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Groupware: computer mediated meetings and the mediation of memory

Principal Researcher

Dr Steven D Brown
Department of Human Sciences
Loughborough University
Leicestershire LE11 3TU
+44 (0)1509 263171
s.d.brown@lboro.ac.uk

Co-Worker

Mr Geoffrey Lightfoot
Keele University
g.m.lightfoot@keele.ac.uk


Research Period
1 December 1997 to
31 May 1999
Background/Context
Aims and Objectives
Project Design
Implications

Background/Context

Many existing theories attempt to explain precisely how decisions come about in organisations. This research proposes that decisions are performed as people talk and argue with one another - in their offices, on the telephone, in corridors and especially during and after meetings. From the outside, it would seem as though meetings were the key place where decisions originate. There is, after all, a set of minutes detailing what was said. Yet it is always possible to 'correct' these minutes later or to argue over what minuted comments really mean. Groupware - a type of office organisation software - makes it possible to stage 'virtual meetings' and to provide a more comprehensive record of what occurs in meetings, substituting for the traditional minutes. This research sets out to discover how managers and others find ways of arguing for a particular strategy or position when it becomes more difficult to rephrase or otherwise correct the record of the meeting.

Aims and Objectives

The overall aim of the project is to explore how, in the context of Groupware, memories of what was said and decided are managed and performed. The specific objectives are to:

  • produce guidelines to manage the introduction of groupware in organisations
  • enrich users' understanding of how groupware impacts upon organisational activities by constructing objectives for best practice
  • present a context-relevant model of organisational memory work
  • create guidelines for the application of qualitative methods to electronic naturalistic data
  • assemble a corpus of interviews and other qualitative data which will provide an empirical resource for academic debates about the nature of accountabilities and their performance in the workplace

Project Design

The research is broadly qualitative in its focus. It involves the observation of meetings in a number of organisations using Groupware and an examination of the formal records produced as part of these meetings. These data serve as the baseline against which to compare a range of materials drawn from interviews with managers and others, informal meetings and the contents of memos and directives. Interview materials are initially analysed with QSR Nudist to explore regularities and commonalties in participants' talk. Selected materials will also be subjected to intensive discourse analysis, using methods derived from discursive psychology.

Implications

The findings will be cycled back to the participating organisations in the form of guidelines for best practice. They will also be disseminated more broadly to users in the form of both specific guidelines covering the introduction of Groupware and as a general resource to inform discussion in user networks. The project will yield a practical account of the effects of the technology on managers' rhetorical strategies. This can help illuminate academic debates around information technology. It can also serve as a test application of qualitative methods to electronic data. Ultimately, the project addresses wider policy questions about the specific effects of new technologies on contemporary work practices.


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Contents current at 5th January 2000