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Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW)

, Volume 22, Issue 4–6, pp 475–529 | Cite as

Computational Coordination Mechanisms: A tale of a struggle for flexibility

  • Federico CabitzaEmail author
  • Carla Simone
Article

Abstract

Coordination mechanisms (CMs) can be defined as any kind of computable construct whose aim is to organize activities performed by a group of actors that are called to collaborate for some purpose or reason. As such, CMs can be observed, conceived for and applied in a vast number of coordinative practices in almost every work setting. The advent of information and communication technologies has raised the issue of how these technologies could be used to help cooperating actors governing the increasing complexity of collaboration in modern organizations. This issue has been at the core of CSCW from its foundation until today: the field studies therein conducted have highlighted the flexibility by which human beings master this complexity. The requirement of flexibility has become one of the necessary conditions to guarantee the effectiveness of any computer support of coordination. The paper presents the main paradigms and approaches that have been proposed to fulfil this challenging requirement. The story shows that this effort has really been a sort of a struggle for either conceptual and technological solutions that are still to be fully realized and generally adopted in the field of work.

Key words

coordination mechanisms workflow management systems flexibility coordination theory ordering systems case handling alpha level taxonomy 

Notes

Notes

  1. 1.

    This hypothesis states that “most things are only weakly connected with most other things; for a tolerable description of reality only a tiny fraction of all possible interactions needs to be taken into account” (Simon 1981, p. 221).

     
  2. 2.

    More details can be found at http://yawlfoundation.org/, where a detailed user manual is available

     
  3. 3.

    Respectively, Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN), Business Process Execution Language (BPEL) and XML Process Definition Language (XPDL).

     
  4. 4.
     
  5. 5.
     
  6. 6.

    Strauss et al. (1985) define articulation work as “the specifics of putting together tasks, task sequences, tasks clusters—even aligning larger units such as lines of work and subprojects—in the service of work flow” (p. 164).

     
  7. 7.
     
  8. 8.

    Nothing here is said whether those models of the work have been already appropriated by the actors or not; we are just considering the role of the computational system in facilitating the appropriation by the users of explicit work processes and procedures, if any.

     
  9. 9.

    This usually happens just because the system actually “ignores” what users should be doing at any given time, not for a precise choice of the designer.

     
  10. 10.

    In this sense, the system would not convey explicit procedural knowledge, in that such a thing could always be seen as information evoking some tacit knowledge, or triggering some knowledgeable behavior.

     
  11. 11.

    Our taxonomy emerges from the discreet “sampling” of a phenomenon that we recognize as continuous: therefore such sampling gives away some sort of arbitrariness, which can be justified only by the taxonomic function of the identified categories in characterizing and comparing different system proposals.

     
  12. 12.

    Freeflow and FLOWer share some important conceptual tenets and modelling features, at least in regard to activity management, but they were conceived in two different research communities: probably for this reason the proposers of the latter solution do not acknowledge the former one as a precursor.

     
  13. 13.

    In Figure 4, the areas corresponding to the different Alpha levels do not overlap only for the sake of visual clarity.

     
  14. 14.

    This not because these behaviors are deviated toward, or become supported by, any paperbased artifact; but rather because people can not longer work without computers (Rochlin 1998).

     
  15. 15.

    The list could be much longer than it is reported here, including e.g., corporate social computing platforms like Azendoo, Refinder, Qontext, Jive, Socialcast, Quad, Connections, SociatText, Pluck. . .

     

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Dipartimento di Informatica, Sistemistica e ComunicazioneUniversità degli Studi di Milano-BicoccaMilanoItaly

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