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Decentralizing the control room: Mobile work and institutional order

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Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, The Netherlands


This paper seeks to inform the ongoing redesign of air traffic management by examining current practices and the adoption of a new system aiming to relieve traffic control from work and reduce radio communication We report from ethnographic fieldwork among mobile, distributed airport ground personnel By examining the ways in which they use the 'old' technology, i e. VHF radio, we identify a set of important aspects of work carried out through radio talk These are: repairing misunderstandings, discussing the task-at-hand, and negotiating next actions. The new system fails to support this negotiation work, and is hardly ever used by the ground personnel. The distributed workers in the field make their own decisions and negotiate coordination with the tower based on local information. In this respect, current work practice is already decentralized to a certain extent The problem with the new system, we argue, is the idea to decentralize the organization by providing distributed workers with more information, whereas the current institutional arrangement for coordination is built upon highly formal and hierarchical ideas. When redesigning the system it is necessary to take into account the ways in which radio talk is used to carry out the everyday work among ground personnel


Juhlin, Oskar; Weilenmann, Alexandra (2001): Decentralizing the control room: Mobile work and institutional order. ECSCW 2001: Proceedings of the Seventh European Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work. DOI: 10.1007/0-306-48019-20. Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, The Netherlands. ISBN: 978-0-306-48019-5. pp. 379-397. Full Papers. Bonn, Germany. 2001-09-16