Project: Designing Groupware to Support Loosely Coupled Workgroups

Loosely coupled workgroups - where workers are autonomous and weakly interdependent - are common in the real world. They have patterns of work and collaboration that distinguish them from other types of groups, and groupware systems that are designed to support them must address these differences. However, loosely coupled groups have not been studied in detail in CSCW, and the design process is currently underspecified. This forces designers to start from scratch each time they develop a system for loosely coupled groups, and they must approach new work settings with little information about how work practices are organized.

In this research, we developed a design framework to improve the groupware design process for loosely coupled workgroups. The framework has three main parts that add a new layer of support to each of the three stages in the general groupware design process: data collection about the target work setting, analysis of the data, and system design based on the analysis results. The framework was developed to provide designers with support during each of these stages so that they can consider important characteristics of loosely coupled work practice while carrying out design for the target group. The design framework is based on information from CSCW and organizational research, and on real-world design experiences with one type of loosely coupled workgroup - home care treatment teams.

The framework was evaluated using observations, interviews, and field trials that were carried out with multidisciplinary home care treatment teams in Saskatoon Health Region. A series of field observations and interviews were carried out with team members from each of the home care disciplines. The framework was then used to develop Mohoc, a groupware system that supports loosely coupled work practice in home care. Two field trials were carried out where the system was used by teams to support their daily activities. Results were analyzed to determine how well each part of the design framework performed in the design process. The results suggest that the framework was able to fill its role in specializing the general CSCW design process for loosely coupled groups by adding consideration for work and collaboration patterns that are seen in loosely coupled settings. However, further research is needed to determine whether these findings will generalize to other loosely coupled workgroups.

Contact David Pinelle if you would like more information on this project.


David Pinelle
College of Medicine, University of Saskatchewan
Carl Gutwin
University of Saskatchewan


Improving Groupware Design for Loosely Coupled Groups
Pinelle, D. (2004) Ph.D. Dissertation, Department of Computer Science, University of Saskatchewan.
Foundations of Loose Coupling for CSCW Design
Pinelle, D., Gutwin, C. (2004), Technical Report HCI-TR-04-02, Department of Computer Science, University of Saskatchewan.
Designing for Loose Coupling in Mobile Groups
Pinelle, D., Gutwin, C. (2003), Proceedings of the ACM Conference on Supporting Group Work, 75-84.
Aligning Work Practices and Mobile Technologies: Groupware Design for Loosely-Coupled Mobile Groups
Pinelle, D., Dyck, J., Gutwin, C. (2003), Proceedings of Conference on Human Computer Interaction with Mobile Devices and Services.