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CHAPTER Vl H u man Factors In its earlier report, the panel concluded that Consideration of human factors in the future process is vital because millions of individuals depend on the services of the SSA to assure their welfare. Because nearly everyone is involved with the social security system in one way or another, its disruption needs to be avoided. It is central to the concept, therefore, that human factors begin the mainstream of the system development. Human factors comprise the behavioral components of work systems. Although important in all work systems, human factors achieve particular significance in systems that are labor intensive, or whose product is a human service. In an organization such as SSA, which delivers a human service through a labor-intensive work system, human factors are a major determinant of performance. Human beings, unlike simple machines, are capable of exceeding their "design potential.'' An SSA claim representative making a determined effort to unravel a complicated claim for the benefit of a retiree exemplifies the latent possibilities of human behavior. Observing this phenomenon among government employees in 1937, Luther Gulick wrote: Their capacity for great and productive labor, creative coop- erative work, and loyal self-sacrifice knows no limits provided the whole man, body-mind-and-spirit, is thrown into the program.4/ By contrast, human performance can also be self-limiting. Human beings are quite capable of restricting their productivity for reasons or motives that may in fact be totally unrelated to the work system. How effective the SSA's future process will be depends upon the skill with which the SSA addresses and resolves human factors issues. While the capabilities and expense of modern data processing and telecommunications facilities might distract attention from human factors issues, the success or failure of the future process will turn on human factors. If a claims representative working with a client in 34
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35 a local office cannot or will not "make it happen," the future process will fail to achieve its potential for cost-effective service. Human factors considerations cut across all the key system concerns already discussed--acquisition, transition, and privacy and security. Human factors is not simply another component in a chain of components in the future process, or any other work system. Rather, it is an integral and essential aspect of all of the constituents of the system. Measured in isolation, human factors might appear to contribute little to the accomplishment of system objectives. In the statistical sense, human factors are "interactive" rather than ''main effect" variables, and by interacting with other system factors, human factors account for a great proportion of the variance of a system's perfor- mance. It is this interactive aspect that makes human factors so critical and at the same time so elusive. The SSA, in its human factors studies, is thoroughly evaluating the interface between the SSA employee and the proposed new system. Its evaluation includes considerations of the configuration of the terminal --one of the main interfaces between the human and the electronic data processing system--and changes in office procedures. The interface between a person interacting with a system and the system itself should be designed so that people feel comfortable with the system and are willing to work with it and utilize its features. Even though a system may be rich with features, the people interfacing with it may avoid using them because they are difficult to learn or remember, they require unnatural motions, input mechanisms are confus- ing, output responses are difficult to recognize or resolve, distracting sounds or lights Gamete from the interacting device, colors or shapes are confusing or repugnant, or other factors engender an antagonistic attitude toward the new system. Furthermore, distrust can develop because established relationships with an old system have been disturbed. Human factors design contributes to the overall effectiveness of a system, primarily by ensuring that people interface efficiently with it and with one another. The fort of interaction with the system should not become a barrier to such human interactions as those between a claims representative and a client. Issues that require analysis include: what impact computer terminals might have on the relationship between claims representative and client, whether it is useful or desirable to let the client view the terminal's screen, and whether in certain simple applications, clients would like to, or be willing to, operate terminals themselves in lieu of waiting. THE NEEDS OF CLIENTS An area that requires further attention is the evaluation of needs of the SSA clients. The SSA provide a service mandated by legislation, but the manner in which the SSA meets the perceived needs of clients may determine if or how well they are satisfied with the service. It is desirable that the future process satisfy the perceived high-value needs of all clients.
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36 The SSA could, through an experienced consumer research organiza- tion, determine which aspects of the SSA service delivery system are considered most important by clients. To complement the SSA's present human factors studies and to provide significant insight to service attributes that should be stressed, the panel suggests that the SSA pursue a study of clients' attitudes about the process. In recommending this, the panel observes that great care is required in the planning, execution, and interpretation of such a study. HUMAN FACTORS IN ACQUISITION As described in Chapter III of this report, the Social Security Administration is governed in its acquisition of a large computer- communications system by the policies of OMB Circular A-109 and the Brooks Act. Thus, the SSA needs to adopt an acquisition strategy that gives vendors a chance to respond with maximum design flexibility, while making sure that the critical human factors issues are fully considered. Highly detailed human factors requirements might be viewed by some as unnecessary constraints on vendors in their development of designs for the future system. Yet, without full considerations of behavioral factors, the acquisition might be driven entirely by technological considerations. An approach to this problem was suggested earlier in the planning effort by the Office of Advanced Systems in its summary of the human factors program: In order to integrate technology into the user's job, it becomes necessary to thoroughly understand all of the activities that must be performed within the job position; the ways in which they relate to each other; and the inputs and outputs of each activity. Once a complete understanding has been reached, it becomes possible to make a rational allocation of functions between employee and computer.5/ To develop the understanding delineated in the first sentence of the GAS excerpt above is clearly the responsibility of the SSA. The allocation described in the second sentence is a task for potential vendors responding to the REP. The problem is how to convey SSA's understanding to the vendors. The panel finds that it would be entirely appropriate for the SSA to include in its REP functional service output requirements and criteria, but inappropriate and undesirable to include structural constraints on hardware, software, or design. The SSA should provide detailed descriptions of the client service interactions required of the social security system (the basic source of which is statutory) and detailed criteria that it will use to judge the cost-effectiveness of the services delivered. To give full recognition to human factors, the SSA could request vendors to demonstrate, first through simulations, and then in district offices, the features of their service delivery systems. The strong commitment of SSA's Office of Advanced Systems to human factors is indicated by its establishment of a Human Factors Test and
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37 Evaluation Facility (TEF). This facility acts as a laboratory to test many of the facets of human factors. The panel notes, however, that because the human factors problems related to the future process cannot all be studied in a laboratory facility, the GAS plans for the coming year call for some human factors tests to be made in operational field offices. The essential point is that employee and client attitudes and perceptions not readily captured in a laboratory may be critical to the success of the future process. The SSA will need to deal effectively with them, as well as with the more tractable "human engineering'' problems. Just as much of the human factors work will take place out- side the TEF, the TEF can also be useful for purposes other than human factors. The panel is impressed with the personnel and activities of the TEF, and considers that it has the potential to play a major role not only in human factors, but in the acquisition and transition processes as well. Both planning and operating personnel can use the TEF to collaborate on the development and documentation of service interaction requirements and evaluation criteria in an effort to ensure that acquisition decisions are made only after full consideration of human factors. Working prototypes of alternative district office subsystems can be demonstrated in the TEF without disrupting actual operations in a local office and without subjecting contractors to unpredictable and uncontrollable factors. The panel supports SSA's plans to exploit the TEF in this way.
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