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Emerging Needs and Opportunities for Human Factors Research PART I Summary Report
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Emerging Needs and Opportunities for Human Factors Research This page in the original is blank.
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Emerging Needs and Opportunities for Human Factors Research Emerging Needs and Opportunities for Human Factors Research INTRODUCTION This summary report identifies the areas that the Committee on Human Factors believes represent new needs and opportunities for human factors research during the next few decades. It is organized as follows: after a background discussion, we describe the process by which the committee determined which topics to cover. Each topic is then considered in turn, and the committee's consensus regarding needed research is presented. A set of papers addressing these topics appears as Part II of this volume. These papers were written by committee members, sometimes with assistance from colleagues, as part of the process of informing the committee's discussions of the topics addressed. The conclusions and recommendations articulated in this report draw heavily on these papers. Background The National Research Council established the Committee on Human Factors in 1980. The committee's original sponsors were the Office of Naval Research, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, and the Army Research Institute. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration became a sponsor in 1981. The committee's charter was to identify basic research needs of the military services as they relate to human factors issues and to make recommendations for basic research that would improve the foundations of the discipline.
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Emerging Needs and Opportunities for Human Factors Research The committee's first report, Research Needs for Human Factors, published in 1983, focused on six topics: human decision making, eliciting expert judgment, supervisory control systems, user-computer interaction, population group differences, and applied methods. These topics were selected after committee discussions of research needs, tours of military laboratories, and solicitation of suggestions from the human factors community through an article in the Human Factors Society Bulletin. Topics were selected because they were germane to the sponsors' interests, within the expertise of the committee members to address, incompletely addressed by previous or ongoing research, and important vis-à-vis the committee's charter. Since the publication of Research Needs for Human Factors, the committee has been responsible for numerous panels and workshops, many of them about problem areas discussed in that report. Figure 1 gives a complete list of the reports produced by these panels and workshops. Since the committee's establishment, its sponsorship has broadened considerably, 1994 Organizational Linkages: Understanding the Productivity Paradox 1993 Workload Transition: Implications for Individual and Team Performance 1992 Human Factors Specialists' Education and Utilization: Results of a Survey 1990 Application Principles for Multicolored Displays: A Workshop Report Quantitative Modeling of Human Performance in Complex, Dynamic Systems Distributed Decision Making: Report of a Workshop Human Factors Research Needs for an Aging Population 1989 Human Performance Models for Computer-Aided Engineering Fundamental Issues in Human-Computer Interaction 1988 Human Factors Research and Nuclear Safety Ergonomic Models of Anthropometry, Human Biomechanics, and Operator-Equipment Interfaces: Proceedings of a Workshop 1987 Human Factors in Automated and Robotic Space Systems: Proceedings of a Symposium Mental Models in Human-Computer Interaction: Research Issues About What the User of Software Knows 1985 Human Factors Aspects of Simulation Methods for Designing Software to Fit Human Needs and Capabilities: Proceedings of the Workshop on Software Human Factors 1984 Research Needs on the Interaction Between Information Systems and Their Users: Report of a Workshop Research Issues in Simulator Sickness: Proceedings of a Workshop 1983 Research and Modeling of Supervisory Control Behavior: Report of a Workshop FIGURE 1 Reports of the Committee on Human Factors, 1983-1994.
