Distributed Group Support Systems:
Theory Development and Experimentation
Starr Roxanne Hiltz, Donna Dufner, Jerry Fjermestad, Youngjin Kim,
Rosalie Ocker, Ajaz Rana, and Murray Turoff
New Jersey Institute of Technology
Book chapter for: Olsen, B.M., Smith, J.B. and Malone, T., eds.,
Coordination Theory and Collaboration Technology, Hillsdale NJ: Lawrence
Erlbaum Associates, 1996.
Distributed Group Support Systems use asynchronous computer
mediated communication to support anytime/anywhere group discussions and
decision making. The results of five controlled experiments are described,
which explored the effects of different task types, tools, and processes on the
process and outcomes of group decision making in this environment. Though
GDSS type tools generally appear to improve both objective and subjective
outcomes, various process interventions have had little or no effect on these
groups, which had one to four weeks to adapt the use of the system features to
their own expectations and preferences.
One type of computer-based system to support collaborative work
("groupware;" Johnson-Lenz, 1982; Ellis et. al 1991) is most often called a
Group Support System, or GSS. Other terms that have been used include
"Group Decision Support Systems" ("GDSS;" DeSanctis & Gallupe, 1987) and
"Electronic Meeting Systems" (Nunamaker et al, 1991).
DeSanctis and Gallupe's seminal paper, "A Foundation for the Study of
Group Decision Support Systems" (1987) has been extremely influential in
providing a common framework for research. They defined GDSS as
combining "communication, computer, and decision technologies to support
problem formulation and solution in group meetings" (p. 589). Various types of
tools or structures for interaction can help a group to avoid process losses and
to achieve better decisions or outcomes. For example, the use of the computer
as a channel for communication can allow everyone to input simultaneously,
thus encouraging greater equality of participation. Failure to quantify
preference structures can be overcome by providing appropriate voting scales
and tools, while failure to efficiently organize and communicate information
about ideas and preferences can be overcome by the statistical analysis and
display of the results of rating or voting. They also presented a "contingency"
theory to help explain why GDSS is not always beneficial; it depends upon
whether the nature of the technology and structuring provided is appropriate
for the group size (smaller vs. larger), the type of task, and the communication
mode, of which they identified two: same place (FtF, or "decision room" ) and
different place, or dispersed.
The term "Group Support System" (GSS) has come to be used as more
general and inclusive than "GDSS," which is often used to imply decision room,
same time settings. GSS can apply to many stages and types of group work,
not just "decision making," and to computer support for groups that are
working asynchronously through wide area networks as well as at the same
time. "Distributed Group Support Systems" embed GDSS type tools and
procedures within a Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC) system to
support collaborative work among dispersed groups of people. "Distributed"
has several dimensions: temporal, spatial and technological. The majority of
GDSS research has been conducted in "Decision Rooms," where the
participants are meeting at the same time and same place. CMC based
systems can be used synchronously (same or different places, but at the same
time), or "asynchronously." The central focus of the program of research
reported here is asynchronous groups, in which interaction is distributed in
time as well as in space. The group members use the system to work together
to reach a decision or complete their cooperative work over a period of time,
with each person working at whatever time and place is convenient. In
addition, the system used is itself "distributed;" that is, there can be more than
one "server" in different places which are linked, and the user interaction may
occur on a "user agent" located on the individual PC.
Asynchronous use of computer-based group support tools and processes
is a unique mode of communication, different not only from Face to Face (FtF)
communication, but even than synchronous use of CMC or other forms of
computer support (Rice, 1984, 1993). It leads to different communication
behavior (such as the tendency towards much longer entries by participants,
and the discussion of many topics at once) and to unique coordination
problems and opportunities (Hiltz & Turoff, 1985; Malone and Crowston, 1990;
Turoff et al., 1993).
Among the key variables which were observed to influence the
effectiveness of small group decision making in the FtF condition are
"leadership" and "process." For example, imposing certain structures for
interaction on small FtF groups, such as a strict agenda which forces "rational"
decision making, or brainstorming (Osborn 1957) or Nominal Group
Techniques (Van de Ven & Delbecq, 1971), can improve process and outcomes.
Procedures (or "structures") for interaction which decrease process losses in
the FtF condition may not be the same as those which are helpful in a
computer-mediated communication condition, however, particularly in the fully
distributed and asynchronous mode.
Many GDSS systems that are "decision room" based simply include a set
of tools and procedures in the "package" that is always provided as part of the
system; thus, the effects of medium of communication are confounded with the
effects of specific tools and procedures. Our objective has been to isolate
specific tools and procedures and explore their effectiveness in the
asynchronous environment. Very few other GDSS experiments have looked at
the asyncnronous condition. Of the 120 GSS experiments published through
the end of 1995 which we have been able to identify (Fjermestad and Hiltz,
1996), besides the three NJIT experiments published to date, only five other
experiments have used an asynchronous condition, plus two that compared
synchronous and asynchronous conditions, and only one other investigator
(Chidambaram, 1989, 1990) has conducted more than one experiment in the
New Jersey Institute of Technology's project is an integrated program of
theory building, software tool development and assessment, and empirical
studies (both controlled experiments, and as opportunities arise, field studies).
The project investigates the effectiveness of different types of tools and
procedures for various types of tasks and groups, within the distributed
environment. Specific studies also contrast the distributed mode of
communication with other modes. This chapter will review some of the
accomplishments of the first five years of the program of research, which was
partially supported by the National Science Foundation. It will first summarize
the theoretical framework which was constructed to guide and integrate all of
the separate research studies. Then it will briefly describe the software tools
that were developed. Next, the design and results of the first five controlled
laboratory experiments will be described, each of which was conducted as
Ph.D. dissertation research. Several field studies, which have been published
elsewhere will be briefly alluded to. Finally, it will summarize what we see as
the main findings across the various studies completed thus far, and their
implications for theory building and future research directions. In brief, to give
a preview, the most important finding is that imposing restricted structures or
procedures for interaction in the distributed GSS mode does not have the
beneficial effects that have been observed in the FtF or decision room modes of
1. Theoretical Foundations and Integration
A specific GSS is a particular combination of communication mode,
tools, and structuring of process (via a facilitator or procedural
instructions/agenda). The effects of a GSS on the process and outcomes of
collaborative work depend upon a number of contingencies. We started with
DeSanctis and Gallupe's (1987) framework, which identified three types of
contingencies: communication condition (face-to-face or dispersed-- we extend
this to include synchronous vs. asynchronous); group size and task type. For
task type, we currently use McGrath's (1984) "task circumplex." The graphical
representation of this typology (not included here) differentiates tasks on two
dimensions. The first dimension classifies tasks on the basis of outcome:
intellectual (e.g., a decision) or behavioral (e.g., a "product" or action). The
second dimension uses the type of behavior of group members (convergent or
cooperative, vs. conflicting). We are presently focusing on the four types of
"cooperative" tasks: Generating actions (Type 1: Planning and and Type 2:
Creative tasks) and Choosing solutions to a specific problem (Type 3:
Intellective tasks, which have a "correct" or optimum decision whose quality
can be measured; and Type 4: Preference, for which the objective is to reach
We extended this initial framework to produce a more comprehensive
theoretical foundation that will enable us to compare the results of different
studies and to compare our results to those of other researchers. One
completed paper (Fjermestad, Hiltz, & Turoff, 1993) reviews the major research
models that have been used for studying GSS's and derives and presents an
integrated, comprehensive model of the factors that are utilized for their
investigation. This paper shows that in the short time since the publication of
the DeSanctis and Gallupe (1987) foundation paper, the number of research
dimensions included in various models has more than doubled (from three to
seven). There has also been a shift in research emphasis from the technology
to the interaction among the technology, the task, and the group to produce
outcomes. The model organizes all of the variables that have been used in GSS
research into four dimensions: contextual, intervening, adaptation, and
outcomes. A concise overview of the theoretical framework, showing the
version we began with, is shown in Chart
1. There, the contextual factors are
shown at the top, then the intervening variables, and the outcomes or
dependent variables are at the bottom. The model served as the theoretical
framework for all individual studies carried out within the program of research.
