Systems engineering of sociotechnical systems Maarten Ottens m
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Systems engineering of sociotechnical systems Maarten Ottens m

mottenstbmtudelftnl Peter Kroes pakroestbmtudelftnl Maarten Franssen mpmfranssentbmtudelftnl Ibo van de Poel irvandepoel tbmtudelftnl Section of Philosophy Faculty of TP M Delft University of Technology PO Box 5015 2600 GA Delft the Netherlands Copyr

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Systems engineering of sociotechnical systems Maarten Ottens m




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Systems engineering of socio-technical systems Maarten Ottens m.m.ottens@tbm.tudelft.nl Peter Kroes p.a.kroes@tbm.tudelft.nl Maarten Franssen m.p.m.franssen@tbm.tudelft.nl Ibo van de Poel i.r.vandepoel @tbm.tudelft.nl Section of Philosophy, Faculty of TP M, Delft University of Technology P.O. Box 5015, 2600 GA Delft, the Netherlands Copyright 2005 by M. Ottens, M. Franssen, P. Kroes and I. van de Poel. Published and used by INCOSE with permission. Abstract. In this paper we discuss how the increa sing importance of socio-technical systems affects systems engineering. We st art

with a clarification of the notion of systems engineering by distinguishing two ways in which engineering design is involved w ith systems characteristics: in the object of design and in the design approac h. Next we focus on system-like objects of design of a special sort: socio-technical systems. After pres enting two examples, we indicate several tensions between the systems engineering design approach and the design of socio-technical systems. SYSTEMS, ENGINEERIN G, AND COMPLEXITY In the literature on engineeri ng and systems a great number of concepts are in use: one has systems

engineering, the system of systems engin eering, engineering systems, the engineering of technical systems, the engineering of complex sy stems, et cetera. In these concepts, the terms themselves are ambiguous and the way they are related is unclear. In this paper our aim is to identify some causes of the existing confusion and bring some conceptual cl arity, to, and to point out some tensions when this is appl ied to a particular type of system. From the early days on (see e.g. Goode & Mac hol 1957), the notion of systems engineering was linked to the increasing complexity of design. However,

it is important to distinguish two forms in which the complexity of engineer ing design tasks has increased. A schematic representation of these two ways, represente d as two dimensions, is given in Figure 1. Object of design Simple technical artefact Technical system Socio-technical system Design of product up till delivery only Systems engineering approach (life-cycle approach; co-design of manufacturing organization) ? Figure 1: Two forms of complexity Known area IEEE 1220 & ISO 15288 standards Engineering systems
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Object of design. First there is an increasing

complexity in the object of design. Whereas engineers started out designing rela tively simple artifacts like pape rclips, bicycles and bridges, the objects of design have become more comple x over the years. One of the effects of this increasing complexity is that the design task co mes to involve knowledge from and research in an increasing number of scientific disciplines. The earliest typewriters, for instance, were of a purely mechanical form. Later electric typewr ites brought in knowledge from the domain of electromagnetism. Electronic typewriters add itionally involve knowledge from

computer science, and so do computers-plus-printers and computers-plus-multi-functional copier/scanner/- printers, but here optics becomes also becomes important. With the increasing complexity, the object of design acquires the character of a system. We use the term system to refer not just to any whole composed of elements that are related to each other, since that would cover virtually all technical artifacts, but to a complex, usually large-scale, whole consisting of, or involving, heterogeneous elements that are studied in widely divergent disciplines. An important recent development is

that such system-like objects of design have increased in complexity by incorporating not just te chnical elements but also social elements. For these systems the notion of socio-technical system has been coined, and we will say more about them in the next section. Summarizing, along the dimension of the object of design, comple xity increases from simple technical artifacts, through technical systems, to socio-technical systems. Design approach. The second way complexity has increased is in the design approach. Initially (whenever that was), the design task was limite d to the design of the

