Exploring the Implications of the Research Questions
In order to explore these research questions it was necessary to work on a real problem with a real organization. In March, 2013 the Chief Academic Officer (CAO) of Curry College (CC), Boston, USA requested that contact with a potential collaborator be established and an initial assessment of the feasibility of starting a study abroad partnership be explored. The charge was to explore what business processes would have to be in place to initiate and maintain a study abroad partnership. A description of the information requirements for these processes was also to be provided. Suggestions on how technologies could help acquire, store, process and distribute that information was also welcomed. Based on the initial requirements of the institutions it was understood that the study was expected to cover the analysis and information requirements definition stage of the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) in ISD while the implementation was to be left to the IT departments at the respective institutions.
The project was set up between Richmond UniversityFootnote 1 (RU) in the United Kingdom and Curry College (CC) USA. The Dean of International Programs at Richmond University and the Director of Admissions North America from Richmond University were brought together. The initial contact was made through a face-to-face meeting (May 21st 2013) followed by a series of e-mails.
Although the participants of the study were located in two continents it was important that the key stakeholders participated in the study. To this end a virtual communication environment was created. Initially an asynchronous communication environment (i.e. email) was used by participants, but it became apparent that they needed to meet ‘virtually’ at the same time to facilitate productive discussions. A synchronous virtual environment was created allowing participants to talk to each other and see each others video feeds in real time. This approach meant that there was a more equal participation among team members because of the higher levels of social presence, (the extent to which one becomes aware of others), created by the synchronous use of audio and video (e.g. Paulus and Phipps 2008; Pena-Shaef et al. 2001).
The free web based synchronous software tool ‘Wiggio’ was chosen as the communication technology because it provided, audio, video and texting capabilities for participants to communicate synchronously, which assisted in replicating a face to face environment as close as possible. Wiggio also provided a whiteboard feature that participants could use to create/edit a diagram together in real time.
All participants were located separately and joined the study from different locations across the USA and UK. None of the participants were in the same room during the study. The equipment used by each participant was as follows
Individual Laptops with microphones and headsets
Access to a connection to the internet
Wiggio, virtual meeting software delivered over the internet. Participants are not required to install software on their own computers.
The project brief given to us required that we be active participants but the choice of the method and its suitability to the task was left to us.
Choosing a Methodology
The dual goals of the study (research and practical) were aligned with AR, which allows for the generation of new knowledge along with useful practical outcomes for clients. The ‘systems thinking’ based view of a situation was ideal for the task at hand since it called for a thorough analysis of the problem domain before considering the actions that could improve the situation. The clients understood that they did not have a “big picture” view of the problem domain and that many “pieces of the puzzle” were yet unknown. Our charge was to identify an appropriate systems thinking based tool to conduct the analysis and requirements definition phase. Out of the available systemic approaches to ISD (Checkland and Holwell 1998; Avison and Wood-Harper 1990; Mingers and Brocklesby 1997; West 1995; Champion and Stowell 2005; Cooray 2010; Mumford and Weir 1979; Mathiassen et al. 1991) we selected the Appreciative Inquiry Method (AIM) since it appeared to be best suited to the context of the specific situation.
Although Soft Systems Methodology (Checkland and Holwell 1998) was most referred to in literature it was less suitable within our synchronous virtual setting since the stakeholders were not very technically proficient and drawing rich pictures on the computer (the preferred tool of choice in SSM) was unrealistic. We chose AIM since (1) the tool of choice is a simple Venn diagram, which can be easily drawn on the computer by participants (2) it is better suited for situations where all can agree in advance upon the question/issue to address (3) allows all participants to contribute to the development of the ideas relating to the issue/question (4) provides tools that promote discussions and shared understanding.
AIM comprises three phases which are Appreciate, Articulate and Actuate. In these stages participants use systems maps (similar to Venn diagrams), PEArL (Champion and Stowell 2001; Cooray 2010) and activity models to expose multiple perspectives of the research question, create a shared “systemic” understanding of the issue and generate an action plan. A diagrammatic representation of AIM is provided below but for a full account (see Stowell 2014; Stowell and Welch 2012, pp. 51–57) (Fig. 1).
PEArL (Champion and Stowell 2001) is another systemic tool that is used frequently with AIM and has shown its usefulness in several different contexts. The mnemonic PEArL consists of five different elements (see Table 1).