The Contextual factors are all external or driving variables that comprise
the environment or conditions for the decision making task. For any one
experiment, they are (relatively) fixed or controlled. These include
characteristics of the group, task, environmental and organizational context,
and of the particular technology (GSS) being used.
Intervening factors are related to the emergent structuring of the group
interaction, both derived from and adding to the set of conditions created by
the context of the group decision sessions. For example, the methods used by
the group may vary as to session length, number of sessions, and presence and
role of a facilitator. These factors can change from session to session, and thus
are dynamic rather than static.
Adaptation, or "modes of appropriation" is an important intervening
variable in our model. According to Adaptive Structuration Theory (DeSanctis
& Poole, 1991, 1994; Poole & DeSanctis, 1990, 1992; Sambamurthy and
DeSanctis, 1989), group outcomes are not determined by the effects of single
elements (such as technology and task characteristics), but by a complex and
continuous process in which those elements are appropriated by the group.
The four dimensions of the construct (level of use, attitudes toward the GSS,
level of consensus, and level of control) are measured in all studies via
questionnaire items designed and validated by Scott Poole. For each of these
aspects of group appropriation, there can be "effective" or ineffective modes.
For example, the group may use the GSS facilities little or not at all, even
though they are instructed to, or they may use it in a very different manner
than was intended.
Finally, the Outcomes, or dependent variables, are the result of the
interplay of the intervening, adaptation, and contextual factors. They include
efficiency measures (e.g., calendar time to decision), effectiveness measures
(e.g., number of different ideas generated or decision quality), and subjective
It should be noted that work is completed on further developing and
applying the integrated framework to a comprehensive comparison of over 100
published experiments on GSS's to date (Fjermestad and Hiltz, 1996).
Different outcomes have been observed depending upon the initial set of
independent variables and the group processes (influenced by intervening
variables) that result in a specific adaptation or "adaptive structuration" (Poole
and DeSanctis, 1990) of the technology provided. By focusing on differences in
the variables controlled and studied, a foundation is provided for
understanding differences in findings.
2. Facilities Development
NJIT's EIES 2 is a CMC enhanced with GDSS tools, that provides the
foundation that allows continued evolution and the incorporation of additional
functionality (Turoff, 1991). As a result of this capability, we were able to
enhance the system and to create a "developer's kit" to allow Ph.D. students, or
others, to use a version of Smalltalk to develop their own features or interface
characteristics. EIES 2 is based upon an object-oriented data base and a
compiler for the X.409 communication data base specification language. This
base allows the evolution of new object types as they are needed.
To support group-oriented objectives a CMC system must allow other
computer resources to be integrated within the CMC environment. The
approach we have chosen uses the metaphor of an "activity" that can be
attached to any communication item. "Doing" an activity executes a program
or procedure on the host computer or the network of users' computers.
Work has been completed on many kinds of "activities." One set, "List"
and "Vote," replicate the functionality provided by Minnesota's SAMM (Software
Aided Meeting Management) for a group to create and revise a common list of
alternatives, and then apply several types of voting procedures to this list: vote
for one, vote yes or no on each alternative, and rate or weight each alternative.
Another activity, "Poll," allows the construction, response to, and display of
results from a poll or survey, within the CMC environment. A third,
"Question/Response" Activity, supports processes such as Nominal Group
Technique, dialectical inquiry and brainstorming, as well as applications to
collaborative learning. Each participant must independently (and possibly
anonymously) respond to a problem or question, before seeing the responses of
others. Many other activities have been developed to support other kinds of
group tasks, including a class "gradebook" activity for the Virtual ClassroomTM.
It should be noted that the series of studies reported here were
conducted with a VT100 based full screen menu-type interface, rather than a
GUI (point and click Graphical User Interface.) The VT100 type interface has
the advantage of being usable on any PC or even a "dumb terminal;" whatever
the subjects may have had available to use at home or at work would suffice.
We are currently completing work on a Web-based GUI that can be used with
browsers such as Netscape, for those who have the necessary equipment and
prefer this style of interaction.
3. The First Five Experiments
Each of these experiments represents an attempt to find appropriate
tools and processes to support four different types of task in the McGrath "task
circumplex;" they examined:
structured design procedure, for a creative task, software design
- . Voting tools and sequential procedures for a preference task;
- . Conflict vs. Consensus structures plus experience for a planning task;
- . The effects of FtF vs. distributed asynchronous CMC as it interacts with a
A concise summary of the methods and findings of the experiments is
presented in Chart 2(methods) and Chart
3(findings). Each group had one or two weeks to complete
each decision (depending on the experiment). This is a relatively long time
period, compared to the 10 or 15 minutes that some experimental tasks used
in decision room GDSS experiments have taken. Unless otherwise noted, all
used as subjects undergraduate and graduate students from the Computer
Science and Management degree programs at NJIT and Rutgers. Students
participated as a course assignment, and were graded; alternate assignments
were offered for those who chose not to participate. It should be noted that in
asynchronous groups interacting over a week or more, group size cannot be
truly controlled. Despite the grade incentive, some students "dropped out" of
the group interaction, perhaps because of illness or computer problems, and
thus decreased group size below the starting number. When "group size" is
reported, it refers to the "ending" group size, not the number who were trained
and began a task. In all experiments, if this "effective group size" fell below
two, the group was dropped from the analysis.
Most of the studies also used expert judges to rate some aspect of the
quality of the group outcomes. In all cases, at least three judges were used.
They consisted of faculty members or advanced ("ABD") graduate students with
expertise in the area. Coding and rating procedures were developed and
refined during pilot studies, and judges were trained with pilot study
transcripts before being given the experimental data to rate or code.
The brief overviews that follow are essentially extended abstracts of parts
of dissertations that total 300 to 550 pages; obviously, in just a few pages,
many details such as a complete list of hypotheses with justifications, and
specifics of measurement of variables, must be omitted.