object itself, and was considered finished as soon as the object complied with the specifications agreed to. With the increase of multidisciplinary design tasks, th e organization of the work process became an element of the design approach. Additionally, with the ongoing development of technology, it was increasingly acknowledged that the responsibi lities of the engineer did not end with the creation of the artifact as such, but must also address the operation, maintenance, and disposal of the artifact. Thus the design appr oach became more complex in that the specifications came to include,

among others, the safety, fl exibility, sustainability of the artifact. To achieve this in a world of increasing competition, moreover, demanded the incorporation of still more organizational aspects of the designing and manu facturing company into the design approach. These two forms of increasing complexity in th e design of technical obj ects are conceptually independent of each other, although in practice there obviously are strong links. To the design and manufacture of one and the same technical ar tifact, even a relatively simple one such as a coffee machine, increasingly complex design

a pproaches can be applied, increasingly incorporating in the design process organizational demands like lean production, flat organization, and societal demands like safety, secu rity, flexibility and sust ainability. The task of designing very complex, large-scale systems can be attacked, in turn, th rough design approaches of various levels of complexit y. The chances at the delivery of an operational design will vary with the approach chosen, and may be slim when the complexity of the approach lags far behind the complexity of the object of design. However, the question of the practical

fit between a certain level of complexity of the design appro ach and a level of complexity of the object of design presupposes a clear distinction of these tw o forms of complexity. Already in the oldest textbooks on systems engi neering an ambiguity in the meaning of the concept appears, with some authors emphasizing the complexity of the design approach used (Hall 1962) and others the complexity of the objects of design (Goode & Machol 1957). This ambiguity has remained ever si nce (cf. Sheard 2000), although cu rrently, the interpretation of
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systems engineering as

involving fi rst of all the design approach or the design process seems to dominate, as is apparent from the IEEE 1220-1998 and ISO-IEC 15288 standards (see Ottens et al. 2004). In our opinion, it is important to aim for conceptual clarity by using different names for the two independent forms of increased comp lexity we distinguish. We propose to reserve systems engineering for complex design approaches and engineering of systems for the design of complex systems. If a large- scale, complex artif act is designed thro ugh a complex design approach, we have an example of the systems engineering

of technical systems , or of the systems engineering of soci o-technical systems if the object of design is a socio-technical system. Another reason why we think it is important to be clear about the distinction of these two forms is that, when the object of design beco mes more complex, increasingly heterogeneous elements come into play. So alt hough the design approach is of great importance, it is evident that before applying the approach (or even de veloping the approach) it is of the utmost importance to know what the character of the object of design is to which the approach will be

applied, since complex objects of design can differ so fundamentally that no single approach to their design is likely to be fruitful. In this paper we address a number of problems a ssociated with a special type of large-scale, complex objects of design, i.e., socio-technical sy stems, and the implications for current systems engineering design approaches. Th e understanding of such large-s cale, complex systems, like, for instance, infrastructures, is currently high on the engineering agenda, as is illustrated by the founding of academic departments and research institutions in systems

engineering and the organization of conferences dedicated to complex systems. This interest seems also to derive from its importance to society. Failures in comp lex systems may affect whole societies (for example the 2003 blackout in the north east of th e USA and in parts of Ca nada, or the black out in Italy) and a better understanding of th ese systems is therefore urgently needed. Leading questions. This paper addresses socio-technical systems as complex objects of design. Socio-technical systems are not just complex because they involve many and wide-apart technical disciplines, but

because they additiona lly involve non-technical disciplines. Concerning these systems, we pose the following three ques tions, which we think are important questions that still lack clear answers: 1) What are socio-technical systems constituted of? What are its different sorts of elements and what relations exist between these elemen ts? Can relations be elements themselves? 2) How can socio-technical systems be modele d? Where and how should the boundaries of an object of design, in particular a socio-t echnical system, be drawn? Is the object of design identical to the sy stem to be

