This study found that the use of a computer conferencing
system in an R&D lab was significantly shaped by a set of
intervening actors--mediators--who actively guided and
manipulated the technology and its use over time. These mediators
adapted the technology to its initial context and shaped user
interaction with it; over time, they continued to modify the technology
and influence use patterns to respond to changing circumstances.
We argue that well-managed mediation may be a useful mechanism
for shaping technologies to evolving contexts of use, and that
it extends our understanding of the powerful role that intervenors
can play in helping CSCW applications succeed.
conferencing system, contextualizing technology, intervention,
Many analysts in the CSCW community have discussed
why groupware has not always lived up to expectations. In his
widely cited article, "Why CSCW Applications Fail"
, as well as in more recent work ,
Grudin examines some
of these problems, such as "the disparity between who does
the work and who gets the benefit" [8: 86]. Others such
as Bullen and Bennett  and Orlikowski  identify
and cultural problems in integrating groupware into work practices,
while Markus [18, 19] points to
the lack of a critical
users as a central problem in groupware adoption. In this paper
we report on a case where groupware was relatively successful,
and we discuss the intervention that appears to have helped some
of the problems mentioned above.
The technology implementation and use literature
has identified several types of interventions that often help
in the successful assimilation of new technologies. For example,
technology champions have been found to facilitate the adoption
of technological innovations [1, 12, 16, 21, 24].
conceived of as part of the initial introduction of technology,
has also received attention [e.g., 4]. More recently people
recognized the need for ongoing training for effective technology
use [13, 25]. Studies of ongoing
technology use has also identified the influence of other organizational
actors. Culnan  identified surrogate users, labeled
who provide information directly to individuals. In their review
of literature on group decision support technologies, Kraemer
and King  noted the importance of facilitators in
collaborative tools. Bullen and Bennett  observed that
organizations authorized support staff to provide ongoing guidance.
In organizations without such sanctioned roles they found that
expert users or local gurus emerged to fill the need. Similar
to such expert users are translators , experienced
lead users  and tailors .
We would like to extend this intervention literature by focusing
on a particular type of intervention we call technology-use
mediation. Our understanding of the central role played by
mediators1, as we have termed
them, emerged out of a
we conducted into the use of computer conferencing system by a
large project group in one organization. While examining how this
group had made use of its new communication technology, we realized
that a small set of users had actively shaped other users'
adoption and on-going use of the conferencing technology. Detailed
analysis revealed that they had not only manipulated the conferencing
technology over time, but that they had also guided and promoted
users' understandings and uses of it.
This research study allowed us to look more analytically at the
role of mediators, which we define as individuals who intervene
deliberately and with organizational authorization in the ongoing
use of CSCW technology within its context of use. More specifically,
these mediators adapt a new collaborative technology to a context,
modify the context as appropriate to accommodate use of the technology,
and support ongoing changes to the technology and context over
time. While our study only provides evidence from one organization,
it raises the interesting possibility that mediators may be particularly
important in increasing the effectiveness with which CSCW applications
(and perhaps technologies in general) are adopted, implemented,
and used over time.
Below, we describe the research study that led us to identify
and explore the role, actions, and effect of mediators. We conclude
with some implications of technology-use mediation for research
The research study we conducted examined the introduction
and use of an asynchronous computer conferencing system in the
R&D lab of a large Japanese manufacturing firm. The system
was being used to support communication among the members of a
project group developing a new computer product, Acorn (a pseudonym).
Because Acorn was expected to be an innovative product that would
improve the company's competitive position, a new organizational
and technical infrastructure was set up specifically to support
the Acorn development effort. At the launching of the Acorn project,
127 members joined the project from other parts of the R&D
lab, while another 50 new employees and external temporary engineers
joined them during the 17 month life of Acorn. The project group
was divided into six teams: an administration team, a hardware
development team, and four software development teams. All Acorn
project members had considerable experience with computers and
many had experience with electronic mail (e-mail). However, most
had never used computer conferencing before.