- . Question-Response tool and the Polling tool for an intellective task (peer
- . Designated leadership and sequential vs. parallel procedures for a mixed task,
choosing a stock portfolio.
3.1 The Effects of Voting Tools and Sequential Procedures for a Preference
This experiment, carried out by Dufner (Dufner, Hiltz and Turoff 1994;
Dufner, 1995; Dufner, Hiltz, Johnson and Czech, 1995), is a replication
(modified for implementation in asynchronous mode) and extension of the
doctoral research of conducted by Watson (1987) at the University of
Minnesota. The study, which was preceded by a full year of pilot studies,
extends the Watson research to include an investigation of adaptive
structuration, media richness, system and task expectations, and training
(Dufner 1989, 1995; Hiltz et al. 1991).
The Foundation Task, developed at Minnesota and used for this
experiment, can be classified as a preference allocation task based on the
McGrath Circumplex model (McGrath 1984). The subjects play the role of a
foundation board, and are to reach consensus on how to allocate funds among
"applicants" representing very different kinds of objectives, such as cutting
local taxes, helping the homeless, or improving the town library.
3.1.1. Procedures and Experimental Design
Individuals were assigned randomly to groups, as much as was possible
given time constraints and schedules. These groups were then trained for
approximately three hours in the use of the medium (EIES 2) and in working
together to perform a group decision making task. All groups were given a
suggested agenda ("define the problem," etc.), as used by Watson, and their
conferences were seeded with root comments corresponding to each stage in
this suggested set of activities. TOOLS groups were also given training in the
use of the "List Activity" (an electronic flip chart) for group generation and
management of lists, and in the use of the "Vote Activity," which provided
three forms of voting on the items on the list. Groups assigned to a
SEQUENCED condition were instructed as follows: "You must all work on the
same agenda item together. The group decides when to move to a new agenda
item. You do not have to follow the agenda order. However, you must all work
on the same agenda item together. You are asked not to work ahead of or
following the group." The "not sequenced" groups were not clearly instructed
that they were free to work in parallel; they simply were not given these
After training, each group was given five business days to perform the
experimental task. Groups were instructed to communicate only through the
medium. No formal facilitation was provided to the groups, although technical
assistance was given when anyone asked for help. There were a total of 31
groups with 119 subjects; group size varied from 3 to 8 subjects.
3.1.2. Hypotheses and Selected Results
From pilot studies (Dufner 1989, Hiltz et al 1991) we knew that groups in
asynchronous mode encounter coordination problems (Dufner, Hiltz and Turoff
1994) that cause frustration with the medium. Therefore, we hypothesized that
the TOOLS and SEQUENTIAL PROCEDURES would make significant
contributions to subjectively reported perceptions of medium richness (Zmud,
Lind and Young 1990) and satisfaction with the process in the asynchronous
No significant difference in the SEQUENCED versus NOT SEQUENCED
groups was found. Re-examining the manipulation, we decided that we could
not determine whether this was because imposing a sequenced process truly
makes no difference, or whether the manipulation was not strong enough.
Therefore, we noted that examining the "sequenced" vs. "parallel" process
should be tried again in a subsequent experiment.
The TOOLS Groups perceived more media richness, reporting that the
medium was significantly more dependable, convenient, flexible, and wide-
ranging than did the groups not supported with tools. The TOOLS groups also
perceived the system as more personal, more rich, and as providing more
feedback and more immediate feedback than did the groups not supported with
tools . TOOLS groups were also found to be significantly more likely to
recommend the system for future meetings; to have enjoyed their participation
in the discussion; and to have a higher opinion of the overall quality of the
discussion than did the groups not supported with tools.
These experimental results seem to indicate that user perceptions of
media richness and of the quality of group processes can be improved by
providing voting tools that support group discussions, at least for preference
type tasks, where the primary goal is to reach consensus. This contrasts with
the findings by Watson (1987) for the same task and the same type of tools in a
synchronous (Decision Room) environment, where tools created few significant
Despite the significant and consistent positive effects of providing the
listing and voting tools on subjective perceptions, there were no significant
results on other dependent variables measured in this experiment, including
changes in level of consensus and the group's equality of influence. Because
this experiment did not have decisions that could be rated on quality, the
effectiveness of tools such as "List" and "Vote" should be examined for
intellective tasks or other tasks for which quality measures can be obtained, in
3.2. Effects of Decision Approach and Experience on Planning Tasks
The basic objective of this longitudinal experiment (Fjermestad, 1994;
Fjermestad et.al, 1995) was to examine the performance and attitude changes
of groups involved with strategic decision making in a computer-mediated-
communications (CMC) environment. The two independent variables of
interest were decision approach and experience. Decision approach consisted
of dialectical inquiry (DI; Schwenk, 1990), which is a structured approach to
induce conflict, and constructive consensus, which is a set of instructions
telling the group to reach agreement. Experience consisted of working with a
group on two related but different tasks, each taking two weeks to complete.
Previous research in the field of organizational strategic decision making
has demonstrated that structured conflict can improve the quality of decisions
(Mason,1969; Mitroff et al, 1979; Mitroff and Mason, 1981; Schweiger et al
1986, 1989; Schwenk, 1990; Tjosvold, 1982) and negatively affect both group
perceptions and process outcomes (Schweiger et al 1986, 1989; Turoff, 1991).
The two basic structured conflict methods are DI and Devils's Advocate (DA).
Schwenk's meta-analysis (1990) indicates that for studies that focus on
groups, DI has a slight advantage over the DA.
The tasks were unstructured decision making tasks, with no right or
wrong answers; they are Type 4 (Planning) based on McGrath's (1984) task
circumplex, and fit Schweiger et al's (1986) requirements for strategic decision
making. The three specific tasks used in this study were developed by
Chidambaram (1989) and were were modified and updated for use in an
asynchronous communications mode instead of a set of discrete FtF meetings.
The Threat of Takeover task was used as a training task for all groups and the
Issue of Image and Product Line Expansion were the experimental tasks.
3.2.1. Procedures and Experimental Design
The research design is a 2 X 2 factorial repeated measures design. The
factors are decision approach and experience. Groups in each decision
approach were given two weeks (10 business days) to complete each of two
The 160 subjects used in the study were undergraduate and graduate
students in computer science and management information systems at NJIT.
They all had some fluency with the use of E-mail and computers and were
given course credit and a grade for participation. All subjects were assigned to
groups based upon availability and scheduling constraints. The ideal group
size was six subjects per group, but due to the subjects' scheduling
constraints, the actual group sizes ranged from four to seven (Fjermestad,
1994). Experimental conditions and task orders were randomly assigned to the
The Dialectical Inquiry Approach (DI) is based upon the procedures
developed by Schweiger et al (1986, 1989) and Tung and Heminger (1993),
modified to support asynchronous communication and decision making
(Fjermestad, 1994). The DI groups were divided into two subgroups, denoted
as the Plan and Counter-plan subgroups. These groups were in separate
conferences on EIES 2. All members of both groups were to initially develop an
individual recommendation (including supporting facts and assumptions)
within two business days and enter it in a List Activity in the CMC system.