Originally PEArL was conceptualized as a tool to record the manner or atmosphere within which participants interacted within an inquiry (Champion and Stowell 2001). The original intention was to help external parties authenticate a study and understand how results were reached even though they might be unable to replicate the results. Recently PEArL has been also applied in two other contexts. First it has been used by researchers (Cooray 2010) in an introspective manner to reflect on the way they interacted in the study and as means of identifying their motivations for the purpose of improving themselves. This shows similarities with first person research which demands that the researcher learn about her own actions and states of awareness (Reason and Bradbury 2013; Greenwood and Levin 2006). Second it has been used as a sense making tool to enable participants to reflect on different aspects of an issue, process or domain in a more holistic manner (Cooray 2010; Stowell and Welch 2012). In this study we use PEArL in all three contexts.
PEArL has shown its flexibility as a sense making tool by being used as a means of analyzing issues arising from SSM investigations (Cooray 2010) and from AIM studies (Hart 2013). Researchers have found that the questions related to PEArL can be used as guidelines to learn about “what is the case at present” with regards to a problem domain or issue (corresponding to Vickers reality judgements) (Vickers 1983) and “what ought to be the case in an ideal setting” (corresponding to Vickers value judgements) (Vickers 1983). Studies have demonstrated that using PEArL in conjunction with Vickers ideas can lead to a better understanding of issues arising from AIM and SSM investigations. For a full account of PEArL as a sense making tool (see Cooray 2010; Stowell and Welch 2012).
Authenticating the Research
The underrepresentation of AR in organizational and IS research has been partly attributed in the literature to difficulties in validating AR. According to See Pui et al. (2010) the personal biases of the researcher can threaten the validity of qualitative action research which corresponds to arguments made by (Susman and Evered 1978; Checkland and Holwell 1998; Davidson 2002) that AR researchers are active participants in an inquiry, both influencing and being influenced by it. Researcher bias was minimized in the study by
The researchers consciously striving to let the participants be in control of the process of inquiry
Giving participants a chance to edit and confirm the study data, the researcher’s interpretation of the study data and the conclusions reached; and
Using the mnemonic PEArL (Champion and Stowell 2001) as a tool to record the manner in which the researcher participated in each session.
After each session in the study two types of PEArL records were created. The first was a PEArL record to document the researcher’s interpretation of the manner or atmosphere in which the session took place (i.e. interactions between participants) so that an external party could understand how the results were reached (recoverability—Checkland 1999, p. A40) even though they may not be able to reproduce the exact same results (Champion and Stowell 2005; Cooray 2010) (see Table 2 for example). This type of record was created to address the challenge in qualitative social research of being unable to replicate social situations in exactly the same way due to the dynamic and unpredictable nature of people.
The second type of PEArL record (see Table 3) was a personal record of the researcher’s reflections on her own interactions during each session. This type of record was used to assist both an external party and the researcher to trace how the researcher may have influenced the sessions. This type of record can be introspective in nature and the researcher can use this to reflect on her own role within the study. Both types of records can be used to reflect on how each session was conducted and used by external parties to interpret and authenticate the results of the study.
The maintenance of rigor is another challenge faced by AR researchers especially since it is difficult to replicate the results of social inquiries (in the way one can with science experiments) due to the dynamic and unpredictable nature of participants. Checkland and Holwell (1998) suggest the notion of ‘recoverability’ as a way of addressing the issue and argue that external parties should be allowed to see the intellectual thought process that led the inquirers to reach a conclusion even if they might not be able to reach the same conclusion themselves. Checkland (1981) argues that AR researchers should document the potential application area (A) framework (F) for understanding A, and a methodology (M) for problem solving within A based on F before the study takes place. This is to ensure that external parties can see the thought process that led to conclusions being reached and contributes to the rigor of AR.
Based on Iversen et al. (2004)’s interpretation of Checkland and Scholes (1999)'s action research cycle and FMA model this study combines theory and practice as follows.
Research Framework (F)-AR, virtual teams in IS development
Research Methodology (M)-AIM
Real world problem situation (A)-The research focuses on identifying the potential of AR (specifically the Lancaster model of soft AR) in the analysis phase of ISD as a means of creating shared understanding and reducing conflicts in virtual teams.
