Affordances and constraints of rules on material agency of a collaborative IS
SujetTechnologie de l'information; Systèmes d'information; Réseaux sociaux d'entreprise; Travail collaboratif; Collaborative information systems; Corporate social networks; Collaborative system usage; User appropriation of collaborative technologies; Rules; IT usage; IT adoption; Sociomaterial practices; Affordances Theory; Imbrication metaphor
JEL codeM15; Z13
Conference name4th Organizations, Artifacts and Practices (OAP) Workshop
MetadataShow full item record
Abstract (EN)The emergence of collaborative information systems in organizations represents a new wave of change in IT usage (Aaron et al, 2010.). Indeed, individuals interacting with these information systems develop new usages and appropriation behaviors. The existence or the absence of rules to structure and control these practices is an important factor in this process of adaptation and appropriation. As a matter of fact, rules (or non-existent rules) can be a constraint or an opportunity, depending on how individuals perceive them. Although new technologies tend to be more flexible, customizable and adaptable to user needs (Leonardi, 2011), individuals can still be constrained in how they use a system. In fact, IS usage is generally subject to rules, which can be explicit or tacit, external or internal, and created by the organization or by users. These rules, when accepted, constitute a framework within which individuals operate. But, users can also seek to extend this framework, to transform it or to overcome it. Many studies have examined the factors affecting IT usage and IT adoption (e.g. Davis 1989, Agarwal and Karahanna 2000, Venkatesh 2000). However, IS research has paid scant attention to how rules influence work practices, especially sociomaterial practices related to IT usage. As Orlikowski and Scott (2008, p. 456; 2013, p. 79) point out, « sociomateriality is in its infancy » and « in the early stage of development », therefore offering new and various approaches to re-examine the established dichotomy between the social and the material (Orlikowski & Scott, 2013, p. 77). This research aims at furthering our understanding of the role played by the existence or the absence of rules on sociomaterial practices. More precisely, we will observe how official rules imposed by organizations and tacit rules established by users change sociomaterial practices related to collaborative technologies. To investigate this research issue, we anchor our analysis on Leonardi’s Affordances Theory (2011, 2012, 2013). Affordances theory was initially developed by Gibson (1977), who based his an alysis of perception on the relationship between a living individual (whether this individual is a human or an animal) and her surrounding environment. He particularly focuses on individuals’ adaptation to their environment, which is structured by the interactions that can occur between these two elements. Paul Leonardi applies this ecological theory to sociomateriality, and doing so, offers to researchers an original approach to study the relationship between individuals and collaborative technologies. Sociomaterial practices emerge where human and material agencies imbricate (Orlikowski, 2010; Leonardi, 2012, 2013). Those imbricated agencies mutually shape each other to set up a structure within which individuals and technologies evolve. The imbrication metaphor recognizes human and material agencies as two distinct phenomena which are « fundamentally interdependent » (Leonardi, 2011). Leonardi (2012, p. 37) notes that a material agency « is a construction that depends, in part, on materiality but also depends on one’s perceptions of whether materiality affords her the ability to achieve her goals or places a constraint upon her ». The chosen term of « imbrication » acknowledges the specificities of both human and material agencies. As Sassen (2006) states, « they work on each other but they do not produce hybridity. Each maintains its distinct irreducible character. » (cited in Leonardi, 2011, p. 151). The construction of this structure is therefore based in part on material agency, and is defined and shaped by the materiality of the artifact and the constraints and opportunities of the environment in which it is built. The rules enacted are both related to the materiality of the artefact (what it allows or does not allow to do) and to the environment (what the organization allows to do). Furthermore, this structure is based on the human agency, and in our case on what individuals consider acceptable or feasible. We have selected this conceptual framework, based on sociomateriality and affordances, to analyze the data gathered in a French telecommunication company. This setting has offered us the opportunity to conduct a case study where different types of data have been collected (i.e. internal documents, interviews, statistics). Our principal methodology is qualitative since we decided to conduct semi-structured interviews with users and non-users of a collaborative platform implemented in the company. Four years ago, a corporate social network was deployed in that company in order to "create more links between employees" as explained by the chief project manager. This collaborative tool provides online spaces where people can create online communities in order to share information and documents and to collaborate. The implementation of the corporate social network was done simultaneously with the revision of the Internet usage policy. This charter reminds users of their rights and obligations, when they express themselves on internal and external networks. The company also has a charter of best practices online. These two documents are relatively short, and do not specifically refer to the collaborative platform. Every user is supposed to read these policies when first registering on the company intranet. In fact, it appears that very few users read or knew about these policies. Some users assume that these policies exist, but they are not sure. The first dozens of interviews conducted on the field suggest that the existence of these policies - with rules and guidance issued by the company - do not impact sociomaterial practices. However, the tacit rules seem to play an important role. Indeed, the users that were interviewed base their practices on a personal ethics rather than on "official" rules. They explain that they know personally what they are allowed to do and what is forbidden. However, this understanding of what is acceptable or not differs between individuals. For instance, users’ perception of what should be shared or published on the collaborative system is very different. Users who are the most active on the platform, almost exclusively use the social network to work, and sometimes share elements that are more personal than professional. Other active users consider these practices as not appropriate on a corporate social network: they perceive the collaborative system as being the company’s resource. One user explained that some elements of her personal life were published without her being notified. In their practices, users seem to attach more importance to their perception of what feasible or acceptable, rather than on a clear, defined and official policy. To complete our study, we performed a comparison of the two IT policies of our research setting with external policies from other companies, namely the Social Media Guideline from Intel and Internet Postings Policy at Cisco. Results of this analysis will be presented at the workshop. Most policies that we found online and analyzed are brief and rather restrictive: they evoke certain legal obligations for users without imposing a specific code of conduct. They seem to be written more to support and help users, than to restrict their usage use of information systems. This qualitative study is ongoing and should be finished in April 2014. The next interviews should allow investigating further the role and impact of tacit rules on sociomaterial practices. This research aims to contribute to clarify the role of rules in the constitution of sociomaterial practices. In addition, this research will offer managerial contribution to companies by providing a thorough understanding of collaborative system usage and user appropriation of collaborative technologies.
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