The Plan group then had two days to develop a single recommendation.
Members read the individual case recommendations and then debated and
discussed them in a Question Activity which requires each participant to reply
before viewing other's replies. When complete, a case leader organized and
entered the subgroup's recommendation. This was then submitted to the
Counter-plan sub-group, which had two days to negate the assumptions and
develop a counter-plan.
The moderator then created a new conference for the full group and
added the plan and counter-plan. The Full group's objective was to critically
evaluate the plan and counter-plan through debate and discussion, and to
develop a single final group recommendation. A Voting Activity was available if
the group chose to use it, in all conditions. The time limit for this task was
four business days.
The Constructive Consensus Approach (CC) follows the basic method
developed by several researchers (Hall, 1971; Hiltz et al, 1991; Nemiroff et al,
1976; Schweiger et al, 1986). The CC groups functioned as one group and
were in a single conference for the entire task. Their objective was to reach
consensus on a single final recommendation. Each individual group member
had two days to develop an individual recommendation. The group then had
eight business days to examine the case situations systematically and logically,
in order to develop a final recommendation through debate and discussion. A
Voting Activity was available if the group chose to use it.
3.2.2. Selected Hypotheses and Results
Based on previous research in FtF conditions cited above, it was
hypothesized that DI groups would be superior to consensus-structured groups
in terms of effectiveness (decision quality), but would be less efficient and
express less subjective satisfaction than the consensus structured groups. It
was also expected that group performance would improve on the second
replication of the use of the assigned decision sturcture, and that furthermore,
there would be an interaction. Since DI is an unfamiliar structure, it was
expected that the improvement would be more marked for the DI groups.
Contrary to these expectations, there were very few differences between
"Task 1" and "Task 2", and no differences between DI and CC groups in terms
of group performance. DI groups required significantly more asynchronous
meeting time and communication to complete their recommendations . Depth
of evaluation as rated by judges showed no difference; but perceived depth of
evaluation was lower in DI than in CC groups. CC groups reported greater
decision acceptance and willingness to work together again than DI groups.
Relatively few experiential effects were observed. Thus, no advantages were
observed for the DI approach as compared to a consensus approach that also
carefully structured the interaction, but it took more work and produced less
This study of asynchronous strategic decision making and a study using
decision room GSS by Tung and Heminger (1993) report that there are no
differences in effectiveness between constructive consensus and dialectical
inquiry groups in a GSS environment. Perhaps what is happening is that the
GSS technology is significantly improving the consensus groups to the point
where the outcomes are as high as the structured conflict processes in a FtF
environment. Thus, GSS equalizes consensus groups' performance to that of
the Dialectical Inquiry groups without affecting decision and process
satisfaction and without any of the process losses.
3.3. Effects of Mode and Structure for a Creative Task: Distributed
Software Design Teams
The experiment conducted by Ocker (1995; see also Ocker et. al., 1995)
investigates the effects of distributed asynchronous communication on small
groups performing high-level requirements analysis and design work. It is the
first experiment to examine the software design process in a fully distributed
environment. The experimental task is the Automated Post Office (APO);
groups are required to develop and reach consensus on the initial requirements
and interface design of an APO and to submit these in the form of a written
report. The APO task, as used in this experiment, is a modification of the task
used by the University of Michigan (Olson et al., 1991, 1992, 1993). It is
primarily a creativity type task, but also contains elements of planning and
decision making (McGrath, 1984). The APO task can also be categorized as
occurring during the early stages of the innovation process (West, 1990).
3.3.1. Variables and Major Hypotheses
Two variables were manipulated in this experiment. The first variable, an
imposed process, pertains directly to the degree of coordination required for the
effective performance and satisfaction of groups working on a creative task.
Groups in the imposed process conditions followed a sequence of steps adopted
from research on argumentation and structured communication (IBIS; Kunz
and Rittel, 1970; "Design Space Analysis," MacLean et al. 1991). The imposed
process contained three main phases: (1) generation of design alternatives (2)
period of critical reflection and individual evaluation of alternatives and (3)
group evaluation of alternatives and consensus reaching. The second variable
is mode of communication (asynchronous computer-mediated communication
(CMC) vs. face-to-face). It was expected that asynchronous CMC groups would
out-perform FtF groups, because of fewer process losses, and the ability of
each of the participants to think and work at their own paces. Dependent
variables include performance outcome (quality and creativity), and group
H1: Asynchronous CMC groups will produce solutions of higher quality
than Face to Face (FtF) groups.
The problem solving structure was chosen due to its capability to
structure communication and for its fit with the activity of design. It was felt
that FtF groups would not need this added coordination, because high-level
design has its own inherent structure (Olson et. al. 1992), but that it would
ease the cognitive burden of distributed asynchronous groups. Therefore, an
interaction was hypothesized:
H2: CMC structured groups and FtF groups will produce solutions of
higher quality than CMC unstructured groups and FtF structured groups.
Based on an analysis of the task requirements (e.g. Guindon, 1990;
Simon, 1973; King & Anderson, 1990; West, 1990), it was hypothesized that
overall, the solutions produced by the asynchronous groups would be more
creative than those produced by the face-to-face groups.
H3. CMC groups will produce more creative solutions than FtF groups
Again, based on relative coordination requirements, an interaction effect
was hypothesized such that the solutions produced by the asynchronous
imposed-process groups and face-to-face no-imposed-process groups would be
more creative than those produced by asynchronous no-imposed-process
groups and face-to-face imposed-process groups. Finally, it was hypothesized
that the face-to-face groups would be more satisfied than the asynchronous
groups because FtF is a "richer," more personal medium.
Subjects were undergraduate students enrolled in an undergraduate
upper level systems design course, or graduate students in CIS, MIS, or the
MBA program. The marjority had coursework and/or job experience directly
relevant to systems design.
Groups were required to reach consensus on the initial requirements of
the APO and to submit these requirements in a formal report at the end of the
experiment. The asynchronous design groups communicated using the EIES 2
computer conferencing system; each of these groups communicated in its own
computer conference. The experiment lasted two weeks.
The asynchronous groups met together for one three hour training
session, while the face-to-face groups met twice for a total of six hours, with
the first and second sessions spaced exactly two weeks apart. Both the FtF
groups and the asynchronous groups in the imposed process condition were
trained on the process using the same script. All asynchronous groups were
trained on the basic use of the EIES 2 system.
The FtF groups had a PC and word processor available for creating their
final reports. (Technical difficulties led two groups to hand write their report;
these were among the longer reports, so it does not seem to have negatively
affected them. These were later transcribed.)
The computer conferences and FtF meetings were minimally facilitated.
The facilitator played the role of a technical assistant, helping groups with
equipment problems and answering questions of a technical nature.