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Emerging Needs and Opportunities for Human Factors Research and new sponsors have come from both military and civilian sectors. The committee's composition has also broadened to include not only researchers who represent traditional human factors interests in equipment design and use but also some with more cognitive and social orientations. Concurrently, technology has been advancing rapidly, and both the nation and the world have changed in significant and remarkable ways. Some of these changes offer new challenges and opportunities for human factors research. In view of these developments, the committee found it appropriate to again address the general topic of research needs and opportunities for human factors. Committee members agreed that the report should be: reflective of the committee's views and opinions, and also informed by inputs from several sources; forward looking: short on reviewing old and current work and long on identifying problems and opportunities for the future; problem/opportunity-oriented: the subject matter being determined more by what the committee perceives the needs and opportunities to be than by its understanding of what the existing research activities of the human factors community are; and selectively focused—with no attempt to be comprehensive—on a few major topics that the committee believes to be among the more important problem/opportunity areas for the near future. Committee members took the lead in writing the papers that constitute Part II and that provide the material on which Part I is based. Topic Selection The process of selecting topics for emphasis was lengthy and deliberative. The decision was made early to cast a wide net for ideas and opinions and then, through committee discussion and debate, to attempt to reach a consensus regarding a subset on which to focus. Suggestions of major research needs were solicited from current and former members of the committee, from committee sponsors, and from numerous other members of the human factors research community, including several human factors leaders in Europe. The committee also reviewed the topics generated as candidates for inclusion in the original Research Needs report, the list of technical groups of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, the list of titles of Committee on Human Factors reports published or in process, and recent project suggestions from sponsors. This yielded a long list of suggested research topics.
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Emerging Needs and Opportunities for Human Factors Research As the list grew, the committee discussed it at several meetings. At one such meeting, an analysis of responses to a written request for suggestions from past and current committee members was presented and discussed. A complete list of all suggestions from all sources was then distributed to committee members, and at a later meeting, the members engaged in a structured exercise designed (1) to permit every member to identify all the suggestions he or she considered worthy of further consideration, (2) to facilitate grouping the suggestions to eliminate redundancies and replace similar suggestions with a more general category, and (3) to prioritize the resulting list through a quasi-formal, iterative voting procedure. At all of these meetings, the discussions were long and spirited. All members saw the goal of identifying human factors research needs and opportunities as very important. However, the task of selecting a few problems or problem areas for special attention was difficult because selecting some areas for inclusion meant excluding others. The committee's deliberations eventually led to a consensus on the topics that should be covered in its report. Continuing discussion resulted in some minor changes in terminology in the interest of clarity and the merging of some topics because of content overlap. Some of the selected topics are well within the mainstream of traditional human factors research; others are not. The committee intentionally took a relatively broad view of human factors and did not exclude a problem area simply because it has not traditionally been a major focus of the discipline. As it happens, the topics are fairly easily grouped under three major headings—national or global problems, technology issues, and human performance—as follows: National or global problems Productivity in organizations Training and education Employment and disabilities Health care Environmental change Technology issues Communication technology and telenetworking Information access and usability Emerging technologies in work design Transportation Human performance Cognitive performance under stress Aiding intellectual work Two topics the committee considers to be priority research areas—human performance modeling and human error—are not covered in this
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Emerging Needs and Opportunities for Human Factors Research volume, because committee panels were established on both. A report on human performance modeling was recently published (Baron et al., 1990) and one on human error management in high-hazard systems is currently in preparation. With these exceptions, the topics on which the committee finally settled constitute the titles of sections of this summary report and of the papers that make up Part II. The committee believes that these areas are, without exception, very important. However, failure of a topic to appear as a heading should not be taken as evidence that the committee considers the topic unimportant. The committee recognizes that many more human factors problems and problem areas are deserving of research than can be covered in a report of this sort. This report focuses on needs and opportunities for human factors research; however, the committee also wishes to note that one of the most pressing needs at present, and probably during the near future, is to get the results of human factors research applied to equipment, procedures, systems, and situations. It continues to be easy to find equipment and operating procedures being designed in ways that are inconsistent with well-documented human factors research results. How to improve the dissemination