The computer conferencing system used in the Acorn
project (known as the "news-system") was a version
of the network news software widely used to run Usenet, modified
to allow Japanese characters in the body (but not the subject
line) of posted messages and restricted to internal use. This
news-system was in operation and accessible by all Acorn members
for the full 17 months of the project (from the end of September
1989 to February 1991), although it was only an official communication
medium for the project from February 1990. The news-system was
organized into topics, known as newsgroups, within which users
could post and read messages. The nature of the newsgroups varied
considerably, from official newsgroups containing important announcements
for the whole project group to informal newsgroups that were meant
for recreational purposes. As described below, the number and
type of newsgroups present in the new-system changed over time
during the project; that is, some newsgroups were created, some
shut down, while others changed in name, definition, and usage.
Some information on the news-system's early use in the
R&D lab and on the emergence of the mediator role serves as
useful background to our analysis. A year before the start of
the Acorn project, a small group of young software engineers imported
the news-system (with only three newsgroups--general, miscellaneous,
and recreational) into the R&D lab for their own use.
After being assigned to the Acorn project, they decided to set
up a similar news-system specifically for the new project. Initially,
the engineers' news-system activities continued to be unofficial
and casual, and usage remained restricted in volume and user base
in the early days of the Acorn project.
This informal group of engineers soon realized that a large project such as Acorn would require network administration to maintain linkages among the powerful workstations for communication and data transfer. Because Acorn's development was a major initiative involving many people, sharing information was especially important for establishing collaboration. The engineers explained the need for technical and administrative support for such a network to project managers and volunteered to play this role. In their justification, these engineers stressed the importance of having ongoing support for the project's technical and communication infrastructure. Once managers accepted this rationale, they authorized this group, named the Network Administration Group of Acorn (NAGA), to perform this function. NAGA members communicated their role and responsibilities to the rest of the project in team meetings, in a project newsletter, and in the following message, which they posted on the news-system: 2
Date: 30 Nov 89 11:10:28 GMT
Most of NAGA's activities are, by their nature, miscellaneous. ... All members share the view that no user-friendly computers can be created without being used by ourselves. Our goal is not only to achieve trouble-free use of the network, but also to increase the productivity of the project by improving communication among members. We hope that our project will take the lead in using the company-wide network.
At this point, NAGA was authorized and recognized as the committee
responsible for administering the Acorn project's network
and for establishing and promoting the news-system. These responsibilities
were seen as a part of the members' regular job duties.
NAGA was composed of nine members including the original group
of software engineers interested in the news-system plus others
added to ensure representation of each of the six Acorn teams.
Decisions were made by consensus in face-to-face meetings of all
NAGA members. Regular meetings were held on average twice a month
and the minutes were distributed to NAGA members via e-mail. E-mail
messages were also frequently exchanged among NAGA members to
supplement their meeting discussions.
Our study was designed to examine the policies and
process through which the news-system was managed by NAGA over
time. Two types of data were collected, interview and textual
data. The interview data, used primarily to supplement the textual
data, came from extensive and in-depth discussions in Japanese
with one NAGA member over a number of weeks. Follow-up interviews
to clarify specific points were conducted in English. The textual
data consisted of computerized records containing all the e-mail
messages exchanged among NAGA members, and all the newsgroup messages
that were posted on the news-system by Acorn participants over
the 17 months of the project.
Qualitative data analysis included careful examination
of NAGA's e-mail messages and interview data. The e-mail
messages were then coded for common topics and actions [6, 20].
This analysis yielded information related to the rules and policies
enacted by NAGA during the project.
Over the period of the Acorn project, 438 e-mail
messages were exchanged by the NAGA members. Of these, 223 dealt
with administrative issues concerning the news-system. These messages
were then categorized into common issues, thus yielding 97 specific
topics (e.g., the addition of the headlines newsgroup)
that the NAGA members had discussed during their meetings or in
electronic dialogue. The topics were then categorized by type
of NAGA action taken as a result of the discussion. This final
categorization is reported below.
Over the 17 months of the Acorn project, 9302 messages
were posted on the news-system. Two types of news-system messages
were examined in our analysis: messages that were posted by NAGA
members in the execution of their administrative activities, and
messages that were posted by users around the time of NAGA's
actions, as determined by the analysis of NAGA e-mail messages
and newsgroup postings. We also mapped changes in news-system
structure over time, using the date of the first message in each
newsgroup as the starting date for that newsgroup. Changes in
the newsgroups comprising the news-system over time are shown
in Figure 1 (see Appendix for newsgroup descriptions).