All participants completed questionnaires, which was the source of
subjective satisfaction data. All groups' final reports were printed using the
same word processing package, to mask indications of mode of communication.
Quality and creativity of solution were rated by an expert panel of judges, using
procedures and scoring adapted from Olson & Olson.
3.3.3. Major findings
The overall quality of solution was rated by a panel of expert judges to be
equally good between the asynchronous groups and the face-to-face groups.
(Although the asynchronous groups were rated as consistently higher, the
difference was significant only at the .07 level). Contrary to hypotheses, there
was no significant interaction effect between mode of communication and the
presence/absence of an imposed process in relation to quality of solution.
As for creativity, the solutions produced by the asynchronous groups
were judged to be significantly more creative than those produced by the face-
to-face groups. Again, there was no interaction effect between mode of
communication and the presence or absence of an imposed process.
Contrary to hypotheses, there were no significant differences between
CMC and FtF groups on key measures of subjective satisfaction: perceived
depth of analysis, solution satisfaction, and decision scheme satisfaction.
The imposed process was hypothesized to benefit asynchronous groups
by providing the added coordination which is missing in this form of
communication. There are several possible explanations for why this did not
occur. Concerning the design of the APO, a strong metaphor is available in the
form of automatic teller machines. The problem may have been familiar
enough to groups, so that the need for coordination might have been greatly
reduced; upon entering the group, group members already knew how to
approach the solution to this problem.
The major finding of this experiment is that groups which communicated
asynchronously, whether they followed a structured problem-solving approach
designed to enhance coordination or were left to their own devices to reach a
decision, produced significantly more creative results than the face-to-face
groups. A tentative conclusion is that asynchronous communication, in and of
itself, leads to higher levels of creativity. Possible explanations for this include
a greater amount of communication over an extended period of time, reduced
production blocking, and the production of a collective memory.
3.4. Effects of Question and Polling Activities on an Intellective Task:
Supporting the Peer Review Process
The task for this experiment consisted of review and decision on
publishability of a manuscript submitted to a refereed journal or conference.
Contrary to the traditional review process, where two or more experts review
and rate the quality of a manuscript individually, the distributed group support
system based review process as adopted in this experiment called upon
reviewers to undertake the task as part of a group, or panel. This new mode
for conducting a review involved performance processes that are typical of
intellective, decision making, and cognitive conflict tasks (McGrath, 1984). We
classify it as primarily intellective, since two criteria for rating the quality of the
solution were available: the ratings of the article by the actual reviewers of the
paper, and the ratings by a panel of expert judges. The desirability of a system
that can support group review activities in a different-time different-place mode
was evident. This study being the first to investigate the viability of a DGSS
based review process, motivated a research design that would allow the study
of independent and interactive effects of support tools from within a DGSS.
Two support tools, Poll and Question activities on EIES2, were made
available for this experiment, and utilized in a 2 x 2 factorial design. Poll
activity, especially developed for this research, allows reviewers to rate the
quality of a manuscript on various scales and enables them to view summary
statistics on group ratings. Several scales can be grouped into one Poll.
Question activity establishes a structured form of group discussion by
requesting the provision of justifications for ratings on individual scales and
maintaining an independent chain of discussion on each scale. Group
members' responses to Question activity are textual items with no limit on size,
whereas Poll activity responses consist of numbers representing scale anchors.
One important feature, common to both Poll and Question activities, is that
group members cannot view others' responses before having provided their own
An EIES2 conference was established for each group. The final data set
for this experiment consisted of 33 groups, with 30 groups of size three and 3
groups which began at size 3 but ended at size 2. The majority of subjects
were graduate students (73%); all subjects were enrolled in courses which
required them to read and critique journal articles, and to use EIES 2 as a
regular part of coursework. The mean age of subjects was 30 years with an
average full time work experience of slightly over five years. Since some
subjects were enrolled in distance sections of courses, the manuscript and
training materials instructing them how to use the tools and procedures for
their condition were mailed to all subjects, rather than being explained in a
face to face training session.
Subject groups reviewed a manuscript actually submitted to a refereed
source with a pending editorial decision. The selected manuscript met the
criteria developed as a result of three rounds of pilot studies and was judged to
be commensurate with ability levels of the potential subject population.
Groups in all four conditions were to (1) individually evaluate the
manuscript, (2) provide ratings and justifications for the ratings on six scales;
(3) share their responses with the group, and finally (4) discuss and reach
agreement on ratings. This four step process was to be completed over a period
of two weeks with steps 1 through 3 completed by the end of the first week. The
identities of group members were concealed through the use of "pen names".
Three measures for quality of group outcome were adopted: (1) quality of
the decision (disposition recommendation); (2) quality of the review; and (3)
comprehensiveness of the review. A panel of expert judges independently rated
the paper on the same scales as the subjects, and their ratings were compared
to those produced by each group. Disposition recommendation categories
consisted of (1) Accept as is (2) Accept with minor revisions (3) Major revisions;
or (4) Reject. The four expert judges were evenly divided on (3) "major
revisions" or (4) "rejection." Thus, either of the latter two recommendations
were considered "correct" in assessing quality of the decision in terms of the
correctness of the disposition recommendation.
The quality of the review was calculated on the basis of the deviation of
the group's decision from the judges' decisions on the separate aspects of the
manuscript (literature review, methodology, presentation style, etc.) The
comprehensiveness measure consisted of counts of the number of lines of
discussion associated with each of the separate scales: e.g. "substantive
emphasis" was the amount of attention paid to critiquing the literature review;
methodological emphasis, stylistic emphasis, interpretive emphasis, and
wisdom were lines devoted to methodological critiques, etc. (Cummings et al,
1985). Adaptive structuration was measured by a series of questionnaire
Since Question activity imposes a structure for group members to engage
in the group proceedings and coordinate their activities, it was expected that
Question activity groups would do better than No-Question groups on all three
measures of quality (Sambamurthy and DeSanctis, 1989; Easton, Vogel, and
Nunamaker, 1989). (Poll activity was expected to be primarily a consensus-
enhancing tool, rather than a quality-enhancing tool; these results are not
included here.) There were also expected to be some interactions between Poll
and Question. In all cases, a moderating variable must be pre-discussion level
of agreement; if most of the individual reviewers agreed on their initial ratings,
one would not expect any of the tools used to make much difference. In
addition, many hypotheses were developed with the basic premise that positive
forms of Adaptive Structuration (high levels of comfort, consensus, and respect
regarding the tools) would be strongly related to favorable outcomes.
3.4.3. Selected Findings and Conclusions
No differences in the quality of decision were detected due to Question or
Poll activity. In fact, most groups reached a decision that the paper could not
be accepted; thus, there was very little variance from a correct decision in
ratings for disposition of the paper, and hence none of the independent and
intervening variables were significantly associated with this measure.
