From rollout to appropriation : changing practices of development and use during a groupware project
This thesis is a contribution to the corpus of workplace studies in the research field of
computer-supported cooperative work. It reports on an in-house project to develop
customisable groupware (software applications to support collaborative work) and to promote
its use at 'GreenFam', an international, non-governmental organisation. This work was
observed through a five year program of field research in order to study the methods used by
developers in real-world groupware projects.
The author initially took the role of participant observer on the project team as LOTUS
NOTESTM was introduced to GreenFam's London centre. In the latter stages of research, an
evaluation was carried out to report on the use of tools to support collaborative campaign
work worldwide and to formulate guidelines for future developments. The field study is
presented as three case histories, which track the course of the project. Case 1 looks at the
rollout of a new email system, replacing THE COORDINATOR® software. The rollout is
described as a competent practice of the IT developers that had evolved to implement
customisable software organisation-wide. Case 2 looks at the first phase of the development
of collaborative tools to support teams. It explores the difficulties experienced by the
developers in realising GreenFam's vision of a more collaborative form of work and the
limitations of their current practice. Case 3 describes the in situ evaluation, its methodology
and the extent to which groupware tools and practices had evolved through use. Activity
theory is employed as a critical method for the analysis of the case histories, focussing on
change and the barriers to change in both the practices of developers and the appropriation of
tools by users.
The study found that during the course of the project the role of developer shifted from the
specialised IT staff to 'facilitators', individuals who began to take responsibility for the
ongoing development of collaborative tools to support their evolving use. It found a lack of
appropriate design tools to support the development of collaborative systems, taking account
of these changes in roles and the demands of the work. Further research is proposed,
grounded in the study of the emergent roles of developers and the tools that are needed to
support their work. A pattern language for modelling the design of common information
spaces at GreenFam is described, as an example of the type of method that might be
appropriate, and which could be used as an experimental tool in a program of further research.
Keywords: activity theory, common information spaces, computer-supported cooperative
work, evaluation, groupware, in-house development, pattern language, workplace study.