modeled? 3) Can engineering approaches li ke systems engineering as sp ecified in the IEEE and ISO standard be applied to socio-technical systems? How does the conception of socio- technical systems affect engineering design? To what extent can so cio-technical systems said to be designed at all? The first two questions address the system as obj ect of design, while the last question looks into a design approach for these systems as objects of design. Of course, these questions cannot be answered exhaustively in this paper. We will concentrate on outlining why they are important questions and

in what direction we think their answers may be found. In the following section we address the firs t question. We will explain what we mean by socio-technical systems and how they differ fro m other systems. In the next section, we
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introduce two examples to emphasize the variety in socio-technical systems. These examples will be used in the last section to reflect on the second and third questions. SOCIO-TECHNICAL SYSTEMS The following table from (Kroes et al., forthcoming) su mmarizes a distinction we make between three kinds of systems. Without agents With agents Without

social institutions 1) Landing gear 2) Airplane With social institutions - 3) Civil aviation system Table 1: Three kinds of engineering systems The first kind is a system that performs its func tion without either actors or social institutions performing a subfunction within the system. An ex ample is the landing gear of an airplane. A landing gear does not need someone to manually tu rn the wheel, and, although subject to a great many regulations, it is not dependent on any of these regulations for its functioning. If these regulations suddenly cease to exis t, the landing gear is still able

to ground the airplane. Next we move up to a more complex type of system: the whole airplane. Here human agents fulfill sub- functions, like piloting the plane, but social inst itutions still play no ro le. An airplane by itself does not need any regulations to function (and pr esumably airplanes func tion in the absence of regulations in some countries). If we then move up again to systems of the third kind, for instance, the complete civil aviation system, we see that, apart from human agents, institutional elements now also fulfill sub-functions. They ar e essential for the system as we

know it to function. Without insurance, for instance, no airl ine company will send its planes in the air (as was the case after 9/11), passengers will stay away, and pilots might refuse to fly. In this kind of system there are many interdepe ndencies of a social kind, which determine the functionality of the system. It is also evident that, for example, a billing system, an air-traffic system with agreed routes, et cetera, are essential to the func tioning of the civil aviation system as well. The third kind of system in this distinction we call socio-technical systems. These systems consist

of technical elements (1), and additiona lly of non-technical elements like agents (2) and social elements (3), including the aforementioned institutions. In our analysis we will use this preliminary distinction between the three kinds of elements and the six relations (i vi) these elements are involved in to gain more insight in these syst ems (see Figure 2). Figure 2: Elements (1-3) and relations (i-vi) in a socio-technical system 1 Technical element 1 Technical element Social element 3 Social element 3 Agent 2 2 Agent iii ii iv vi
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In (Ottens et al. 2004) we characterized

thes e relations as either physic al, functional, intentional or normative, where the latter two kinds come into play when socio-technical systems are considered. TWO EXAMPLES OF SOCIO-TECHNICAL SYSTEMS With the previous in mind we w ill now look at two socio-technica l systems of a very different nature. The first system is an AGV (automated guided vehicle) system. This system is a technology-driven system, where the technology clearly is at the heart of the system, but which would not function without some social instituti ons being in place. The second system is the cadastral system. The

cadastral system is much mo re diffuse. Technology is not at the basis, nor is it driven by technolo gy. It is based on relations between persons and land, and these relations, being rights and restrictions, in their turn involve agents and institutions, i.e., social elements. It is, therefore, in the core a so cial system. Advances in technol ogy currently make a reconstruction of the cadastral system possible, and technology is increasingly inte grated in the system. The two systems seem to be examples of two different kinds of socio-technical system s. In the design of both, engineers

play an important role. AGV system. AGV systems are at the moment primarily used for the transportation of goods in private areas. The application for transportation on public roads, and for the transportation of people, brings along a range of new non-technical elements and relations, which, to a large extent, influence the overall func tioning of the system. It is, for example, not allowed by Dutch law to have unmanned vehicles drive on public road s. Solutions to this problem are either to privatize the trajectory of the AGV system (as is done in the case of the ParkShuttle system in