With respect to the quality of the review, the results showed that
mprovement depended upon the level of pre-discussion agreement. If groups
started with a lower level of initial agreement, then the quality of review was
enhanced by the tools. Specifically, at lower levels of initial agreement, groups
with the Question activity produced significantly higher quality reviews than
No-Question groups. Highly agreed upon poor quality ratings before the
discussion phase left little or no opportunity for an improvement in the quality
of review through discussion. Unexpectedly, the Poll activity showed a
marginally significant (p = 0.0797) main effect on the quality of the review.
This main effect was attributed to the fact that Poll activity groups had
significantly lower levels of pre-discussion agreement than No-Poll groups. No
significant effects on quality of the review were observed due to the modes of
In terms of the effects on the measures of comprehensiveness, relatively
few effects of the Question activity were supported. One of the significant
finding was that groups that used the Question activity had significantly higher
wisdom (concern for the paper's contribution and significance) in their reviews
than No-Question groups. Mediating effects of the level of pre-discussion
agreement similar to those for quality of review were observed on the amount of
methodological emphasis. An unexpected, though not surprising, result was
that in the absence of the Question activity, the Poll activity had a negative
effect on interpretive emphasis.
Mediating effects of the modes of appropriation (Poole and DeSanctis,
1990; DeSanctis and Poole, 1994) on measures of comprehensiveness were
rare. The level of challenge was observed to be one of the stronger mediating
factor. Additionally, it was observed that a higher level of respect for the
system did not always lead to an enhanced level of performance.
Despite the fact that the majority of the hypothesized effects were not
observed, the experimental findings offer important implications for the review
process. In summary, it was concluded that the strength of the DGSS based
review process lies in its ability to allow for (i) disagreement among reviewers
before the discussion phase, and (ii) the subsequent opportunity for resolution
of the disagreements with the use of support tools. These mechanisms
combined with anonymous contributions can be profitably used to avoid many
commonly noted dissatisfactions with the traditional peer review process
(Rana, Hiltz, & Turoff, 1995; Peters and Ceci, 1982; Mahoney, 1977, 1978;
1985; Cole, Rubin and Cole, 1977; Cole, Cole, and Simon, 1981).
Currently, a peer review system is being developed for the World Wibe
Web. The system uses the object base of EIES2 and provides an easy to use
and attractive http interface through popular browsers, such as NetScape. The
plans are to conduct field trials of the viability and potential benefits of the
collaborative review process.
3.5. Effects of Parallel vs. Sequential Procedures and of a Designated
Leader for an Intellective/Mixed (Stock Selection) Task
Silver (1990) defined system restrictiveness as the degree to which and
the manner in which a system limits its users' decision-making processes to a
subset of all possible processes. The objective of this study is to examine how
the use of coordination structures with different degrees of coordination
flexibility, or system restrictiveness, affect group performance in a distributed
asynchronous GSS (or DGSS for short) environment.
The investment club task, developed for this study, is classified as
primarily an intellective task. A group was asked to select at least one, but no
more than three stocks from a list of 15 stocks to maximize its portfolio value
in six months. Six months after the experiment, all portfolio values were
calculated and ranked to evaluate decision quality. The task also has aspects
of a planning task, since the group had to decide what information to gather
and how to evaluate this information, in order to reach a decision; and of a
preference task, since the group had to reach agreement, and at the time of the
decision, there was no way to actually know what decision would turn out to be
best six months later.
3.5.1 Experimental Design and Procedures
The experiment (Kim, 1996) was conducted with a 2x2 factorial design.
There were 212 subjects in 47 groups. The subjects were Rutgers, NJIT, and
Fairleigh Dickinson university students enrolled in various degree programs.
All subjects in all conditions were give the same basic agenda as a coordinating
structure, consisting of root comments in their conferences which requested
them to define objectives, decide on criteria, review the candidates (stocks, in
the case of the experimental task), evaluate the candidates on the criteria, and
reach agreement on selection. Training was given to all subjects in the form of
a week long asynchronous conference, which included a practice task, the
selection of a leader by following the agenda, ending with the sending of a
private message to the experimenter by each member, giving a rank ordering.
Four coordination structures were created with two independent
variables. The four coordination structures were different in that each
structure restricted interaction in a different way. In parallel communication
groups, all discussion items were presented, and discussed concurrently by all
members of the group, throughout the experiment. Sequential communication
groups discussed one item on the agenda at a time. Once a group moved to the
next item, revisiting the previous items was not allowed.
In sequential groups, moving from one discussion item to the next item
was made by a leader's decision (in groups with a leader), or by a timetable (in
groups without a leader). In sequential groups without a leader, the discussion
deadline for each discussion item was announced to the groups at the
beginning of the experiment. In sequential groups with a leader, the leader
made the summary of the discussion of the item for the group, and opened the
next discussion item. In parallel groups with a leader, the only requirement for
a leader was to summarize group discussion once in a while.
Groups without a designated leader heard no more about this topic after
the training. For those in the Leader conditions, the experimenter used the
individual rankings to arrive at the most preferred leader. This was announced
in the group's conference, along with the leader's role. The leader was
specifically empowered to assign a division of labor, and requested to track and
summarize the group's progress. Leaders also were put in a "leadership
conference" where they could ask questions about the role.
3.5.2. Major Hypotheses and Findings
It was expected that groups supported with a less restrictive structure
would perform better than groups supported with a highly restrictive structure.
Previous research on DGSS indicated that an imposed coordination structure
can be overly restrictive due to the limited bandwidth of the interaction
medium ( Hiltz, et al., 1990), and the need to synchronize individual activities.
Previous research also demonstrated that a GSS with a high degree of system
restrictiveness had negative impacts on group performance (Chidambaram and
Jones, 1993; McLeod and Loker, 1992; Mennecke, et al., 1992). GSS's with a
high degree of system restrictiveness leave no freedom for the group to
adaptively structure the system to its own preferable decision strategy
(DeSanctis and Poole, 1991; Poole and DeSanctis, 1990). DGSS, in which
coordination of individual activities is one of the major requirements, should
not be highly restrictive. Research indicates that individuals come to the group
with a relatively inflexible preference for a particular decision making strategy
(Putnam, 1982). Therefore, DGSS should be flexible enough to allow the
individuals freedom to concentrate on aspects of the problem to which he or
she can best contribute (Turoff, et al., 1993).
A previous experiment with synchronous CMC (Hiltz, Johnson & Turoff,
1991) found that a designated leader elected by the group could improve the
quality of decision for an intellective task. Therefore, it was hypothesized that
this would also be true in a distributed environment.
Many of the observed differences in dependent variables were not
significantly related to experimental condition. However, objective decision
quality, evaluated with actual portfolio values six months after the experiment,
was significantly better for leader than for no-leader conditions. Parallel
groups perceived that their decision quality was better than that of sequential
groups. Parallel groups also had higher decision quality as objectively
measured, but not significantly so (p= .14). The average length of comments in
the Leader conditions was longer than in the No Leader conditions; there were
no other differences in consensus and participation.
Satisfaction with a coordination process was higher in sequential
groups, and higher in groups without a designated leader than groups with a
leader. (As in many other studies, these subjective satisfaction results run
counter to the objective quality results). Satisfaction with the group, however,
was higher in parallel groups. Sequential groups reported more improved
understanding of the task structure than parallel groups.
