A Moderation Laboratory is used to investigate which methods and forms of technical assistance are appropriate for communicative decision-making groups consisting of five up to twenty people. It allows to document the results and the process of communication as well as further reflection of these. Additionally, the course of communication and interaction with technical systems is recorded for empirical research.

Scientific background

The Department of Information and Technology Management (IMTM) has been established at the Institute of Labour Science at the Ruhr University Bochum (IAW), as an interdisciplinary research group, which primarily deals with the question of how computer systems can serve to support cooperative work, how they can be arranged regarding their usefulness and usability are and how they are introduced with the objective of sustainable use.

The development of a socio-technical system has a variety of different aspects (technical, technological, organizational, social structures into account, etc.) and integrates different interests and perspectives of different actors. This requirement is subject of the so-called “participatory design”, which has evolved in the context of computer science as a field of research. In particular, the question can be regarded as unresolved, with what types of images and documents the decision-making and contributed communication can be recorded and reflected so that the various aspects and perspectives can be related to each other. Graphical models of a specific modeling notation to describe socio-technical systems can serve as a basis and interrelating element for such documents.

On the other hand IMTM deals with the possibilities of technical support for communicative decision-making processes that accompany the development of socio-technical systems. This is – by analogy with useful tools in software development – for the design and presentation of charts, the use of hardware and software with which the models produce socio-technical systems that can be processed and presented.

Relevance for Science and Practice

Of particular importance for the technology management is the support of the thereby emerging communication processes, both synchronous and asynchronous. Synchronous communication in groups is particularly relevant when creative design processes take place or complex decisions have to be made. Especially complex decision making can be a problem if the perspectives of different practitioners have to be anticipated.

So many – including very prominent – technology development and introduction processes are delayed in the end, because relevant knowledge was not included early enough to detect barriers in decision making.

Given this situation, it can be noted that the computer-based support for synchronous group communication in connection with the moderation capabilities are not yet sufficiently researched and supported. Especially support and research is needed for the topics of jointly inspection of models, designs or prototypes and their jointly modification.

Thus it is important that information materials are visualized and can be changed directly and interactively from the various stakeholders. The modification steps should be immediately reflected to the Group by large projection screens.

The so obtained information should preferably be seamlessly documented and easily accessible and searchable after each meeting. Such requirements are not yet sufficiently implemented and the pros and cons of different approaches are not yet sufficiently researched – which is especially true for tasks of participatory technology development and deployment.

The current computer-based support for synchronous communication processes was treated in the 90‘s under the heading of “electronic meeting support” or “computer-aided team”. Thereby the field was dominated by research on interaction between the various single users and their personal computers – the use of interactive “Large Screen Display” for visualization and summarization of communication processes was not further examined because of the prior state of the art.

This changed recently and is treated under the umbrella term “Collocated Cooperation” or “team-computer interaction”. The support of traditional facilitation techniques (Schumann 2005, Malorny & Langner 1997) and the focus on diagrams and prototypes that represent the socio-technical solutions and innovations, has not yet been observed in more detail. In particular the equipment of the Bochum laboratory will be focused on these aspects.

Research Goals

A moderation laboratory offers the possibility of research in various aspects, as they were previously not possible.

Techniques of Collocated Collaboration
The approach on the electronic support for communication, cooperation and coordination of people on the same site has won in importance in the CSCW research (Computer Supported Cooperative Work) and is being processed under the keyword Collocated Collaboration (CSCW Workshop 2004, Chicago).

The strengths and weaknesses of the various interactions and cooperation supporting input and output media can be to investigated and also the conditions on which they depend can be observed effects (eg input via the Tablet PC Vs. Input to the interactive presentation screen for the task of brainstorming, the usefulness of recording and playback of audio signals). Also of particular interest is the comparison between classical moderation techniques (for example: cards and pin boards, free sketches and layout of textual and graphical elements on the pinboard, flipchart, etc.) and their electronic counterparts.
A special challenge is to constantly keep the compiled results available during the session.

Modeling Tools
For the design of solutions – particularly in the field of socio-technical systems – the possibilities of cooperative use of design tools, primarily modeling editors – are of particular interest. Such tools have not yet been studied for their suitability for Collocated Collaboration. The previous investigation were rather focused on editing processes to which participants contributed from different locations.

During joint editing on the same site, there are such questions as how can the available tools help to switch as flexibly as possible between phases of the individual focus on possible solutions the one hand, and the sharing of possible solutions on the other hand.

