Making & Breaking Rules in IT Rich Environments
These are my notes taken during the presentation and then tidied up a bit in terms of spelling and sense – so they may well be limit, partial and mistaken!
The welcome came from Robin Williams noting that Kalle has a wide range of appointments and research interests and often acts as abridge builder across different subject disciplines and between American and European research communities. Kalle has been particularly supportive around research in IT infrastructures and in supporting the development of research communities on IT infrastructure.
Kalle starts the presentation with a discussion of the background of this paper that has been developing over the last five years. His research is positioned within science and technology studies (STS) but with a more behaviourist focus. This paper investigates issues of regulation which is fundamental to social interactions through establishing what is and is not acceptable behaviour within a specific context.
The example of the Securite Generale fraud by Jerome Kerviel who fooled the control systems to undertake fraudulent trading resulting in losses for the bank of approximately €5bn. This fraud was contrasted the old fashioned approaches to bank robbery and the regulatory regimes aimed at preventing such robberies to highlight that digital banking require new and different regulatory regimes.
IT systems embed rules that have regulatory functions on access to and the use of resources. Yet a key concern remains with how social actors comply with and work around these rules. So this research is concerned with how IT can be seen as materially based organisational regulation in interaction with the social.
What is a rule? Rules tend to be defined as a purely social statement on the expectations on behaviours by participants in a system and it is assumed that such rules are generally reciprocal. The expectations should create stabilities of behaviour yet are not mechanistic and so variances occur through misunderstanding, reinterpretation and resistance. For organisations, what is key is the materiality of rules through systems, processes, expressions in space design and so forth, that also generate stability over space and time. Regulation combines social and material components intertwined in a practice that decrease variance in behaviours and also facilitate the coordination of collective action.
Regulation is a meeting point of tensions between structure and agency raising questions on, for example, centralisation vs decentralisation of decision-making.
An IT system is a dynamic and expansive resource through which regulatory power is exercised by materialisation of rules. Rules are stored, diffused, enforced through IT. Rules encode and embed rules (Latour 1996, 2005) while rules become more complex through IT systems that allow complex combinations of rules. IT can track, record and identify events on a large scale and high speed and low cost – which is where big data can help identify and enforce new rules. Through IT, regulation becomes less visible as it is embedded in, for example, user-interfaces.
The example of high frequency trading and how IT rules are established that limit what types of trades can be operationalised – see Lewis’ Flashboys book.
Regulation has three dimensions: 1. the Rules that are materialised as a 2. IT artefact that is interdependent on 3. practices. Rules are coupled overtime with practices (such that the rule may be forgotten as it is embedded in the IT artefact.
IT regulation research in 1970s to 90s viewed regulation as oppressive and deterministic and in 1990s+ research was more concerned with deviation in practice. Alot of research in regulation positioned IT as a contextual variable while a much smaller number looked specifically at the IT in terms of materialisation, enactment of rules in practices and in the temporal aspects (Leonardi 2011). So research on IT and Regulation is limited.
Research to focus on sources of co-existence of multple IT based regulations generating heterogeneous and conflicting regulations so has multiple consequences.
Our focus is on practices of maintaining and transforming rules that mediate collective activity. Regulations are based on three types of origins: (i) autonomy where people agree on behaviours; (ii) control-orientated, explicit rules and laws based; or (iii) joint. The research is interested in practices in IT rich environments as rules become more invisible as they are ‘inscripted’ in to technology and/ or material. The same rule can be embedded in different ways, eg, speeding rules embedded in speed bumps and/ or in vocal warning from speedometer.
The study was a 7 year longitudinal study of regulatory episodes in a virtual learning environments. How teaching and learning behaviours are regulated through the VLE. Data was gathered from email logs, interviews and document analysis. The analysis focused on critical incidents, simple statistics and lexical analysis of emails.
The research questions were: 1. what is the focus of the regulatory episodes and 2. what was the temporal coupling between regulation and behaviour. The VLE provides a rich environment with alternative forms of regulation, dynamic in terms of wider changes in higher education, rules embedded in the application and how it is used.
Five types of regulatory episodes, all of which changed over time:
1. functional – restrictions on how users use the VLE based on the functionality of the VL
2. Tool orientated – specific tools are imposed for specific activities
3. Role orientated – which roles can use which aspects of the VLE
4. Procedure orientated – where learning processes such as course activities are practiced in new ways
5. Opportunity orientated.
Material regulation is dominant in functional and tool orientated rules while the social was dominant in role and procedure orientated rules.
The complexity of the multiplicity of rules and sources of rules led to confusion and difficulties in enforcing rules but, with low levels of constraint, were also sources of innovation in practices. Also, increasing the formal limits of the IT systems generated conflict over the rules.
As the operationalisation of the VLE continued over time so the complexity and volume of rules increased.
Over time the central administration of the university asserted increased control over the VLE for purposes of efficiency and uniformity of provision but also to legitimise its existence. But this increased control also removed a lot of local innovations. The materialisation of the rules in the VLE enabled greater centralised control. But also that IT choices then limits what future flexibility may be possible.