Cycles of Learning for Action
As discussed previously the researcher met with the CAO of CC and the Dean of International Programs of RU in Boston in May 2013 to have the initial discussions. Since the researcher is a full time faculty member at CC she worked with the CAO to identify a list of potential participants from CC. The Dean of International Programs at RU worked with the Director of Admissions (North America) to identify a list of potential participants from RU. The researcher contacted the participants via email and explained the processes involved in the study. Once the list of participants was confirmed they were added to an email thread and asked to discuss and agree upon an initial question to explore. The question was agreed on through email discussions and is as follows.
“How can we make the exchange program between CC and RU more attractive to students so that a sustainable relationship between the institutions becomes feasible?”
Although participants were able to agree on a question it became apparent that they would need to be able to communicate in real time in order to have more productive discussions. Since participants were located in the US and UK it became important to explore the option of synchronous virtual meeting software. The free web based synchronous software tool ‘Wiggio’ was chosen as the communication technology because it provided, audio, video and texting capabilities for participants to communicate synchronously. Wiggio also provided a whiteboard feature that participants could use to create/edit a diagram together in real time. Prior to the group sessions the participants were given individual basic online training on Wiggio by the researcher. The training for the participants in both the UK and US was done via the internet with the exception of one face to face training done with a participant at CC. Participants were taught how to log into Wiggio, edit their sound and video settings so that they could hear, talk to and see others, to edit the whiteboard, to share documents and share their desktop. A brief overview of the goals of study and the process of AIM was also discussed. Once participants were confident that they could log in and participate from their individual locations two group sessions were set up- one for the participants from CC and another for those from RU. Each participant joined the sessions from different locations.
The first session was held with RU and the participants included one researcher, the Director of Admissions North America and two faculty members who were directly involved with the ‘study abroad’ partnership in the UK. The researcher was located in the US while the other participants were at different locations in the UK.
Each participant joined the session from his/her own laptop using the software Wiggio. Participants were able to see and hear other participants by using the audio and video features of Wiggio. The participants were asked to focus on the agreed central question. The whiteboard on Wiggio was opened and the central question added within the centre circle on the board. All participants could see this in real time. The participants were invited to add their own thoughts to the central question by adding circles to the centre in the Venn convention of a Systems Map.
The shared whiteboard meant that participants were able to modify the systems map in real time. One participant stated that he was not technologically experienced and requested that the researcher add his elements to the map. This was done in real time. The participants could see what was added and make amendments if necessary.
Participants from RU, collectively, produced the following systems map (Fig. 2).
Participants then discussed and clarified any components of the map that they did not understand or disputed. Their comments were documented as a record of the process that had taken place. There was an atmosphere of general cordiality throughout the session although it did appear that certain members, who had past experience in study abroad programs, might have had influence over the others because of the way they chose to disclose this. This manifested through the informal comments about their past experience, which may have given them more credibility and power in the eyes of others (e.g. was this an example of informal power, ‘r’ in PEArL-Stowell 1989).
Participants asked questions when they did not understand an element in the systems map and those who had added the element explained their reason for doing so. This process sometimes generated a discussion. For instance, when participant X added that he would like to see the financial specifics of the study abroad program be more transparent participant Y did not agree with this proposal. After some discussion the participants decided to delete this element from the map altogether since participant X accepted participant Y’s explanation on why it would be legally difficult to do so. The depiction of the element in a visual manner on the ‘white board’ (in the systems map) made each idea more explicit and ensured that the discussion was more structured than rambling. The act of adding (or deleting) an idea drew attention to it encouraging the contributor to explain what s/he meant. One problem noted during this stage were the delays in the network meaning other participants had a wait for a few seconds. But once the delay was understood the ‘Wiggio’ environment proved to be successful as it allowed participants to discuss the map in real time. This session ended with participants from RU agreeing on their version of the systems map. In the second session participants from CC repeated a similar exercise. The participants from CC included the Director of Academic Enrichment, the registrar and a faculty member associated with the study abroad program. The systems map collectively produced by participants at CC in session two is as follows (Fig. 3).
