David Ing and Ian Simmonds


(1) "At last a chance to work with Claire! We met at a function day, ten years ago. We were in the same group of IBM strangers in a team-building exercise to make a kite. She knows a lot about market research."

(2) "Hi Ian. I work in IBM Netherlands, and would like to talk with you about business process modeling. We've never met, but I got your name from your [non-IBM] brother, whom I met at a standards committee meeting last week. He said that we should talk."

(3) "I can't even keep track of the latest benefits for my own family! The web site is totally opaque to me. Try calling Sonja in HR for help. She should know the answer. Let me know what you find out."

These are typical anecdotes from organizational life. Acquaintances made through the web of social networks may lead to deeper relationships through sustained social encounters, such as formal projects or shared interests. The conventional wisdom is that such social capital is best developed under "face-to-face" situations. Today's style of work, however, requires global and mobile team members to sustain interaction at a distance. How should business designers and information systems designers effectively enable these knowledge workers?

In contrast, the interconnected, knowledge-based, technology-enabled society has made mobile and distributed work the norm. A centralized office may be only a "hotelling" facility with a computer network jack and a telephone rerouting switch. Teams are rapidly assembled and disbanded, and an individual who plays a senior role one week, may be junior in the next. Instead of assembling a group of generalists, teams bring together specialists often with little overlap in skills or knowledge.

We propose a framework for designers of businesses and designers of information systems that portrays three forms of "space" that mediate social interactions: physical space, social space and informatic space. The framework aids understanding of the complexities of work enabled, by contrasting the properties of the spaces and their interactions:

  • Physical spaces enabling social interaction are the focus of architects of buildings and urban planners, as well as conference organizers who plan events to encourage networking.Social spaces enabling social interaction are the focus of organizational designers who develop centers of excellence or practitioner support networks.
  • Information spaces enabling social interaction are the focus of knowledge architects and process analysts, who administer and moderate groupware and workflow applications.
  • Physical spaces hosting information space are the focus of the IT architects, who ensure appropriate geographical coverage, performance, availability and security using servers, access points and networks.

In the community of information systems designers, we suggest that the social-informatic enablement described above can be elaborated to become functional specifications for information systems. Typical configurations of spaces can be described using a "socio-informatic" pattern language. Initial research suggests four categories of patterns:

  • Analogues to long term uses of dedicated built physical environments (e.g., spaces to support master-apprentice relationships and others as described by Alexander et al.)
  • Analogues to short term uses of general purpose physical environments (e.g., events such as meetings, conferences, auctions and fairs, which were not described by Alexander et al.)
  • Socio-informatic patterns that have evolved from the industrial era into the network economy (e.g., news gathering and creation).
  • Truly new socio-informatic patterns (e.g., persistent conversations, as found in Babble).

By producing community-specific variants of this single framework for each of these two communities, we hope to improve communication and understanding across the "Business-IT Gap".


David Ing and Ian Simmonds, "Enabling Collective Knowledge Work through the Design of Mediating Spaces", IBM Knowledge Management Conference 2002, April 9-11, 2002 at Toronto, Canada.


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2002/04 Enabling Collective Knowledge Work through the Design of Mediating Spaces