NAGA's messages were categorized by the type of action the members discussed:
- defining the role of the news-system;
- promoting understanding and appropriate usage of the news-system;
- modifying the definition and/or usage of a newsgroup;
- creating new newsgroups.
Figure 2 shows the distribution of these e-mail messages over
On the basis of these analyses and the interviews, we found that
NAGA's activities could be divided into two distinct phases
(see Figure 3). In Phase I, NAGA's actions were concentrated
on defining the role of the news-system and promoting news-system
usage, while in Phase II, NAGA's actions focused on changing
the definition or usage of specific news-groups and the overall
nature and structure of the news-system.
Phase I: Establishment of News-System
During the first few months of NAGA's activities,
the group focused on establishing the technical infrastructure.
In the last month of 1989 and the first of 1990, NAGA turned its
attention to defining the role of the news-system and promoting
its adoption by users. First, we will discuss their approach to
policy-making, second, their differentiation of the news-system
from other media already in use, and third, the steps they took
to increase usage of the news-system.
Policy Making Process
NAGA started by developing a basic understanding of the role the news-system should play in Acorn, in particular considering whether it should be used for official communication. While NAGA began discussing this in meetings, they also solicited the participation of all project members. The following message triggered responses from project members who were already using the news-system:
Subject: New newsgroups
Date: 6 Dec 89 10:05:48 GMT
We need to discuss the following issues.
(1) The officiality of this news-system is unclear.
(2) The relationship of this news-system to bulletin boards within each team, and any e-mail mailing lists is unclear. As long as we use only these closed media, we cannot share useful information among all project members.
=> Should we not gain the advantage of many members working together?
Most users who responded endorsed the introduction
of the news-system as the project group's official communication
medium. As one project member pointed out, the fact that they
were developing new technology motivated them to try the new
technology. Without such motivation, project members might not
have been willing to incur the costs of learning a new technology.
Because many project members were not yet using the news-system
and thus did not reply to this message, NAGA members also talked
individually with many such team members. In addition, NAGA members
consulted with project managers because their consent was critical
if the committee was to implement its administrative objectives.
This policy making process demonstrates NAGA's
objectives and their implications. The messages sent by NAGA members
indicate their interest in making the news-system an official
communication medium. For example, the question: "Should
we not gain the advantage of many members working together?"
suggests that they believed using the news-system would benefit
the group's work. At the same time, NAGA members solicited
other project members' ideas instead of directing them
to use the news-system as an official communication medium. NAGA's
approach enabled it to build general support among all project
members to accept the news-system as an official communication
Differentiation from Other Media
Having achieved some consensus that the news-system should serve as an official communication medium, NAGA turned its attention to realizing this goal. To achieve this, NAGA felt it must position the new medium in relation to the other communication media commonly used in the firm. It started to investigate and discuss how daily lunch-time meetings,3, routing-slips, bulletin boards, and e-mail were currently being used and understood in the project group. NAGA then redefined the uses of these various media in the context of the news-system. Their decision was documented in the following meeting minutes:
Subject: Meeting report from December 26, 1989
Communication media within the project
Currently, daily lunch-time meetings, routing-slips, bulletin
boards, e-mail, and the news-system are used as communication
media. Our purpose is to encourage the use of the news-system.
<daily lunch-time meetings>
The purpose of daily lunch-time meeting should be restricted to confirmation of information that has been announced in the news-system beforehand. This meeting should not be an official announcement tool.
The routing-slip will be terminated. Printed information should be posted on bulletin boards and we should direct project members to use the news-system as much as possible.
Bulletin boards can be used only for printed information. However, all information should be provided through the news-system and at least summaries have to be posted on the news-system.
Precise e-mail use guidelines should be set. E-mail must be used only for urgent or confidential information. The definition of 'urgent' information: information that should be shared within a day.
Clearly, NAGA's objective was to encourage news-system
use by allocating most of the information exchanged within the
Acorn project to the news-system. Based on this positioning of
the news-system's role, NAGA added several new newsgroups
to the original three, including announce for official
project announcements, Acorn for general discussions of
the project, and computers for general computer-related
issues. NAGA also created definitions and usage rules for each
newsgroup. A definition included the appropriate message content
and purpose of a newsgroup, while usage rules were norms about
use such as the requirement that users read two mandatory newsgroups
(general and announce) at least once a day.