It became apparent during cycle 1 that not all participants were fully supportive of the study abroad partnership and that there was an underlying tension. This manifested when one participant (X) added the element “Make financial specifics more clear to faculty and staff who are organizing programme so everyone can get behind it”. When the participant (who was an academic director) added this element the Director of Admissions North America (Y) immediately asked it be clarified adding all the available information had been passed on. During the ensuing discussion of the map the participant who had added the element said that he felt that his department was not given access to all the relevant information. Upon realizing that not everyone felt comfortable with the proposed partnership there was renewed interest among the senior management (Director of Admissions North America) to examine issues pertaining to the central question further since they believed that by doing so they could identify the underlying reasons for tensions. The participants decided that they would need to disseminate certain types of information among their staff (and each other) before the next sessions. They used the systems map as a means of identifying the types of information to be passed around. Although the “financial specifics” element was removed from the map it is noteworthy that participant Y stated at the end of session that he would try to email more financial information before the next meeting. The participants then dispersed to take the action they had identified.
After each session, two types of PEArL records were created. The first was to record the researcher’s interpretation of the manner or atmosphere in which the session took place (i.e. interactions between participants) and the second was to document the researcher’s own interactions during the session. These records can be used by external parties to help them to understand how each session was conducted and to assess how much influence the researcher had over the process.
The participants used the elements in the systems maps and learning from the discussions in order to decide on what information to disseminate among staff. Each participant had staff who reported to them with direct involvement to the study abroad program. At CC the director of Academic Enrichment created a site on the Blackboard learning management system and gave “instructor” access to the other participants. They were then able to add any other staff members as “students” to the site. As a faculty member of CC the researcher was also added to the site. Over the next 2 of months’ participants added new documents on the issues discussed during the session. A discussion board was also created on the site to promote asynchronous discussion on the shared documents. Unfortunately, there was very limited activity on the discussion board. At RU relevant material was shared via email.
Although relevant information was shared with participants the results of the actions could not be evaluated since there was limited activity on the Blackboard discussion board at CC. Similarly, email was only used to provide material and there was no way to assess feedback from the recipients of the information. The researcher was not privy to the information shared at RU. It became apparent that more real time virtual sessions would be required to (a) assess the results of the actions (b) generate an inter-group level view of the problem domain and (c) evaluate if the tensions from earlier was still visible after the action taken.
The purpose of cycle two was to assess the impact of the action taken in cycle one and explore the conflictual issues further using “soft” thinking tools. The intention was to arrive at a group level shared agreement on the problem domain by participants from both institutions. This would then be the starting point of an investigation into what business processes and information requirements would have to be in place to create an effective IS that could help to launch the new study abroad program.
Three sessions were held for cycle two with all the participants from cycle 1 (i.e. both institutions) at the same ‘virtual’ meetings. Participants were at different locations connected via their laptops using Wiggio. Prior to the first session the researcher combined the two maps produced during cycle one into one composite systems map. This was presented on Wiggio’s whiteboard during cycle two to the group for comment. Participants reviewed the map, discussed any disputed elements and agreed changes to the map. They stated that their staff reacted positively to the dissemination of information after the previous cycle although they acknowledged that the information was, primarily, only communicated one way and that feedback was mostly on a one to one informal basis. Subsequently participants decided that more channels of communication should be opened for those outside the study (but directly reporting to the participants) to asynchronously discuss and share ideas. Participants decided that moderators should be appointed to these forums to ensure that the participation is high. They also wanted to open up the discussion to those outside of the study not directly involved with the study abroad program such as faculty in the different departments. The idea of organizing offline information sessions for faculty and staff was discussed as a means of getting feedback and buy in from faculty. Participants changed the elements in the map as a result of the reactions of their staff after the previous cycle. They also changed the elements in the map in response to the views of others present at the session. Participants analyzed each element in the map by asking the ‘owner’ of the element to explain their reasoning. Any disagreements were discussed and, sometimes, the text in the element changed to reflect the new, shared, understanding. Some participants asked the researcher to make the changes on the Wiggio whiteboard rather than do it themselves. One participant (as before in cycle 1) stated that he wanted the researcher to make changes to the map since he was not technologically proficient. We discovered that it was apparent that there were many issues that some of the RU participants didn’t know (e.g. that there was a delay in getting the J1 visa for UK students) and many issues that were surprising to some participants from CC (e.g. that RU could only realistically market CC to 15 % of their students). After discussing each of the elements in the systems map and agreeing on a group level interpretation, participants then moved on to an agreed version of the composite map.
