotechnical approach led to a "harmony perspective" which was "sharply criticized" by the trade unions. There's was a "conflict perspective" in keeping with the understood sense of labor-management negotiations. The result of the trade unions' collaboration with Kristin Nygaard & co in Norway was what came to be known as the collective resource approach: [This] alternative methodology propounded by the trade-union-oriented scientists was based essentially on consciously value-guided approaches to design, elaborating and employing innovative concepts of systems development and on the use of computer technology in organizations. Particular importance is also attached to the idea of training schemes. These are designed to familiarize workers with the new technologies, in order to safeguard and to improve their qualification levels. (p. 268) The subsection "Historical Shifts" lists several changes in the methods used by Scandinavian system developers during this period. Particularly important is the issue of user participation: Cooperation between developers and users is considered a crucial factor and is given methodological support. User participation was a demand already recognized by the sociotechnical and other system-oriented approaches. It was, nevertheless, later criticized as being inadequate, particularly by adherents of the collective resource approach, because it failed to provide sufficient codetermination rights for users and also ignored the issue of user qualification for the participation process. Today, precedence is given to mutual learning with guaranteed rights of codetermination, also covering conflicts between different interest groups. Special training schemes have been developed for this purpose. Various forms of prototyping are used to provide technical support for the process of mutual learning, to help progressively qualify users, and to adapt sofware to meet the needs of specific user communities. (p. 269) The subsection "The Systems Perspective - and Beyond" describes the "systems perspective" whereby the computer is seen as part of a larger system (including for example, humans and other "components"). The authors show Nygaard's roots via Langefors in this perspective, but the ways that Nygaard in his work around SIMULA moved beyond Langefors. Indeed, The more common alternative in Scandinavia is to abandon the system perspective altogether, and to use other concepts for describing the relationship between human beings and computers. (p. 272) The remainder of Section 3 discusses the "design view" (as opposed to "production view") that characterizes system development in Scandinavia. Features include a shunning of didactic methods and increased autonomy for the developers, In contrast [to the software engineering tradition], Scandinavian approaches are based on software development as it really is (i.e., they proceed from experiments on real program development processes and empirical studies of real-life project situations). They take account of the problems and tasks encountered here in their totality, and they view methods as aids for the benefit of workers, enabling them to behave intelligently in the development situation and use their skills to produce high quality software. (p. 274) The authors trace these ideas from Naur's early studies of programming in the 70's and Mathiassen's doctoral thesis in 1982 and show how they lead to three fundamental principles: • Mutual learning: Users and developers alike are reliant on a mutual process of learning and communicating.

• Designing by doing: Early experimentation and testing, such as using prototyping and promoting communication and learning processes.

• Interest-governed codetermination by the trade unions in the conception, design, and control of computer-based work processes. (p. 275)

They go on to briefly describe prototyping as it is intended to be used in Scandinavia and more generally the "process-oriented" approach to system development.

Section 4 gives more background including a historical line that goes from socio-technical to the collective resource approach, and ends with capsule summaries of several of the historically important projects.

The first subsection places the start of the socio-technical approach with Tavistock just after WWII and then passes it to Norway in the 60's, and from there to Sweden. In the 70's it was developed jointly by Mumford et al and some Scandinavians at the Manchester Business School.

One of the key concepts is open systems, by which the socio-technicals seem to mean systems that interact with an environment, exchanging materials and maintaining a "steady state." Crucially, these systems include both technical and social subsystems:

The central paradigm of the sociotechnical approach to work organization consists of (a) the postulation of a causal relationship between job satisfaction and work productivity and (b) the recognition that technology must be compatible with organizational and social needs, if both of these are to be increased. (p. 277) Socio-tech recognized the importance of self-determination and the problems of work alienation, but was less concerned with "the general socioeconomic conditions affecting [work]." (p. 278)

The Norwegians took up socio-tech at the end of the 50's as one means of enabling industrial democracy. The authors describe the early course of adoption in Norway and the particular questions that were taken up, for example, "How are the new technologies to be embedded in the existing organizational structure so as to increase both work quality and productivity, while at the same time ensuring greater job satisfaction?" (p. 279) An assumption called the harmony thesis, the idea "that each organization ... is governed by a common overriding goal or 'mission'." (p. 280) can be said to characterize the work during this period.

