. "Research Motivated by Social Applications of Information Technology." Making IT Better: Expanding Information Technology Research to Meet Society's Needs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2000.
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MAKING IT BETTER: EXPANDING INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY RESEARCH TO MEET SOCIETY'S NEEDS
cations speed, and data storage densities, will no longer suffice; a more holistic view is needed (Brown and Duguid, 2000).
This chapter examines the increasing integration of IT into larger, social applications and the shortcomings of today's technology relative to a complex set of expectations. The first two sections lay the groundwork for the analysis by identifying the characteristics of social applications and the many challenges they present. Underlying this discussion is the idea that, because IT is proliferating in social applications, research on social applications should be expanded in amount, scope, and depth and, furthermore, that this new research will require approaches that are somewhat different from those taken in much of the more narrowly technology-oriented research that is common today.
The third section discusses ways in which interdisciplinary research can play an important role in this arena and identifies some initial steps in this direction. Just as scientific computing has benefited from closer interaction between technologists and natural scientists, so can the more-social applications of IT deployed today benefit from collaboration between technologists and social scientists (including experts in law and business as well as psychology, sociology, anthropology, and economics). The fourth section examines mechanisms for pursuing technical and nontechnical research that could increase understanding of social applications of IT and thereby enhance capabilities to design, develop, deploy, and operate them. Building on the groundwork laid in the present chapter, Chapter 5 identifies specific steps that could be taken to stimulate more of this type of research.
The development of appropriate mechanisms for funding and conducting research on the sociotechnical dimensions of IT systems will be a significant challenge. This work can build on some important foundations, notably research on human-computer interactions and computer-supported cooperative work. These existing research efforts are inherently multidisciplinary in outlook because they are concerned with the ways in which people relate to systems. Experience to date in these areas illustrates both the promise of social applications and the practical problems involved. Multidisciplinary research is always problematic because of the difficulties inherent in bridging the gaps separating different communities of researchers. Compounding these problems is the need implied by the concept of social applications to engage not only established researchers in other disciplines but also end users of IT systems who understand the context in which IT systems operate and directly confront problems of implementation, ease of use, performance, and operation. Many end-user organizations have little or no history of conducting research, especially IT-related research. New mechanisms may therefore