ERCIM News No.21 - April 1995 - SICS

On the Meaning of "C" in CSCW

by Lars Bergman

CSCW is currently used to indicate Computer Supported Collaborative Work or Computer Supported Cooperative Work. Both expressions refer to the interaction of human actors rather than of hardware or software components. Thus it seems to be reasonable to view this theme from the Human "Co"-behaviour point of view. The combination of behaviour and situations form the requirements to be met by software and hardware support.

The Stockholm Workshops on the theme of CSCW, hosted by SICS in June 1994, inspired us to make this topic the special theme for this issue of Ercim News. Reviewing the articles submitted for this section on CSCW inspired me to look for some way of ordering them. Of course this view is coloured from working in the field of Integrated Service/Product Development and Concurrent Engineering. An area which emphasizes the importance of working together efficiently in the development process, whether you design cars or telecommunication services.

Group work

Different collaboration situations mean different kinds of behaviour. A budgeting or a planning decision will both contain elements of negotiation and work in order to narrow the field down to one solution. A design decision in a car styling group is an example of a quite different situation calling for creativity. Different "Co"-work situations are different and call for different types of behaviour to succeed. Consequently, they impose different requirements on computer support and involve different factors when evaluating this support. "Virtual Meetings" (GMD), WINGDSS (SZTAKI) and DOLPHIN(GMD) are projects presented here which apparently take a group work point of view.


A different type of situation is one common in government work: "case handling". The collaboration is enacted within a common work-flow. This is a situation close to what you see in most information systems within the administrative area. The "DISCO" (GMD), "HICOS" (DRAL), "BEST" (SINTEF) and "CPD" (INESC) projects seem to have their focus in the work-flow support area.

Inter Organizational and Cross Functional Factors

In a product development process carried out according to a Concurrent Engineering concept, cooperation across organizational limits including customer organizations as well as supplier organizations is needed. This situation is a living illustration of the concept of virtual corporation. The Concurrent Engineering process also emphasizes the need for effectively working cross functional teams for design work with a Life-Cycle perspective. The GMD-projects "Virtual Marketing" and "Open and Obligatory Telecoop" illustrate some parts of this field.

Distance and closeness

Cross functional teams are composed of members from different functional departments and skill areas. One way of getting cross-fertilization effects from this as well as of easing communication within the team is to physically co-locate the team members in the same locality in the same building. A saying is that at around 30 meters you no longer have closeness and distance is beginning. Distances like the ones between Bonn and Berlin, Trondheim and Oslo are obvious challenges for projects with ambitions for cooperation. The "TEDIS" (GMD), "POLITeam" (GMD), "TeamWorking in Radiology" (VTT), "ALLIANCE" (INRIA) and some of the SINTEF projects reported here work in the area of achieving "closeness".


Considerable efforts are now being made towards the development of CSCW enabling infrastructures. This goes for development aimed at increasing bandwidth and speeds in communicating and handling data including pictures, video and speech. Generally the solutions developed are useful both for CSCW purposes and for other important areas. What might be of special interest are instances where the solutions proposed provide certain functionalities that correspond to requirements originating in the collaborative work situation. "Task Management" (GMD) and BSCW (GMD) seems to empasize this area as do CoMed (FORTH), and ORCHESTRA (INESC).


We are now seeing projects which aim at new types of cooperative work and collaboration uniquely based on the enabling capability in computer support, and new ones are to be expected tomorrow. To me it seems to be very important that researchers will be describing the consequences of using this support in terms of human behaviour and systems usability to increase awareness in this area outside the restricted limits of the research institute circle.

Please contact:
Lars Bergman - SISU
Tel: +46 8 752 1600
E-mail lars@sisu.se

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