of the results of human factors research, how to make this information readily available to users in a helpful form, and how to make potential users aware of its existence, are continuing major challenges to human factors researchers and to everyone who recognizes the potential usefulness of the results of human factors research. The Report Intended Audience This report is intended for people who identify research funding priorities and sponsor research programs and projects and for those who perform human factors research. People responsible for identifying research funding priorities and sponsoring research efforts will find here the collective opinions of the committee on how needs and opportunities for human factors research relate to several problems of major national concern. Researchers will find specific questions that the committee believes constitute challenges to research that could contribute significantly to the solution or amelioration of these problems. Contents In keeping with the committee's decision to be forward-looking, little effort was made to review research extensively in problem areas that are or
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Emerging Needs and Opportunities for Human Factors Research have been major foci. A very modest amount of reviewing is done in this summary report and somewhat more in Part II, but, in both cases, only to help provide an appropriate frame of reference for thinking about future needs. Some of the committee's recommendations are relatively general; others, quite specific. Some follow traditional lines of research; others relate to problems that have not received much attention from the human factors community in the past. In the latter cases, the recommendations are offered primarily as points of departure for further discussion and planning rather than as items for a research agenda. The justification for including them is the perceived seriousness, from either a national or a global perspective, of the problem areas involved. The opinions expressed in Part II are those of the authors of the papers, but their shaping has been strongly influenced by inputs from other members of the Committee on Human Factors and the other sources of ideas mentioned above. The recommendations that appear in this summary report are made by the committee as a whole. Organization The remainder of this summary report is organized by topic. A section is devoted to each of the topics selected by the committee for emphasis. In each case, the section describes the problem, briefly discusses representative previous work that relates to the problem, and gives a set of recommendations for research. PRODUCTIVITY IN ORGANIZATIONS The Problem Productivity is a major national and international concern. Economists see productivity as a primary determinant of competitiveness both among companies within an industry and among national economies. Because it is also believed to be causally linked to standard of living, increasing productivity globally is seen to be the best hope of improving living conditions worldwide. Although the United States is the most productive country in the world, its annual rate of increase in productivity has been considerably smaller than that of several other industrialized countries during the last few decades (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1988a, 1988b). As a consequence, our national competitiveness has decreased significantly in the automobile, steel, shipbuilding, and textile industries and appears to be slipping in electronics, computers, robotics, and biotechnology as well. The U.S. share of the total
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Emerging Needs and Opportunities for Human Factors Research world economy decreased from 35 percent in 1965 to 28 percent in 1985 (Johnston and Packer, 1987). This trend can be attributed to many factors, such as the diffusion of technology, the globalization of work, and the development of new work processes and new work structures throughout the world. Many economists, however, are concerned that productivity in the United States is not what it should be and that the nation's competitiveness will continue to decline if ways are not found to accelerate the rate of productivity increase. Human factors researchers have given considerable attention to the question of how to improve human performance in the workplace and thereby increase individual productivity. Yet they have made relatively little effort to determine how individual productivity relates to the productivity of the groups, organizations, or industries within which the individuals' work is done. Our focus is on organizational productivity and how the human factors community can contribute to improving it. The prevailing assumption appears to be that increases in individual productivity automatically translate into increases in productivity at higher levels of organization, but this assumption gets little support from research. There is little evidence that increases in productivity at one level, say the level of the individual worker, automatically translate into increases in productivity at a higher level, say that of a work team, a corporation, or an industry. Similarly, there is very little theory or research that helps us understand how observed changes in organizational productivity relate to changes at the individual or group level. The challenge is to better understand organizational productivity. We want human factors researchers to think about their work in terms of improvement in organizational productivity. Previous Research Most of the research on productivity has dealt with productivity at a particular level—individual, group, corporation. The research that has been done by applied psychologists and human factors specialists has dealt primarily with the individual. Training has been identified as an important determinant of individual productivity (Guzzo, 1988), along with goal setting (Locke and Latham, 1990) and the details of the design of specific tasks (Guzzo, 1988). At the level of work teams or small groups, self-management has received some attention as a determinant of productivity (Goodman et al., 1988; Hackman, 1990). Several studies of larger systems have focused on the effects of the introduction of automation technologies in the workplace and, interestingly, have not found that greater automation invariably means higher productivity at the system level. In particular, technological change