Promoting Use of the News-System
Having established the news-system and having articulated
its purpose and role in the project to their own satisfaction,
NAGA members championed its adoption. Specifically, they took
a number of actions to encourage members to use it. First, NAGA
persuaded the Acorn project managers to require project members
to use the news-system (in particular, to read messages in the
two mandatory newsgroups) daily. This support from the managers
was very influential in making the news-system an official communication
medium. Second, NAGA introduced all members of the project group
to the definition and usage of the news-system in the following
message, posted on the day that project managers announced that
the news-system was now an official and mandatory medium for the
Subject: Guideline for the usage of mail & news
Date: 30 Jan 90 11:03:28 GMT
(1) Use e-mail and the news-system effectively!
If you want to send information to some specific person, e-mail may be useful. However, when you send it to a group of people or to all members in the division, please use the news-system as much as possible.
If you use e-mail all the time, we will receive a huge number of messages and have to read all of them. Remember the difference between a traditional bulletin board posting and a letter. Think again when you send an e-mail message to any mailing-list (like all@xxx) You may be able to provide useful information to other project members by using the news-system.
The news-system will function as an official tool starting in
(2) Obligation to access both e-mail and the news-system
NAGA has established a facility allowing all members to use both Mail and News
We will support it to make sure that everyone is comfortable using these systems.
All members must access Mail/News:
e-mail: Twice a day both in the morning and afternoon
News: At least once in the morning to specific newsgroups--the general and announce newsgroups
*If you want us to send messages on the general and announce newsgroups by e-mail, NAGA will provide a service to send messages by e-mail automatically.
*You also can post a message by using the e-mail function.
Third, as evident in the above message, NAGA made it easier for
reluctant users (mostly managers) to use the news-system by creating
a technical facility that allowed them to receive from and send
messages to the mandatory news-groups via e-mail. They also created
a test newsgroup, which allowed individuals to experiment
with the technical features of posting messages in the news-system.
Fourth, NAGA completed the initial configuration of the news-system
by creating the local newsgroups, one for each of the six
project teams, to convey information previously exchanged via
e-mail mailing lists. This set of newsgroups was intended in part
to provide an easy way for beginners to start using the system,
allowing them to address their smaller team rather than the whole
project. Indeed, this tactic seems to have worked, since almost
half of all messages on the news-system in the early weeks after
the system became official were on the local newsgroups. Later,
that proportion dropped to about one third as more discussion
shifted to the non-local newsgroups. At the same time that local
newsgroups gave the impression of a more intimate audience, messages
posted to local newsgroups could, in fact, be read by others.
NAGA did not restrict access to the local newsgroups, and even
encouraged Acorn members to read other local newsgroups and contribute
where relevant because they believed that sharing information
across as well as within local teams would ultimately benefit
the project as a whole. This was a deliberate attempt by NAGA
to increase communication across the six project teams, and the
strategy appears to have been effective, as 33% of the messages
posted in local newsgroups were contributed by members of other
teams. Cross-fertilization between the groups occurred on some
occasions via this mechanism, as when someone posted a message
on another team's local newsgroup starting with, "I
am an outsider, but I would like to explain my idea about [a certain
Finally, NAGA improved the news-system software to allow Japanese
subject lines as well as Japanese text in messages. This improvement
made the news-system a more convenient and more readily accessible
tool for users. These five types of action had the effect of making
it easier and more relevant for project members to post messages.
The result was a dramatic increase in the number of messages posted
on the news-system, from approximately 20 messages per week to
approximately 200 messages per week (see Figure 4). This level
of use was sustained (excluding holiday periods) until the announcement
of Acorn's termination in late January, 1991. At that point,
usage fell off dramatically for the last month of the project.