It is interesting to notice that sequential groups showed higher
satisfaction with the coordination process and more improved task
understanding than parallel groups. This is contrary to what was expected,
but consistent with some previous research, which indicates that GSS should
be designed with some degree of restrictiveness (Dickson, Partridge &
Robinson, 1993). Too much freedom in group interaction decreases group
cohesiveness. This, in turn, increases the decision cost either by generating a
lower quality decision or taking more time to make a decision. Therefore, a
coordination structure in Distributed GDSS (DGSS) should impose some
restrictions on interaction to maintain a certain level of group cohesiveness.
In future research, the degree of system restrictiveness of a coordination
structure needs to be defined more precisely. In this study, sequential
coordination was assumed to be more restrictive than parallel simply because
it has more procedural order. However, the findings of this study can not be
generalized, or compared to the findings of other research, unless the degree of
restrictiveness can be objectively determined. Very little is known about what
determines the perceived degree of system restrictiveness.
Though leadership is the process of coordinating the activities of group
members (Jago, 1982), there were not many significant findings related to the
leader variable. One explanation may be that, though research on leadership
explains the variety of leadership styles (House, 1971; Stogdill, 1959), the
leader function in this study was too narrowly defined. All leaders were
expected to behave exactly the same as they were instructed, regardless of their
natural leadership style. Implementing leader's functions in DGSS as process
structuring tools is one of the requirements in designing DGSS. The successful
implementation of leadership functions in DGSS, however, is dependent on the
further understanding of coordination effectiveness of different leadership
styles within different contingent factors of DGSS (Turoff, et al., 1993). Little
research has been done in this area.
4. Summary and Conclusions
On the basis of prior studies, several measures were taken to help to
assure the effectiveness of the CMC groups in these experiments, regardless of
the experimental condition or manipulation which they represented. All
received substantial training and practice before being left on their own for a
week or two to do their experimental task (with the exception of the Peer
Review experiment, in which all subjects were already system users). All were
at least technically facilitated, with the facilitator checking in daily to see if
there were any problems requiring assistance (some also had designated group
leaders). All had a clearly stated task, objective, and deadline, and all subjects
considered the task at least minimally important, since it was a graded
assignment. If any of these conditions were omitted, we suspect that the
results would be negative (Hiltz and Turoff, 1991).
There are three basically different conceptualizations about the nature of
CMC, and of asynchronous CMC in particular. One point of view, becoming
less prevalent now that millions of people are spending hundreds of millions of
hours "surfing the net" for "fun," is that it is a "poverty stricken" and "cold"
medium. This point of view focuses on what it is not: it does not have some of
the channels of communication of the face-to-face medium.
Most of those scholars who have spent time developing and studying
CMC as a support for group interaction share the assumption that it can be an
effective and sociable form of communication, but they differ on how this can
best come about. One group views such systems essentially as a technological
mechanism, feeling that effective CMC must be built into a feature-rich and
highly structured and restricted environment. Groups need to have the
technology essentially "force" them to behave in what are seen as effective ways
to use the medium, in order to minimize process losses and maximize process
gains (Johnson-Lenz, 1991). An example of this approach is the Coordinator
(Flores, e.g., 1988), or software to force a completely sequential mode of
coordination of interaction.
The second approach to building CMC systems conceives them as a
context for interaction, "containers" so to speak, just as rooms are. This
conception is based on a social theory that human systems are self-organizing
and arise out of the unrestricted interaction of autonomous individuals. From
this perspective, the role of the computer system is to provide a place for people
to meet and self organize (Johnson-Lenz, 1991).
CMC is a very different form of communication than face to face
meetings, and it takes some time for individuals to learn to use both the
mechanics and the social dynamics of such systems effectively. All of the
experiments presented here have included at least one condition in which
groups used asynchronous CMC, but without time pressure. They had
adequate training and at least a week to complete their discussions and
produce their group product or decision. Under these conditions, it appears
that groups do not need a restrictive, "mechanistic" approach to coordinating
their interaction. They are capable of organizing themselves and will tend to
feel frustrated by overly restrictive structures or procedures, and/or to become
Almost all of our attempts at a mechanistic process intervention had no
significant positive effects on outcomes. For example, there were no significant
differences in the major dependent variables measuring outcomes, between the
"imposed sequential" process and the no-process or parallel process groups for
the preference task, or for the investment task. Likewise, for a creativity task,
there was no difference between groups that followed an imposed procedure,
and those that did not; and for a planning task, there was no difference
between groups that used Dialectical Inquiry and those that used a consensus
On the other hand, the presence of "tools" that a group can use when it
is ready to, does seem to improve the perceived richness of CMC, and can
improve process and outcomes. The tools that we have provided in various
experiments include the ability to build a common list, a set of voting options,
the "question-response activity" that structures the exchange of ideas and
opinions similar to Nominal Group Process, the possibility of anonymity, and a
"polling" tool which can allow a group to construct any sort of questionnaire
type item, and display results of the polling. One must choose the tools made
available to the group very carefully, to match them to the nature of the task
and the size of the group, we suspect, though we have not experimented with
the option of just "throwing" all the available tools at a group and letting it
decide on its own what might be appropriate and how to use it. We suspect
that even two weeks is too short a time to expect a group to deal effectively with
this much complexity, but that very long term groups which interact for
months to years, would do perfectly well with such a tool chest at their
The results of these experiments support the assertion that
asynchronous CMC is not like any other form of group communication; not
only is it not like Face to Face unsupported meetings, but it also has very
different dynamics than a computer-supported meeting in a "decision room."
Coordination mechanisms and tools that "work" or "don't work" in other media
tend to have very different effects in the distributed environment.
Things that "work" in an FtF environment may not help coordination and
thus improve outcomes in the distributed environment. For example, DI has
generally been found to be very beneficial to FtF groups. On the other hand,
things that "do not work" in the FtF or Decision Room mode of communication,
may be beneficial in the distributed mode. For example, though Watson (1987)
did not find any significant benefits for Listing and Voting tools in a Decision
Room, Dufner (1995; results summarized above) did observe many aspects of
significant enhancement of results associated with the use of these tools.
The results of the experiments also confirm that measures of adaptive
structuration are very important in the study of distributed, asynchronous
GSS. Particularly since the group has no facilitator physically present to
enforce suggested procedures, and because they have so long a period to
evolve, they may not behave at all like what was intended and expected in
regard to the use of suggested tools and procedures.
5. The Present and the Future
We remain optimistic about the potential benefits of asynchronous,
distributed Computer Mediated Communication for supporting groups. The
one experiment in this series so far that directly compared CMC and FtF
groups, found that CMC groups produced significantly more creative results,
for a creativity task (Ocker, 1995, reported above). We hope to do many more
cross-media comparisons in the future, particularly if we are ever successful in
our quest to obtain the necessary equipment for a state of the art "Decision
Room" environment. As a start in this direction, the Ocker research has been
extended thus far to examing two additional communication conditions,
synchronous CMC groups, and "mixed mode" groups which have two hours of
FtF meeting, two weeks of aysnchronous CMC, and a final face to face meeting.
