What is coordination theory and how can it help design cooperative work systems?

Thomas W. Malone, Kevin Crowston

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

431 Scopus citations

Abstract

It is possible to design cooperative work tools based only on "common sense" and good intuitions. But the history of technology is replete with examples of good theories greatly aiding the development of useful technology. Where, then, might we look for theories to help us design computer-supported cooperative work tools? In this paper, we will describe one possible perspective' the interdisciplinary study of coordination' that focuses, in part, on how people work together now and how they might do so differently with new information technologies. In one sense, there is little that is new about the study of coordination. Many different disciplines' including computer science, sociology, political science, management science, systems theory, economics, linguistics, and psychology' have all dealt, in one way or another, with fundamental questions about coordination. Furthermore, several previous writers have suggested that theories about coordination are likely to be important for designing cooperative work tools (e.g., [Holt88], [Wino86]). We hope to suggest here, however, that the potential for fruitful interdisciplinary connections concerning coordination is much greater than has as yet been widely appreciated. For instance, we believe that fundamentally similar coordination phenomena arise' unrecognized as such' in many of the fields listed above. Though a single coherent body of theory about coordination does not yet exist, many different disciplines could both contribute to and benefit from more general theories of coordination. Of particular interest to researchers in the field of computer-supported cooperative work is the prospect of drawing on a much richer body of existing and future work in these fields than has previously been suggested. In this paper, we will first describe what we mean by "coordination theory" and give examples of how previous research on computer-supported cooperative work can be interpreted from this perspective. We will then suggest one way of developing this perspective further by proposing tentative definitions of coordination and analyzing its components in more detail.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 1990 ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work, CSCW 1990
PublisherAssociation for Computing Machinery, Inc
Pages357-370
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)0897914023, 9780897914024
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 1 1990
Event1990 ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work, CSCW 1990 - Los Angeles, United States
Duration: Oct 7 1990Oct 10 1990

Publication series

NameProceedings of the 1990 ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work, CSCW 1990

Other

Other1990 ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work, CSCW 1990
CountryUnited States
CityLos Angeles
Period10/7/9010/10/90

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Networks and Communications

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    Malone, T. W., & Crowston, K. (1990). What is coordination theory and how can it help design cooperative work systems? In Proceedings of the 1990 ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work, CSCW 1990 (pp. 357-370). (Proceedings of the 1990 ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work, CSCW 1990). Association for Computing Machinery, Inc. https://doi.org/10.1145/99332.99367