Phase II: Ongoing Support of News-System
Once the news-system was established, NAGA continued
to play a central role in its on-going evolution in response to
participant feedback and its own evolving objectives. As Figure
3 shows, this evolution involved two types of change: modifications
and reconfigurations. First, NAGA members responded to specific
problems by modifying definition and usage rules, and occasionally
by adding a new news-group. In some cases, the problems were
not resolved by such modifications, or NAGA members saw their
actions as merely temporary measures. In this case, they accumulated
the unresolved issues and addressed them through periodic reconfigurations
in which they created sets of new newsgroups or restructured the
schema of the news-system. Figure 1 depicts the change in news-system
configuration over time. In both types of intervention, user feedback
was a critical trigger.
Four types of feedback from users were observable.
First, users provided indirect feedback when they violated usage
rules and posted messages improperly. For example, some people
violated a usage rule by accessing the rec newsgroup during
office hours, an activity prohibited by NAGA at the request of
the project managers. These messages were observed by NAGA members
largely because as users they also participated in the newsgroups.
Second, users included their questions or confusions about the
news-system in their messages. Third, users sent more direct feedback
in the form of questions and suggestions to NAGA members, either
through face to face interaction or e-mail. NAGA members did not
hesitate to talk with users directly and they gathered users'
feedback through general conversation. Fourth, NAGA gathered information
from users about the news-system by posting soliciting messages
on the news-system.
Through these various modes of feedback, project members interacted
with NAGA and hence influenced, deliberately and inadvertently,
the mediation of their news-system. In response, NAGA changed
the news-system via minor modifications and major reconfigurations.
Between the periodic reconfigurations of the technology,
NAGA responded to users' questions and problems by enacting minor
adjustments and enhancements. These modifications may be categorized
into three groups. First, NAGA established definitions and promoted
proper usage of news-groups, especially after creating new ones.
NAGA members often advertised new newsgroups in the project newsletter
and daily lunch-time meetings, as well as on the news-system.
They also encouraged appropriate usage through education. For
example, they encouraged users to only embed relevant portions
of previous messages rather than entire messages. All such educational
efforts were not equally effective, however. For example, NAGA
members were never entirely successful in restricting use of the
rec newsgroup to non-work hours.
Second, NAGA modified the definitions and usage rules of newsgroups.
For example, the early definitions of the two mandatory newsgroups,
general and announce, were vague and many users
were consequently confused about which newsgroup was appropriate
for their messages. These categories were even used as default
categories by some users. Because these newsgroups were required
reading for everyone, NAGA felt that the number of messages in
them should be limited, and that only those messages critical
to all project members should be included. NAGA modified the definition
and usage rules of these two newsgroups several times trying to
achieve the desired balance. (This problem was ultimately solved
as part of the second news-system reconfiguration, discussed below,
when they replaced these two newsgroups with a new one, official,
which had a moderator who screened all messages before posting
them.) NAGA members discussed the potential for improper use and
confusion when discussing the creation of a new newsgroup. However,
sometimes the necessity for new usage rules only became apparent
after a certain period of use.
Third, in response to user requests, NAGA occasionally created new newsgroups at times other than major reconfigurations. For example, a project member who was responsible for various magazine subscriptions and book orders posted the following message querying the appropriateness of a message announcing such an acquisition to the announce news group.
Subject: Subscription to magazine xxx
Date: 13 Feb 90 02:40:16 GMT
Subscriptions of two magazines were started last month.
They are in xxx bookcase. Please read them at your convenience.
I would like to send reference messages about new books each month because building B is separated from the main building, so this will be useful for people who are working in building B. May I post these messages to this newsgroup? Or is there any other more proper newsgroup?
Soon after this posting, NAGA established a newsgroup
called headlines for the specific purpose of posting announcements
of new subscriptions, new books, or articles of interest to the
project. For the rest of the project, this same person used this
newsgroup a few times a month to point members to new materials.
As the news-system became a widely recognized
tool, users requested the creation of new newsgroups and NAGA
members also observed new uses of the news-system. This led them
to reconfigure the news-system twice during the project, resolving
previously unresolved issues and shaping the system according
to their evolving objectives. At each reconfiguration, NAGA members
announced how the news-system structure was being changed and
why new newsgroups were being introduced.
