Factors affecting the design and implementation of decision support systems within organisations : lessons from two case studies with the environment agency, England and Wales
PublisherUniversity of Southampton
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Decision Support Systems (DSS) are computer tools that combine models and data, to a user interface to help decision-makers solve complex problems. Despite their perceived usefulness, DSS are often not used. Past and recent reviews of existing decision support tools have shown a lack of implementation. Reasons behind their rejection were multiple, from poor design to more complex organisational and personal issues. Researchers have advocated the use of a more user-centred design framework for DSS development. A series of approaches aimed at involving users in the design process have been developed and applied with mixed results. In this thesis, I argue that DSS success or failure may be due to a lack of fit between the design process and the culture of the organisation in which it is being implemented. Through literature reviews on science, decision-making, DSS and organisational culture and two case studies, I show how the assumptions taken by scientists and DSS developers on decision-making and problem-solving become embedded within the systems they produce and may conflict with that of users. I further propose a novel approach that is centred on an understanding of the cultural system in which DSS will be used. The culture-centred iterative design approach is based on a constructivist theoretical perspective using methodologies borrowed from the social sciences. It follows an iterative design process such as that described by Sprague and Carlson (1982) with an embedded investigation of the working culture of the organisation. The study of culture is performed through group and individual interviews and aims at identifying areas of potential frictions between the DSS stated aims and user norms and values. The results from the analyses are then used to produce a DSS that will maximise outputs whilst minimising the risk of rejection. The approach was applied to the development of TooiHab, a DSS for prioritising habitat enhancement work on rivers for the Environment Agency Thames Region Fisheries section. The Environment Agency is a government organisation responsible for the management and regulation of river ecology, pollution, discharge, abstraction and for the protection of land and property against flooding. Through this case study, I show how the use of a cultural enquiry as part of the design process can lead to the resolution of potential conflicts and a greater acceptance of DSS.