Call for Participation
Structure and Process: the interplay of routine and informed action
A workshop at ECSCW'01
Alexander Voss(1), Havard Jorgensen(2),
Thomas Herrmann(3), Rob Procter(1)
1) Institute for Communicating and Collaborative Systems,
University of Edinburgh
2) SINTEF Telecom and Informatics and Norwegian University=
of Science and Technology
3) Informatics and Society, University of Dortmund
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The workshop homepage can be found at
There has recently been a renewed interest in the relationship between structure and process. Researchers have looked at the way that the structures underlying information systems are (re-)shaped and how they in turn have an influence on our lives (e.g. Berg 1997, Bowker and Star 1999). The picture that emerges from such research is of action being constituted by -- and constitutive of -- structure, with structure being being a product of action and both an enabler of and a constraint on action.
The CSCW community has had divided views for quite some time about the usefulness and desirability of explicit process representations. Workflow management systems and other related technologies have thus not received the attention from the larger CSCW community that they deserve. Information systems necessarily contain classifications and, as Lucy Suchman has shown, "have politics" (Suchman 1997). Accordingly, it is important to understand information systems as socially constructed artefacts that have intended and unintended consequences for peoples' lives. There's a limit to how far a-priori designed structures can and should shape our action in real contexts.
Recently, researchers have started to look at information systems that support varying degrees of structure, like tailorable groupware (Kahler et al. 2000) and interactive or mixed-initiative workflow systems (Jorgensen and Carlsen 1999, Bernstein 2000). Modelling approaches that handle vagueness, inconsistencies and incompleteness, have also been demonstrated (Herrmann et al. 2000). These approaches allow the trade-off between flexibility and formalised structure to be resolved by users during operation (Voss, Procter, and Williams 2000), raising new research issues for social scientists and system designers alike.
Our aim is to continue and to intensify the transdisciplinary discourse on the shaping of work practice and the role of explicit process representations in this respect. We wish to increase the awareness of relevant work in various fields, to approach common concepts and terminology, and to identify challenges and hypotheses for future research. For further information see the workshop website which is available at
Themes and Questions
The workshop will be organised around a number of guiding questions and themes. These are by no means meant to be exclusive topics and will probably be extended and refined before and at the workshop.
* What aspects are suitable for explicit representation (what kind of
tasks, scheduling, coordination, vagueness, negotiations,
conversations, differing points of view, interests, social relations
* When/for what categories of processes should these aspects be
explicable? What is the role of representations? Do they prescribe or
* What are relevant properties for classifications of work processes,
e.g. resource (labour-, capital- or knowledge-intensive), degree of
prespecification (planned/emergent), structured / unstructured, etc.?
At what level does it make sense to build such classifications (events,
operations, activities, processes, instances, classes etc.)?
* What are the relevant interest concerned and how are they related? How
can we build systems and infrastructures that do not exclude interests
but lead to open processes of negotiation?
* Where do classifications originate? Who can legitimately claim validity
of a given classification and how is such legitimacy established, how
are conflicts resolved? What is the relationship between top-down and
bottom-up processes involved in the shaping of classifications?
* How do people relate their actions to structures? What elements of
innovation are evident and how do they feed into the process of
* General themes: flexibility/rigidity, anarchy/oppression,
Program and Activities
Before the workshop, we will provide an opportunity for discussion by installing a web-based discussion forum. We hope that will actively participate in the preparation of the workshop so that a "mini-conference style" can be avoided and that the need for community-building in the workshop itself is reduced. We hope to identify valuable contributions and may ask people to prepare short presentations of disciplinary approaches, case studies, etc.
The workshop itself will be loosely structured with extensive periods of group discussion. Case material will be prepared and made available before and at the workshop to inspire cross-disciplinary work. A small number of short presentations will introduce the group to interesting perspectives and disciplinary approaches. We intend to use various media to facilitate and record the interactions and make them available to all conference attendees and the larger community. We would also like to invite attendants to bring their favourite books, papers or artefacts to the workshop so that others can browse through them during coffee breaks.
We are looking for participants from diverse backgrounds, academic, industrial, computer science, sociology, philosophy, etc. who can make valuable contributions to the workshop. There are many ways to look at the issues described above and we seek to bring together as many views as possible, especially views that go beyond the traditional technology focus of computer science.
Please register your interest early by sending an email to the organisers, so that we can include you in the activities planned before the workshop. Also, please state very briefly your general interests so that we get an idea of what kind of audience we are attracting and can accommodate your interests. We will get in touch with you to discuss your contributions to the workshop, please be prepared to write a short position statement and prepare (case study) material for general discussion. You will also receive an invitation to join our web-based discussion forum.
Since there is a limit on how many people can reasonably interact in a workshop-style event, we will limit the number of participants to ten (plus the organisers). The workshop organisers will review the contributions that people make for the workshop and select those that are most promising. The deadline for contributions is July 1st and you will be notified of acceptance by August 1st.
Please note that in order to attend the workshop you have to register for the ECSCW'01 conference as well as for the workshop itself. See the conference website at http://ecscw2001.gmd.de/ for details.
Berg, Marc (1997). Of Forms, Containers, and the Electronic Medical Record: Some Tools for a Sociology of the Formal. Science, Technology, & Human Values, 22(4):403--433.
Bernstein, Abraham (2000). How Can Cooperative Work Tools Support Dynamic Group Processes? Bridging the Specificity Frontier. In: Proceedings CSCW'2000, 279-288.
Bowker, Geoffrey C. and Star, Susan Leigh (1999). Sorting Things Out: Classification and its Consequences. MIT Press.
Herrmann, Thomas and Hoffmann, Marcel and Loser, Kai-Uwe and Moysich, Klaus(2000). Semistructured models are surprisingly useful for user-centered design. In: Dieng, R., Giboin, A., Karsenty, L., De Michelis, G. (Eds.). Designing Cooperative Systems. Amsterdam: IOC Press. 159-174.
Jorgensen, Havard D. and Carlsen, Steinar (1999). Emergent Workflow: Planning and Performance of Process Instances. In Proc. of Workflow Management.
Kahler, Helge et al. (Eds., 2000). Special Issue on Tailorable Systems and Cooperative Work. Computer Supported Cooperative Work, 9(1).
Suchman, Lucy (1997). Do Categories Have Politics? The Language/Action Perspective Reconsidered. In Batya Friedman, editor, Human Values and the Design of Computer Technology, number 72 in CSLI Lecture Notes, pages 91--105, CSLI Publications and Cambridge University Press.
Voss, Alexander and Procter, Rob and Williams, Robin (2000). Innovation in Use: Interleaving day-to-day operation and systems development. In: T. Cherkasky, J. Greenbaum, P. Mambrey, J. K. Pors (Eds.), Proceedings of the Participatory Design Conference, 192-201.
 If you do not have access to email and the web, please write to:
Rob Procter, Institute for Communicating and Collaborative Systems,
Division of Informatics, University of Edinburgh, 80 South Bridge,
Edinburgh EH1 1HN.