The first news-system reconfiguration, in April 1990, was motivated
primarily by NAGA's responses to users' requests, including requests
to extend the functionality of the news-system. For example,
the new guide newsgroups functioned as databases for archival
copies of messages rather than as interactive news-groups from
which older messages were purged every three months. This new
type of newsgroup allowed members to reuse or refer to useful
information such as maps, addresses lists, and administrative
The second news-system reconfiguration took place in October 1990. Because some newsgroups were not being used effectively and the number of newsgroups had increased, NAGA members felt that reducing access time and promoting proper use had become an urgent objective. Hence, they re-organized the entire structure of the news-system, changing the allocation of information among the newsgroups as well as creating new newsgroups. Some newsgroups were terminated or replaced by new newsgroups and all newsgroups were better classified and their usage more clearly defined. NAGA announced the reconfiguration schedule and details in a long message posted to the announce newsgroup on October 17 of 1990, the beginning and end of which is reproduced below:
Subject: A reconfiguration of the news-system
Date: 17 Oct 90 00:49:42 GMT
Information on a reconfiguration of the news-system
We introduced the news-system one year ago and now it has become an indispensable medium for our division.
As the number of messages has increased, several problems have come up. For example, some newsgroups are used improperly, some newsgroups are not used at all.
Therefore, NAGA has changed the configuration of the newsgroup structure. This message provides information on the new news-system.
NAGA thinks that the news-system schema should be changed depending on the situation. We would like to manage flexibly. This modification is one of those actions.
As this message indicates, NAGA clearly saw occasional
reconfigurations as part of its on-going role in shaping the use
of the news-system to the changing context of the project group.
Its role ended only when the project was canceled several months
later (for reasons unrelated to internal project communication).
NAGA's actions in modifying and reconfiguring
the news-system responded to users' feedback, and changing
organizational circumstances. At the same time, these actions
were not simply reactive, but reflected NAGA's objectives
at different points in the news-system's evolution. Moreover,
while NAGA's overall goal of creating an effective communication
system for the project group did not change, their specific objectives
changed from a focus on initial establishment in Phase I to a
focus on supporting ongoing effective use in Phase II.
This study only examined a single site; hence, further studies
are needed to assess the circumstances under which different kinds
of interventions, including mediation as we defined it, are more
effective than others. Our analysis has, however, facilitated
the development of a detailed understanding of how, on the one
hand, policies and actions of mediators influenced users'
use of a computer conferencing system, and how, on the other hand,
users' feedback, experiences, and patterns of use influenced
the policies enacted and actions taken by mediators. We suggest
that because such mediators directly influence users' interactions
with their technology, they can have a profound effect on how
usable, appropriate, and relevant the technology is (and remains)
in particular contexts of use. These findings should benefit both
research and practice.
For researchers, the study has highlighted the role
of a set of organizational actors that have received relatively
little emphasis in the CSCW literature. While researchers in various
areas have recognized the role of technology champions [1, 21,
16, 24] and trainers [2, 4, 23], these characterizations have
focused on specific and generally upfront tasks of promoting adoption
of technological innovations and training on the use of particular
applications. Others have examined the role of expert users [2,
15, 22, 26,
27] in shaping use in particular contexts. This role,
however, is rarely organizationally recognized and rewarded, leading
to the kind of disparity Grudin  identified between who
the work and who gets the benefit.
Our conceptualization of technology-use mediation goes beyond
these prior understandings. We suggest that all these roles may
usefully be understood as instances of intervention, and hence
that in addition to serving specific functions, they also can
and do have a significant influence on how technologies relate
to certain contexts of use. This study allows us to propose that
mediation -- as an ongoing and organizationally sanctioned intervention
-- may be particularly effective at overcoming some of the problems
in CSCW use identified by other researchers. For example, NAGA
avoided the effort-benefit disparity just noted by securing recognition
and resources for their intervention activities. In addition,
NAGA addressed the critical mass issue [18, 19] by
project-wide mandate for use of the technology. While this particular
solution worked in this case, it may not work in all organizational
contexts. Nevertheless, organizationally-sanctioned mediators
are in a better position to recognize and address the critical
mass problem. NAGA was also able to deal with structural and cultural
barriers [2, 23] as they arose
because they were observing
reflecting on news-system use. For example, recognizing the importance
of dialogue in the work practices of local project teams, they
created local newsgroups to support these discussions.
