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Cognitive Assistance Systems as Boundary Objects

Theorizing and analyzing digitally networked communication practice in organizations
: Keller, Alinde; Fischer, Evelyn

Fulltext (PDF; - Gesamtes Abstract book)

Univ. of Turku:
WORK 2019. Real Work in the Virtual World. Abstract Book : 14-16 August 2019, Helsinki, Finland
Helsinki, 2019
ISBN: 978-951-29-7708-6
International Interdisciplinary Conference on Research on Work and Working Life (WORK) <4, 2019, Helsinki>
Abstract, Electronic Publication
Fraunhofer IFF ()

Due to digitalization, industrial companies face rising complexity of cyber-physical systems. As these are associated with complex products, services and processes, they are getting more difficult to understand for the worker at the groundfloor. Obviously, this has to have consequences for communication practices in organizations. The technological innovation within digitalization requires fast and adequate information provision, fast training processes as well as interdivisional cooperation. Thus, digitalization also includes the potential of transforming linear information transfer into information networks and creating organizational added value.
Our contribution grounds in theoretical perspectives connecting to the “boundary object” approach for complex structuring of information. Following Leigh Star and Ruhleder (1996), boundary objects support collective processing of knowledge and distributed problem solving. As ‘immutable mobiles’ (Latour 1987) they perform translations between individuals, teams, different disciplines or organizations, while maintaining the specificity of the disciplines.
The concept of boundary objects not only offers a theoretical framework but as well a methodological concept to manage complexity by information and communication systems. In fact, cognitive assistance systems applied in industry are digital technologies interlinking different business units to support workers in highly variable and knowledge intensive working situations. Preliminary work realized by Fraunhofer IFF shows the potential of cognitive assistance systems in various fields of application, e.g. in the field of maintenance and manual assembly (Schenk & Berndt 2016, Haase 2017, Keller et al. 2017).
As we can observe, companies and research institutions currently face methodological challenges regarding the design and implementation process of cognitive assistance systems. These challenges emerge in complex interdependencies between humans, organization and technology.
The concept of boundary objects in this sense can contribute, too, for understanding and realizing the design process of digital infrastructures. Leigh Star and Ruhleder (1996) point out that the digitalization of large information spaces has to bridge gaps between different contexts of use, different assumptions and underlying rationalities about digital work and between professional “languages” of designers and users. Since the concept of Leigh Star (Gießmann & Taha 2017) basically is an ex post identification of boundary objects, the design process of cognitive assistance systems as digital boundary objects still remains an open task.
The paper develops a theoretical framework for a design approach of cognitive assistance systems shaping networked communication practice in organizations. Based on an organizational education theory perspective, we focus on technological design as a process of organizational learning (Göhlich et al. 2018). As shown above, this organizational learning process is theorized as boundary work within an actor-network theory framework, a design- and organizational learning perspective. Based on a case study we illustrate characteristics and examples of cognitive assistance systems in the field of maintenance. Cognitive assistance systems classified as ‘knowledge systems’ are analyzed regarding the aspect, how the technological digitalization system crosses boundaries in and between organizations and how networked communication practices are shaped and emerge in practice. Following Bergemann & Hanke (2017) and Leigh Star & Griesemer (1989), we discuss four different types of boundary objects and categorize the cognitive assistance system accordingly. Empirically analyzing the potential of the explained theoretical framework of (digital) boundary objects, we derive methodological assumptions for a design approach of cognitive assistance systems enhancing organizational meta-reflection.