Contextual inquiry and socio-technical practice

Peter Bednar, Christine Welch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: During discussions at the ASC 2013 Conference, we were stimulated to consider acting,learning and understanding in the context of organizational change, and in particular the relationship between organizational actors and external analysts. This article therefore seeks to review from a cybernetic perspective how a socio-technical toolbox can help to facilitate organisational change, and to examine issues involved in use of such a toolbox by organizational actors supported by expert analysts.
Design/methodology/approach: The paper is conceptual and adopts a critical stance, i.e. to provide support for emancipation of individuals through ownership and control of their own analyses.
Findings: Drawing on work by e.g., Bateson, we consider organizations as dynamic and complex human activity systems, and how actors can be helped to develop a productive learning ‘spiral’ of acting and reflecting by means of a proposed sociotechnical toolbox. Acting and
reflecting upon action can be seen to form a ‘double helix’ of learning, leading to richer understandings of contextual dependencies. Engaged actors need support to surface their
contextually-dependent understandings, individual and collectively and engage in a ‘dance of change’.

Practical implications: Change is endemic in organizational life. When engaging with change activity that attempts to address complexity (as opposed to complicatedness), contextual experts need to be the key decision-takers. This means a redistribution not only of responsibility and action but also decision-taking power.
Originality/value: The paper suggests augmentation of traditional socio-technical methods to address dynamic complexity.
Original languageEnglish
Issue number9/10
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Information Systems, Social aspects

Free keywords

  • analysis practice
  • informatics
  • Information Systems.
  • contextual dependencies
  • socio-technical systems
  • change management


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