Susan Gasson

Socio-Technical Studies of Digital Technologies and Collaborative Processes

I study the socio-technical processes involved in distributed collaboration – i.e. how design and problem-solving “work” when these processes span organizational, disciplinary, or knowledge-domain boundaries. I am especially interested in how these processe relate to the design, use, and impacts of digital technologies.

My work lies at the intersection of human-computer interaction (HCI), social informatics, and knowledge management, exploring three "big questions":
1. How can we design boundary-spanning information systems? Organizations that span multiple areas of knowledge and expertise experience distributed cognition, where understanding is stretched across members of groups who collaborate to define changes to business processes and IT systems. As the organization evolves, it increasingly faceswicked problemsthat are incapable of simple definition or analysis. Understanding how to provide a common language for boundary-spanning design and problem-solving groups is therefore critical to successful organizational adaptation as things change.
2. How is knowledge created, communicated, and shared across distributed knowledge networks? Technology systems are mediating and progressively displacing people-people interactions across organizational and community networks. Virtual interactions strip out the contextual understanding required to transfer knowledge from one domain of expertise to another. By understanding the processes required to maintain and mediate group memory in distributed environments, we become able to design systems that support knowledge transfer and translations across domain boundaries.
3. How can we ensure that technology design is human-centered? Creating new design methods and approaches is only part of professional design practice. The impact of technology platforms for design collaboration, the ways in which methods are implemented, and the approaches used to stakeholder requirements elicitation are all important constraints on human-centered design outcomes.

My studies employ grounded theory, ethnography, and qualitative/mixed methods to investigate a variety of contextual domains including Enterprise System design, distributed virtual organizations, peer- and vicarious learning in online education, and research networks of practice. My work has been published in The Information Society, the European Journal of Information Systems, the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communications, and Information, Technology & People.

Two of my papers have won best paper awards for that journal. I have authored two book chapters that focus on the application of grounded theory, and another on boundary-spanning design. In 2004, I was the recipient of a five-year NSF Career Award. I am a member of the Academy of Management (OCIS Divison), the Association for Information Systems (AIS), and IFIP WG 8.2 (Organizational Aspects of IS).

Courses Taught

I teach on the graduate MS programs - MSIS, MSSE, MS(LIS) - and lead selected doctoral seminars. The following is a list of the courses that I teach, but not always in every year.

INFO 627 - Requirements Engineering and Management

INFO 638 - Software Project Management

INFO 646 - Information Systems Management

INFO 780 (Special Topics) - Social Informatics

INFO 811 - Doctoral Research Methods

INFO 861 - Qualitative Research Methods

About Me

Prior to becoming an academic, I pursued a successful career in information systems development, management, and consulting. I have performed most software engineering industry job functions: firmware designer, operating system debugger, real-time systems developer, software architecture integration specialist (integrating cross-platform datacomms architectures and standards), project manager, IS business group manager, and systems architecture consultant. I worked with many large corporations in the United Kingdom, including British Telecom, Bell Northern Research and ICL (now Fujitsu Computing). I specialized in the area of systems software architectures and data communications, advising on systems integration and compatibility problems, working on early implementations of standards and implementation languages for object-oriented system design (implementing ASN.1), OSI network protocols, and software architectures for co-resident network protocols and office system document access standards (the precursor to XML). During this time, I discovered that many projects failed because of an inability to integrate multiple sets of (often incompatible) requirements for change, originating from different stakeholder groups. This realization spurred me to undertake a PhD at Warwick Business School (one of the top Business Schools in the UK). The resulting dissertation, Co-operative Information System Design: How Multi-Domain Information System Design Takes Place In UK Organizations, provided the academic basis for my current work in design and collaborative knowledge processes in boundary-spanning groups.

I also have a life ... smiley