Knowledge Management and Computer-supported Cooperative Learning (CSCL)

The detailed design of communication and decision-making processes, as they should be tested in the laboratory, cannot be viewed in isolation, but must be viewed in the context of information and documents that these processes prepare, accompany and follow at the end of them. Therefore, there is also the question of how communication processes can be embedded in a broader concept of a knowledge management solution and how to do this systematically in the laboratory. Here it is advantageous that, based on results of own and other research on knowledge management with IMTMs own collaborative learning and knowledge management system (K2), combined with the need to be tested in the laboratory, information costs and potentials for technical Scheme and organizational development, can be identified.

Knowledge management is closely related to learning processes, which together contribute to a range of actors and roles. To support such learning, the research direction of CSCL (Computer Supported Collaborative Learning) was established. The laboratory offers the opportunity to examine the collocated CSCL closer.

Moderation of Socio-technical Process Development (STWT)

In addition to the suitability of design and modeling tools, the main question arises, how can the common forms of facilitation of communication processes be adopted in the context of equal opportunities and difficulties and does electronic support, lead to improved results.

It becomes apparent that new behavior and intervention strategies for moderators and presenters need to be designed. In particular, those moderated communication processes are considered, which are designed to support a design and decision process, with both technical and organizational structures and processes. Ideally, both are integrated during the desingn, which is summarized here under keyword “socio-technical design”. For this purpose, the researchers of IMTM transferred the usability engineering approach of “cognitive walkthrough” to the field of socio-technical design.

The preparation and evaluation, facilitation and methodological technical support for these workshops need further intensive research in order to achieve a continuous improvement of the methodology to. The following aspects can be considered as a benchmark for improvement:

  • the quality of the design decisions
  • the inclusion of different perspectives
  • the degree of consensus of the stakeholder
  • the satisfaction of participants with opportunities for participation and the objective rate of participation
  • balance of opportunity to influence
  • the learning effect for individual participants
  • the degree of knowledge integration

Among these criteria, there are numerous inquiries related to asynchronous and / or geographically distributed communication processes (eg, Kiesler and Sproull 1988). Regarding learning and knowledge integration there is also a base of IMTMs own results from research conducted in the areas of knowledge management and computer supported collaborative learning.

While the here described fields of research represent the width of the possible examinations with the laboratory. Also specific application-oriented research will be done in promoted projects or doctoral thesis research.


Integration with other projects

With the help of the laboratory different research fields can become closely interlinked and editable. The lab will be specifically used for the following tasks in connection with funded projects:

I. The development of reference models for innovation processes supported by information technology companies will be examined in a case study with a software company (Novamille). In this context, the method of “socio-technical walkthrough” (STWT) is refined.

II. STWT-based service engineering: development of processes for information-technology based services that are provided in modularized form (MARIS)

III. Different variants of the approach in the design of scenarios for the use of CSCL systems are explored in detail (Wink, HBS College)

IV. The coupling of different constellations of collaborative learning (at different times, in different places simultaneously or at separate locations at the same time) will eb examined using the K2 platform. Of particular interest is the exploration of the interplay between synchronous and asynchronous learning sessions. These examinations will take place in courses of the IAW.

V. Concepts for knowledge management solutions will be cooperatively developed; investigation will be done on how the resulting documents of the Socio-technical Walkthroughs can guide the implementation of a solutions (Wink, Era)

VI. A variant of the STWT deals with the assessment of given solution concepts. For this purpose, the procedure is performed on the basis of risk analysis of information technology which is supported by procedures of privacy protection analysis.

VII. The construction of the laboratory and the refinement of collaborative interaction itself can be classified as research – including the adjustment of the possible interaction for the modeling editor.

In the context of labour scientific work

Visualization, holding at state-ready and continuous processing intermediate solutions is an important and indispensable task during the communication in moderated group meetings.

This task is usually done with a paper-based media, or through the use of projectors, but they are mainly used for presentation purposes, but not for interactive tasks. There is also software that supports the concurrent collaborative work in one place, but without shared, interactive display areas, the techniques of classical moderation are mapped inadequately – in particular for design work.

Aside this, the software must be installed in a pool of computers – be such pools are currently working but not on a WiFi basis of Tablet PCs, so it is therefore not possible to move freely in the space of events. Another decisive shortcoming of currently available presentation rooms and computer pools is that they are not integrated into a laboratory that is equipped for systematic research and therefore lack the essential technological features for recording and documentation.

Structure of the Moderation Laboratory

The moderation laboratory consists essentially out of the following components:

  • Group projection: “interactive large screen” – there are several back-projection units seamlessly linked and equipped with interactive surfaces to get an work area of approximately 5m in width.
  • Individual support: “Intelligent Interaction Media” – about 16 wireless connected Tablet PCs, which can interact with each other and with the “Large-screen” application. Supplemented by group work with medium-sized TFT displays and scanners and printers.
  • Recording technology: video and sound recording and post processing equipment for recorded sessions
  • Software for modeling, visualization of contribution, structuring of topics, related processing of records, etc.
  • Additional equipment for room control