Women, office work and computerisation : case studies in user-involvement during systems development
This thesis examines the area of user-involvement in the development of computerised office information systems, with particular reference to gender relations and to initiatives in 'Human-Centred' systems design. it is based on a review of literature in computer science and in social science, and on case-study research. The thesis forms a contribution to the interdisciplinary work of the Human-Centred Office Systems Project, at Sheffield Polytechnic. Interdisciplinary research into information systems development is expanding, partly in response to evidence that many systems fail to meet their stated objectives. There is increasing emphasis on issues of "user relations', including user-involvement. In offices, as in other contexts, women tend to be defined as users or operators of technology; however, there has been little research into the constraints and opportunities women office workers face specifically in connection with information systems development. Previous projects within Human-Centred Systems research have been located in areas in which men predominate, such as printing and engineering. The thesis makes a contribution to new interdisciplinary research on information systems in two main respects. Firstly, the scope for clerical involvement is examined. It is argued that clerical skills and experience can form a strong basis for involvement in office systems design; in addition, managerial reliance on clerical skill and cooperation appear to increase, with the advent of on-line, integrated office systems. However, the case study research also illustrates the ways in which gendered associations can play a part in the definition of 'social' and 'technical' aspects of systems development, tending to marginalise clerical contributions. Secondly, therefore, the thesis examines the potential of Human-Centred systems development approaches to address gender inequalities in opportunities for user-involvement. Methods for establishing a Human-Centred approach in a local authority department are proposed; an assessment of their use, in a case-study context, exposes a weakness in the Human-Centred tradition in relation to management practices. In conclusion, specific proposals are formulated to support the creation of new links between organisational strategies on information technology and those on gender inequality.