The discussions during the second virtual session in cycle two revealed that the marketing issue was the most problematic challenge since there were several associated unknowns. They also realized that the success of the programme hinged largely on the success of their marketing both on campus and outside of it. As a result participants decided to discuss this element further and generate ideas on an initial marketing plan that would work for both institutions. Some issues arising from the discussion caused conflict especially when the CC cohort realized that their college would only be marketed to a limited percentage of RU students.
When participants initially argued on the conflictual issue the assertions seemed to be more existential or abstract in nature. The systems thinking tools PEArL and CATWOE (Checkland and Poulter 2006) were applied as a means of structuring the debate which focused the attention of participants on the specifics and forced them to discuss their motivations. The process made it more difficult to retain hidden agendas. Questions corresponding to each element in PEArL and CATWOE were used to encourage participants to reflect upon and discuss key issues relating to marketing. Using PEArL enabled participants to see the plethora of views on marketing and encourage a systemic, holistic appreciation of the situation. Additionally, PEArL encouraged participants to reflect upon issues that they typically ignored such as informal power (r) and its effect upon outcomes. Participants were also asked to reflect on the marketing component from the systems map by using the T and W from CATWOE to help them think about why they viewed the situation in a particular way (W) and the transformation (T) that they hoped to achieve by implementing an effective marketing plan. The purpose of the exercise was to expose participants to each other’s world views and associated motivation with the intention of generating shared learning about the situation and reducing conflicts. The discussions encouraged participants to explain their reasoning in a more explicit way, which helped others understand the thinking behind their contributions. Participants from CC confirmed that the deeper investigation of the issues using PEArL and CATWOE enabled them to understand RU’s future plans and that surfacing and discussing the issues helped diffuse the situation. Participants from RU acknowledged that the questions corresponding to the elements from PEArL and CATWOE helped them to organize their thoughts and explain their future plans in a more structured and comprehensible fashion. This situation suggests that CATWOE and PEArL had assisted in diffusing a potentially conflictual situation by creating an environment of shared learning (Table 4).
During the same virtual group session all participants were asked to think about the five PEArL elements in terms of “what is the case” concerning the marketing component, helping them to reflect on how the marketing of the program is currently actioned. PEArL was used here as a tool for reflection to enable the participants to discuss various aspects of the situation especially issues related to how participants in the situation currently engage with each other and how formal power and informal authority is exercised. Each element in PEArL was explained and the participants asked to talk about their perceptions about marketing in relation to each element. The answers given by participants are as follows (Table 5).
Participants were asked to think about the five elements of PEArL in terms of “what ought to be the case” concerning the marketing component. This helped them to reflect on how marketing of the program should ideally be actioned. The intention was to get participants to think ‘outside the box’ and identify what they would like to happen if they had unlimited resources and no constraints. The answers given by participants are as follows. Results of PEArL inquiry into how the selected element should be ideally implemented (what ought to be the case) (Table 6).
The reflection on “what is the case” and “what ought to be the case” was operationalized as a way of assisting participants to consider how things are done now with regards to the marketing aspect of the program and how things ought to be done. By reflecting on the issue using PEArL and CATWOE (in relation to marketing) participants were able to deconstruct or break down the discussion into aspects that provided better understanding of the reasoning behind decisions. This provided a more structured way for participants to deconstruct the conflictual issue and discuss elements pertaining to it.
Before the third virtual session in cycle two the researcher produced a definition of a system that could implement the selected element (marketing) which is similar to a root definition in SSM. This definition was created using the answers that participants had given to the PEArL and CATWOE questions in the last session. The definition was to be used as a starting point for a discussion on what business processes would have to be ideally in place to effectively market the program. At the start of the session with the help of the researcher the participants evaluated and modified the definition. This activity corresponds to the way it would be undertaken in a face-to-face situation. After discussion on the words to use in the definition the following was agreed upon.
“A system owned by the Director of Communication and Study abroad office at RU and staffed by the study abroad office at CC and Study abroad office at RU to promote CC to RU students and promote RU to CC students by cherry picking and promoting programs that are especially attractive to students at the other institution and using social media, brochures and web references in order to provide students with international exposure to make them more employable and in order to make the institutions more attractive to potential new students in light of CC being marketed to only 13 % of RU students, limited housing availability and the threat of long J1 visa delays.”
