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Socio-technical systems engineering

This is part of a module entitled Socio-technical systems, which I deliver to students studying for an EngD (Engineering Doctorate) in Large-Scale Complex IT Systems (LSCITS) at the University of York. The aim of this part of the course is to introduce students to the study of socio-technical systems and to discuss system failure from a human, social and organisational perspective. This is part 1 of a 2-part course - Prof Justin Keen, from the University of Leeds, will deliver the other part of the course.

This page is primarily intended for students taking the York EngD course but the material is freely available for anyone learning about or teaching a course in socio-technical systems. 

To prepare for this course, some background reading is essential - you MUST read the recommended papers in this list before attending the course lectures. I will expect each student to make a 10 minute presentation on some aspect of the background reading and I will set out who should present each topic one week before the course.

You may find information in the LSCITS Socio-technical Systems Engineering Handbook to be useful background reading. Especially for the coursework.

Schedule for Part 1 - October 2014

Day 1: (14th October 2014)

The first day of this course is a general introduction to some of the issues in socio-technical systems. It's aim is to help you understand why socio-technical complexity is important and why human, social and organisational issues should be considered in compex systems engineering.

09.30 - 10.30          Lecture: Designing software for a million users

10.30 - 10.45          Break

10.45 - 12.15          Student presentations on background reading

12.15 -13. 15          Lunch

13.15 - 14.15          Lecture: LSCITS and socio-technical systems

14.15 - 14.30          Break

14.30 - 15.30          Lecture: Cooperative work

15.30 - 15.45          Break

15.45 - 16.45          Class discussion: Cutting business travel by 70%

16.45-17.00            Wrap-up

Day 2: (15th October 2014)

Today, I focus on one aspect of socio-technical systems, namely system failure. In complex systems, failure is unavoidable and the key benefit of having people in the system is that they can support and facilitate recovery from failure.  I discuss what failure means and cover both individual and organisational causes of failure.

09.30 - 10.30         Lecture: System failure - a socio-technical perspective

10.30 - 10.45         Break

10.45 - 11.45         Lecture: Human failure

11.45 - 12.00         Break

12.00 - 12.30         Introduction to the coursework

12.30 - 13.30         Lunch

13.30 - 14.30         Lecture: Organisational failure

14 30 - 14.45         Break

14.45 - 15.45        Video and discussion: The Kegworth air accident - who's to blame?

15.45 - 16.00        Wrap-up


The assessment for this course will be in two parts, set by the different course lecturers, reflecting the way that the course has been organised. Each part is of equal weight in the final mark calculation. 

Part 1. 

This assessment involves answering a number of structured questions about the reading below, which focuses on practical aspects of socio-technical systems engineering.  These questions will be made available during the week of the course in York.

Ethnomethodology, Patterns Of Cooperative Interaction and Design. D. Martin and I. Sommerville. A paper describing an approach that we develop to support the reuse of knowledge from ethnographic studies in design.

The Pointer web site. The list of patterns of interaction that we developed.

Patterns of Interactions for Extreme Programming.

Applying Patterns of Cooperative Interaction to Work (Re)Design: E-Government and Planning. D. Martin, M. Rouncefield and I. Sommerville. A paper that describes how the patterns that we developed were used in a study of local government planning.

Ethnographically informed analysis for software engineers. S. Viller and I. Sommerville. A complementary approach to Patterns of Interaction that proposes guidelines for conducting fieldwork for design.

Minus nine beds: Some practical problems of integrating and interpreting information technology in a hospital trust. K. Clarke, M. Hartswood, R. Procter, M. Rouncefield and R. Slack.

Bed management An overview of the bed management process.

Updated October 2014

Ian Sommerville,
2 Oct 2014, 01:47