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Emerging Needs and Opportunities for Human Factors Research often has had little or no positive effect on system productivity unless appropriate organizational change has accompanied it (Goodman, 1979; MacDuffie and Krafcik, 1990). Although the previous research has provided some knowledge of the determinants of productivity at specific levels of organization, very little of it has been directed at determining how improvements at one level do or do not effect changes at higher levels of operation. In particular, we know something about how to increase the productivity of individuals, but we are unable to specify the conditions under which improvements at this level will translate into improvements in the productivity of an organization as a whole. Research Opportunities Workplace interventions that appear to have the potential to increase productivity not only at the level of the individual worker but also at that of the organization as a whole are sometimes not implemented successfully (Goodman and Griffith, 1991). There is a need for better understanding of the implementation process and, in particular, of how to ensure that innovations that would increase individual and organization productivity will be adopted and used. One opportunity for research is the exploration of how changes in organizations or in technology are related to improved productivity. Billions of dollars have been spent on new forms of technological and organizational change, many of which have clear or inherent benefits. There is, however, growing research evidence that many innovations are not successfully implemented or are implemented on a temporary basis. As a result, the objective benefits of the proposed technological and organizational changes are canceled out. If we cannot successfully implement improvements at the individual, group, or organizational level, we cannot expect to see productivity changes at the organizational level. The challenge, then, is to find new research approaches to successful implementation and institutionalization. Much of the work over the past decade is on how different variables (e.g., top management support) facilitate the change process. This work suggests that new developments will come from identifying the critical processes that drive the implementation. Furthermore, a change in methodology is required—for example, there are very few multivariate and/or longitudinal studies capturing the implementation of new technologies or organizational intervention. Another opportunity for research is the linkage between individual and organizational productivity. Focusing on single levels of analysis (e.g., individual, group) will not increase our understanding of organizational productivity. We assume that successful implementations create productivity
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Emerging Needs and Opportunities for Human Factors Research increases at the individual level and that these changes will eventually appear at the organizational level. This assumption is incorrect—changes at one level may have no effect on other levels of analysis. There is neither good theory nor research about this linkage issue. The challenge for the human factor researcher is first to acknowledge and understand the issues associated with these linkages. What are the factors that prevent productivity changes at the individual level from increasing productivity at the individual level? What are some of the enablers? Concepts such as organizational slack and different forms of organizational interdependence are starting points of our analysis. Increasing productivity on some jobs can simply create slack time that does not translate into increased organizational interdependence. The degree and form of interdependence between jobs and between organizational units may to a large degree determine whether changes in one unit will lead to positive, negative, or no changes in other units. Horizontal and vertical linkages are critical in determining whether changes in productivity at one level get translated to another level. A third research opportunity is the congruency among technology, people, and organizational factors. It seems inevitable that organizational productivity must depend, in part, on the ways these factors interrelate. The empirical evidence supports the view that focusing solely on one factor (e.g., productivity) will not increase organizational productivity; rather it is the simultaneous restructuring of organizational, technological, and people factors that is key to increases in organizational productivity. Although we know that congruency among these three factors is important, much of our research evidence is after the fact. We do not have any ex ante models about how combinations of organizational, technological, and people factors lead to increased organizational productivity. This is an important issue because the workplace is changing rapidly. All indications are that rapid change in technology, organizations, and characteristics of the workforce will continue. The opportunity for human factors researchers is to provide new insights into how combinations of changes in technology, organization, and people factors contribute to organizational productivity. A fourth opportunity for research concerns internal and external integration. New innovations in design processes and linking production processes in manufacturing and retail/distribution organizations signal the importance of internal integrations. At the same time, there have been dramatic changes in relationships with suppliers and customers. ''Arm's-length" transactions are a thing of the past. Boundaries between customers, suppliers, and the focal organization have become very permeable. Although these forms of integration are initiated with the expectations of improving organizational productivity, little research is available. Consider the following: in our analysis of organizational productivity, we generally
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