The definition helped formalise the kind of ‘system’ participants thought would produce a good marketing plan, but they also needed to reflect on the processes that would be needed to implement the defined ‘system’. Supported by the researcher the participants broke down the contents of the definition and used it as a guide to discuss the various activities that would help implement their vision. The activities they identified can be traced back to the definition and are as follows.
Create a study abroad office at CC
Create a marketing plan to promote CC to RU students
Promote CC to RU students
Create a marketing plan to promote RU to CC students
Promote RU to CC students
Identify current programs of study that are especially attractive to the student population at the other institution
Promote selected programs to students of the other institution
Train employees in the use of new media such as social media to promote programs
Determine the best way to use the study abroad program as a way of marketing the institutions to potential new students (not students from the other institution)
Periodically assess the percentage of RU students, CC is being marketed to
Monitor J1 visa wait times and changes
Once participants identified the processes that would help with the research question they realized that they needed the expertise of other departments in order to understand the processes better. They decided to take what they had learnt from the study so far and reach out to the marketing departments, faculty training centers and IT departments at their respective institutions to discuss the implementation of the processes.
The virtual sessions in cycle two bought the participants from both institutions together and helped them to use the combined systems map as a means of debating differing views. PEArL and CATWOE proved to be useful as way to structure debate when conflicts arise. The attention of participants was drawn to the separate elements in PEArL and CATWOE and they were forced to reflect on and justify their positions on the different elements in relation to the conflictual issue. When the issue was deconstructed in this manner participants were able to differentiate between what they would like and what was feasible. Although the conflictual issue was deconstructed we believe that the preceding discussions enabled participants to still see the “big picture” and the position of the conflictual element within it.
The third cycle was organized 3 months after the previous session. During the intervening period participants encouraged those reporting to them to participate in the asynchronous discussion board set up on Blackboard to talk about the challenges associated with the study abroad program. A moderator was appointed to start discussion threads and converse with participants. Additionally steps were taken to increase faculty buy in by organizing informational events around campus at CC. A participant of the study also talked about the program at a monthly campus wide faculty meeting. Participants felt that their two pronged approach of sharing more information and creating avenues for conversations (with those directly involved and those uninvolved with the study abroad program) had created more awareness and positive interest among the employees of CC.
Participants also drew on the processes identified in the last session to have discussions with the marketing department, IT department and faculty center about marketing the study abroad program to students at RU. They suggested that the conversations during the previous cycles had provided them with more knowledge about the situation which enabled them to ask relevant questions from those in the other departments. Prior to the virtual session in the third cycle participants had worked with the other departments and decided that they were going to pursue a marketing strategy known as inbound marketing. For cycle three the web administrator of CC was asked to join by the participants.
During the synchronous virtual session participants discussed the inbound marketing strategy they had agreed upon for marketing CC to RU students. They listed the potential activities that should be implemented to do inbound marketing. These activities had been decided during the meetings held with other departments after the previous cycle.
Create a blog for CC with posts from current students about student life
Share information about the school, student life and Boston on social media
Create a webpage dedicated to the study abroad program on the main CC website
Incorporate popular hashtags that RU students use on social media postings about the study abroad program at CC
Create ad campaigns on search engines to market the college to RU students
Encourage the most influential social media users at RU to talk about the study abroad program at CC
The researcher asked them to discuss and identify the information needed to implement said strategy and other processes identified in the last cycle. The initial draft of informational needs to market CC to RU students is as follows (Table 7). Participants were also asked to identify potential sources from which to obtain the information and potential use of technology to obtain the information. The web administrator assisted in identifying potential technologies. An initial draft of the information requirements is as follows.
Participants agreed that the action plan and information requirements should be taken back to their organizations for further discussion with the C level staff and IT experts. Participants stated that what they learnt in the study would help them to have more informed conversations with those who did not take part. At that point the participants returned to their own organization to take the proposals forward.
A formal contract was signed by the institutions a few months later and “study abroad program” was launched: The first batch of US students were sent to the UK in the fall of 2014 while the first batch of UK students were sent to the US in Spring 2015. The study strengthens the argument that soft AR methods can help participants within a virtual setting to reach a shared understanding considering the resultant actions. The study also showed that AR could be useful in virtual synchronous IS development teams as a means of understanding the “system to be served” before considering technology. The study also demonstrated the usefulness of using these systems tools as a means to help diffuse conflicts by creating opportunities for more structured discussion, learning and the reaching of accommodations.