Existing conflicts of goals between different groups or individuals must be identified, and these can, by structural changes in the organization, be settled in such a way that the stability of the sociotechnical system and its effectiveness with respect to the common goal are restored. (p. 280) The second subsection (4.2) introduces the collective resource approach in part as a reaction (at least by trade unions in Sweden) to the socio-technical strategy of focusing on the interests of individual workers rather than developing collective solutions (p. 281). In Norway, the Iron and Metalworkers union also was concerned over the socio-technical approach's reluctance to confront the "need for changes in social and economic policy" (p. 281) and the conflicts that must follow. They speculated that the early participation experiments eventually lost attraction for the workers because they missed, for example, the workers' status in the company as a whole. In the trade unions' view, a process of democratization in the interest of the workers had to entail a change in existing power structures and hierarchies (i.e., a change in the distribution of power, both at the shop-floor level and in society as a whole). And they concluded that what was needed was an interest-related strategy, taking into account the specific historical, sociopolitical, and sociocultural conditions in Scandinavia, that would enable the trade unions to play an independent part in the process of democratization. (p. 281) The goals of the collective resource approach included: redefining the role of trade unions in planning and introducing new technologies and work processes; "activating" trade union groups (committees?) at the company level for safeguarding worker interests; encouraging and supporting union-initiated R&D projects and "interest-governed, action-oriented" training schemes aimed at increasing democratization (p. 282).

Three of the first major projects were NJMF (Norsk Jern og MetallarbeiderForbund), DEMOS (Democratic Control and Planning in Working Life: On computers, trade unions, and industrial democracy project) in Sweden, and DUE (Demokrati, Udvikling og EDB) in Denmark. Though these are characterized as "first generation" projects, at least DUE was formulated in part as a reaction/follow-up to the lessons learned in NJMF (p. 284).

The "second generation" projects were oriented explicitly toward involving union members in design of new technology (p. 286), most famous among these was Utopia (see Section xx).

Given that the collective resource approach was distinctively Scandinavian (unlike socio-technical) especially in its focus on industrial democracy and the involvement of unions, Section 4 concludes with a discussion of the particular theoretical assumptions underlying the approach. The understanding of labor processes draws on Marxist conceptions of "use value" and "division of labor". Into this is fit a "design process" that complements "use process" as part of a total labor process (p. 287-288). The two processes are essentially mutually dependent and constitutive, "The design of computer support for labor processes must therefore be carried out with the users; it cannot be performed either for or by them." (p. 288). This also leads to a focus on training and independent union-directed R&D:

Clear identification of ... conflicts of interest... should not be seen as inhibitions, but rather as prerequisites to cooperation on technological and economic changes. An important prerequisite for trade union participation in management design processes is a parallel and independent process of accumulation of knowledge on the part of the unions. Independent trade union research and development is therefore seen as a necessary complement to traditional strategies of systems design. (p. 288) Section 5, System-Oriented Approaches, covers two main methods of system design practiced in Scandinavia, ISAC and object-oriented. The ISAC methodology was devised by Mats Langefors in the early 60's. One distinction ISAC makes is between information systems and data systems (the former involving "human knowledge"). The other distinction is between user-oriented and computer-oriented activities, achieved by, "... calling on system developers to confine themselves initially to user- and use-oriented design decisions, postponing design decisions influenced by technical factors until as late a stage as possible." (p. 290) The five basic work steps of the methodology are: change analysis, activity studies, information analysis, data system design, equipment adaptation. However, due to problems with the change analysis step (too time consuming, imprecise selection criteria, etc.), a new step is added at the start, enterprise diagnosis, meant to uncover the goals at the enterprise level. Activity studies are meant to limit the scope of the information system according to the actual activities being carried out in the organization. (I could imagine an argument for doing this in parallel with enterprise diagnosis.) Floyd et al explicitly give their own appraisal of this approach: In our opinion, ISAC is a rather conventional approach, viewing, as it does, the development of information systems from a result- or documentation-oriented perspective. Less conventional, however, is the way the methodology is applied in projects, in which a methodology is viewed from a wider perspective that takes into account the communication and learning processes of the people involved. (p. 294) The authors trace the use of object-oriented system description methodologies in Scandinavia back to the o-o programming language SIMULA (their reference is to 1973). Nygaard's lectures at Aarhus University followed in which he proposed combining the new language DELTA with a system description method, "to create a tool for participative systems design that could be used in various kinds of communication situations." (p. 294) An essential aspect of this approach is that the authors make explicit their conscious decision to view something as a system with respect to a particular purpose. According to this view, systems do not exist as such; rather, we choose to look upon certain subareas of reality as systems ... This emphasizes the importance of the perspective of those involved (i.e., the way in which they mentally structure the development situation on the basis of their experience, their expectations, or their personal values). Consequently, systems do not exist in themselves, but are dependent on an inquirer who seeks information about, or proposes decisions with respect to, the considered system. (p. 295) This work has continued more recently with the BETA programming language, its programming environment, and research in system descriptions associated with BETA.

This page is produced by CPSR members Randy Trigg and Andrew Clement [others?]. Comments, suggestions and pointers to non-commercial resources are welcome.

Last updated on March 5 1999

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