They also used these local newsgroups as an opportunity
to promote system usage in a more comfortable forum.
For designers, our study confirms the view that design extends
beyond the designers' workshop and into the setting of
organizational use. Specifically, our findings suggest that in
addition to providing users with tailorable tools [e.g., 5,
17] designers could also provide tools for mediators to
their activities of contextualizing technologies. The tools supplied
to mediators might be similar to those given to users but could
also allow for more sophisticated manipulation and reconfiguration
which the technically-skilled mediators are more likely to be
willing, able, and authorized to perform.
For practitioners, our findings suggest that a CSCW application was introduced and used relatively effectively because a group of mediators managed not only the technical issues, but also issues of context and use, with carefully planned objectives and constructive reactions to users' feedback. This suggests that intervenors may be more effective when they have are organizationally authorized and play an ongoing role in facilitating technology use. In addition, based on our observations of NAGA, we can propose more specifically that mediators might be more effective in their interventions when they are:
- users as well as mediators;
- sensitive to user feedback;
- technically adept.
The nature and efficacy of mediation is likely to
depend considerably on the type of individuals involved. Where
mediators are themselves users and thus have intimate knowledge
of the context of use as well as credibility with the users, their
actions will be more locally appropriate and more likely to be
accepted by the users. Whether or not they are users, they must
be sensitive to the needs--technical and organizational--of the
(other) users. Further, being technically skilled clearly allows
mediators to make more extensive changes to the system being used.
The extent and effect of mediation also depends on the authority
granted and resources made available to mediators. Intervention
occurs, with or without careful deliberation and management. We
would suggest that where the role and influence of intervenors
is recognized, sanctioned, and supported, such mediation can advance
particular kinds of innovative and locally customized uses of
technology, and allow the evolution of its use over time.
Further studies are, of course, needed to assess which of these
characteristics are most important, and under which circumstances.
But this study at least provides some guidance for practitioners
thinking about implementing new CSCW technologies. It may also
improve their appreciation and support of a set of actors often
relatively unappreciated by managers, though perhaps less so by
users who benefit from their activities.
Our description and analysis of NAGA's actions also suggest some actions that mediators may employ to facilitate the ongoing contextualizing of technologies in use.
- regular solicitation of user feedback to stay in touch with user concerns and use issues;
- ongoing monitoring of usage patterns to detect errors, misunderstandings, and areas of potential improvement;
- routine minor modifications of technology and usage guidelines to maintain and promote current use;
- periodic reassessments and changes to the technology and its norms of use to reflect changed organizational and technological circumstances.
These actions should have some heuristic value as a starting point
for practitioners in thinking about and experimenting with mediation.
As a final note, we believe that our research raises the interesting
possibility that the influence and action of mediators may play
a critical role in helping CSCW applications succeed in organizational
MIT's Center for Coordination Science provided
support for this research. Thanks are due to the Acorn participants
and to Tom Callaghan for his research assistance. Mark Ackerman,
Tom Malone, Paul Resnick, and conference reviewers provided helpful
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|Acorn||Discussions related to the computer product under development|
|announce||Official announcements to entire project|
|comp||Discussions about computer-related topics (e.g., computer architecture)|
|general||Important announcements to entire project|
|guide||Archives of useful administrative information (e.g., procedures, maps)|
|headlines||Announcements of newly acquired journals, books, and articles|
|info||General company-related information bulletins|
|local||Discussions of topics specific to each of the 6 product development teams|
|mail-lists||Technical newsfeed from external party|
|misc||Discussions about miscellaneous topics (e.g., the air conditioning system)|
|official||Official announcements to entire project (replaces announce and general )|
|questions||Questions posed to entire project|
|rec||Discussions of recreational activities during non-work hours (e.g., hobbies)|
|release||Product release information|
|reports||Trip reports (e.g., conferences, meetings)|
|test||For testing the news-system software|
|union||Announcements about company union activities|
1 Both Friedman , and Grudin  have discussed the role of third party players as mediators in systems development, but both position this role as an intervention in development. We use the term mediation to refer to a process occurring during use after development is complete.
2 Electronic messages cited here were translated from Japanese.
3 By company policy, each division or group had a daily lunch-time meeting, in which formal and official information was usually announced.