A new research study to be published in September suggests a novel approach to designing computer systems that facilitate collaboration in large groups. The research leverages computer simulations of large “socio-technical” systems, such as social networks and wiki communities, to investigate how technology helps people collaborate effectively. This information can then be used by the designers of computer-based collaboration tools to encourage the most productive types of interactions among users, based on the type of work being done.

Here’s an Example

A large team is assigned a new project to work on. Communication between members of the team can occur in a variety of ways, including through a social network, email, wikis, video chat, and so on. Similarly, work products produced by team members can be distributed and managed in a variety of ways. What mechanisms are best suited to the project? What tools should be used to ensure that team members get all the information they need, without being overloaded by information they don’t care about?

That’s Where Simulation Comes In

By creating a computer simulation of the interactions among team members, the trade-offs among different collaboration options can be investigated. Some options might result in higher coordination overhead, while others might incur a risk of users operating on out-of-date information. The best option depends on the needs of the team and the characteristics of the project.

The study, authored by computer scientists at the University of Southern California, the University of California – Irvine, and Quandary Peak Research, will be presented at the upcoming International Conference on Cooperative Information Systems (CoopIS 2012) in Rome, Italy. The article is titled Analyzing Design Tradeoffs in Large-scale Socio-Technical Systems through Simulation of Dynamic Collaboration Patterns.