We have concluded that the use of an asynchronous CMC system for
GSS allows for a much wider range of possible coordination modes and tool
support than is effective for synchronous meetings. All of the experiments to
date have confirmed that even the most extreme asynchronous structures do
not reduce the quality of the solutions when compared to more classical
coordination and group approaches. The reasons for this cannot as yet be
confirmed by any of the experiments, but they are hinted at from some of the
To truly understand what is taking place there is a need to have groups
deal with more complex and involved problems and to augment the typical
statistical analysis with detailed content analysis of the discussions. Though
extremely tedious, content analysis could resolve the alternative explanations
for our results. In addition, the nature of benefits listed above are such that
they may make a significant difference in quality only when dealing with fairly
complex tasks that also instill a high degree of motivation for the group
While controlled experiments are informative for very specific issues,
much of the insight that is needed for the support of asynchronous group
communications has and will come from field trials and quasi experiments
(Turoff et al 1993; Hiltz & Turoff, 1993). One key example of this has been our
work in the area of collaborative learning (the Virtual Classroom (TM), Hiltz,
1994; see also Worrell et al, 1995). Its purpose is to use computer support to
increase both access to and the effectiveness of education, at all levels. Rather
than being built of steel and concrete, the Virtual Classroom consists of a set of
group communication and work "spaces" and facilities that are constructed in
software. Thus it is a "virtual" facility for interaction among the members of a
class, rather than a physical space. It is "asynchronous," meaning that
students and teachers may connect through the networks and participate any
time, day or night, seven days a week. The software activities developed for
this application stress collaborative learning approaches.
Field trials of various types with collaborative learning have been taking
place at NJIT since 1980. Currently NJIT offers complete undergraduate degree
programs in Information Systems and in Computer Science and many
additional graduate courses through a remote learning program utilizing
asynchronous group communications.
What this example and others have taught us, when combined with the
experimental work in GSS, is that the key to successful systems is to discard
many of the biases that come from making comparisons to face-to-face
approaches and trying to adapt an approach of automating the face-to-face
environment. Rather, the factors that seem to be crucial to enhancing our
understanding of this area and in the future design of the functionality for
such systems include:
- * All individuals are free to participate as they see fit and as much as they
- * The freedom of participation as an individual seems to encourage:
- * a greater expression of ideas
- * more reflection
- * less inhibition of ideas
- * consideration of more options
* Providing a “non linear agenda” that allows the individual members of
the group to focus on the contributions that each can best make,
independent of the work of other members of the group at that moment
in time (Turoff, 1991).
The reason why these factors have not played a significant role in most
current GSS work has been the typical lack of complexity of the problem being
The other area that our research is focusing on is the software
development process and tools to support that task. Initially, the primary
objective of this ongoing project is to increase knowledge about how to create
more productive systems to support distributed, collaborative groups,
particularly for complex software design and planning type tasks. The sub-
tasks in the software development area span a wide range of critical problem
* Allowing a group to tailor the relationships structure of comments to fit
the application domain as they perceive it. This can only be done by
freeing fixed comment relationship structures to provide a full
collaborative Hypertext capability (Turoff, Rao, & Hiltz, 1991; Rao &
* Providing “reciprocal” coordination structures (Turoff & Hiltz, 1993)
which will be able to check on consistency and agreement at the group
level and inform participants when they need to reconsider their inputs
based upon more recent contributions of others.
* The need for enhanced creativity in the design process.
Within systems development, it is recognized that the stages of
requirements definition and high-level design are important, and even crucial
to the development of effective software. Collaborative designers work to
achieve some consensus on the general characteristics of the new system in
question (Olson, 1991). Ineffective communication during the requirements
definition process is consistently associated with user dissatisfaction and lower
quality systems, while effective communication is associated with improved
productivity and higher quality systems (Curtis, 1988). Additionally, it has
been increasingly suggested that the development of information systems and
the definition of high-level requirements and design, could benefit from the
infusion of creative and innovative solutions (e.g., Couger, 1993; Telem, 1988).
Particularly critical to this area will be the adding of additional tools and
processes (such as group hypertext/ hypermedia authoring capabilities). Daft
and Lengel were certainly right when they pointed out that the objective of
most work meetings is to reduce both uncertainty and equivocality (Daft &
Lengel, 1986) in unstructured problem solving.
While most work in the Hypertext area appreciates the utility of non-
linear relationships in the content of the material to reduce uncertainty;
however, it also seems self-evident that the problem of equivocality can only be
handled by allowing people to perceive one another’s reactions to the
information. This has always been clear in the context of asynchronous
communications, where it is critical that each participant needs to know the
status of the other members and the group as a whole. Within the context of a
collaborative Hypertext environment, it becomes necessary for the individuals
to be able to perceive how others traverse the network and how they modify it
in a thought process type of temporal sequence.
The concept of utilizing Hypertext to support individuals to integrate the
different domains supporting software engineering analysis, design and
development is not new (Isakowitz, 1993). However, the equally important
concept of supporting group processes and collaboration (Turoff, 1991) has
received only a limited amount of attention. The specific goal of our research
will be to focus on all the processes associated with software development that
may be aided by Collaborative Hypertext Systems (Balasubramanian & Turoff,
1995). There have only been a few specific systems prototyped in this area
The current emergence of a whole new generation of implementation
tools means that in the future it will be much easier to develop specific
Decision Support functionality and Hypertext capabilities. It also means that
there will be a major shift back to more internal development of tailored user
software within organizations, rather than the current emphasis on purchased
software. An objective of future research in the Group Support Systems area
should be to provide a kind of "checklist" of what kinds of tools and procedures
are likely to be helpful for different types of tasks, so that organizations can be
guided in their self-tailoring of software to fit their needs.
* Greater understanding of requirements between users and designers (e.g.
experts who sometimes speak different languages)
* The planning of projects and efforts.
* Complex project management, which includes the tracking and
monitoring of what has been accomplished, the detection of potential
problems and the handoff and coordination of work between different
individuals and sub-groups.
This research was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation
program on Coordination Theory and Collaboration Technology (NSF IRI
9015236 and NSF-IRI-9408805). The opinions expressed do not necessarily
represent those of the National Science Foundation. Among the many people
who have contributed to the program of research, in addition to the co-authors,
are Raquel Benbunan, Robert Czech, Kenneth Johnson, Cesar Perez, Ronald
Rice, Scott Poole, James Whitescarver, and William Worrell.
Balasubramanian, V. and Turoff, M. A Systematic Approach to User Interface,
Design for Hypertext Systems, Proceedings, 28th HICSS, Vol. IV., 241-
Chidambaram, L., An Empirical Investigation of the Impact of Computer
Support on Group Development and Decision-Making Performance,
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