Rotterdam, the Netherlands), to use manned (but not conducted) AGVs (as is done in the Phileas case in Eindhoven, the Netherlands), or to change the law (as is suggested in the People Mover Roadmap (Hylckama Vlieg 2003)). Next to these issues, also issues like, for example, insurance and liability are in need of reconsideration. In some cases, agents from outside the system interfere with the functioning of th e AGV system. In the case of the Parkshuttle, cyclists used the special lanes and school kids deliberately forc ed the AGVs into emergency stops. One report concluded (Hylckama Vlieg

2003): Merely scheduling vehicles on designated tracks is insufficient; an automatic road transportation sy stem must also consid er non-cooperative road users. Cadastral system. A cadastral system combines both the registration of land ownership and use (the administrative/legal component) and the defin ition of parcels of land (the spatial component) (Bogaerts 1999, Zevenbergen 2000, Zevenbergen 2002) . The system is based on the (social) concepts of ownership and possession. As opposed to the previous transportation systems, the cadastral system is at the core a social system. Technology

is used in the spatial component (for example to determine the boundaries of a parcel of land) and in the land parcel registration (database technologies). A current project, standardization in the cadastral domain, aims at standardization of methods and procedures for land measurement and land registration. Current differences between land registration systems in different countries have largely legal origins. Modeling a system like this brings up issues di fferent from the AGV system. The stored data is not subject to wear and tear (disregarding the wear and tear of the hardware used).

Neither is the land itself part of the system, since this only de als with coordinates and geometrical shapes. The use of the data, however, and it s meaning or legal background, is subject to change. Social institutions change, although usually not very fast . In modeling the cadastral system this should
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be taken into account. It is not clear whether, for example, a traditional life cycle-approach makes sense in this case. Two systems compared. The two systems can be considered as opposite instances of socio- technical systems. In the AGV system technology is at the basis,

since (one of) its function(s) is physical transport of goods and people. The cadastr al system, in contrast, includes technology in a completely different manner. When, instead of physical maps, coordina tes in a database are used to determine the location of real estate, technol ogy is needed to intr oduce changes in the database, for example when real estates changes hands. Failure to determine either the exact coordinates of a real estate or the ownership relationship involved endangers the functioning of the system. The cadastral system in this wa y becomes a true socio-technical

system. The ways social elements are involved in the system also differs between the two cases. In the cadastral system social elements form the basis. Take for example the ownership relation. Usually this relation is described on a piece of paper, or in a computer system, specifying who the owner is and what the parcel of land is. However, without the social institution of ownership the information on the piece of paper or in the in formation system is meaningless. So the fact that a person owns a piece of la nd involves at least three elemen ts: the person, the piece of land and the social

institution of owne rship. In the case of AGV system s, social elements come into play as soon as the system is to be implem ented in society, because regulations for use are necessary and because of the current absence of a legal fra mework to support vehicles without human drivers on public roads. DISCUSSION We now draw upon the material from the previous section to discuss the second and third leading question concerning the modeling of and the design approach fit for socio-technical systems. With regard to the modeling of socio-technical systems, perhaps the most important question is the

question where to draw th e boundaries of the system. Gene rally speaking, this question has plagued systems theory from the beginning and ha s proved particularly difficult to answer. One way to answer it is to refer to the function of the system: everything that contributes to the functioning of the whole system is part of the sy stem. Another way takes its point of departure in the existence of bilateral causa l relations (Hughes 1987). Apart fr om the general adequacy of these answers, both of them pose special problems for socio-technical systems. On the one hand, various agents within

the system may very we ll draw the boundaries of the system differently, for example because they attribute different func tions to the system. This will often make it impossible to draw the boundaries of the system in an unambiguous way. On the other hand, the various elements of socio-technica l systems are of such diverging na ture that very different sorts of relations exist between these elements, many of which cannot be considered bilateral causal relations. A tentative inventory of possible elements and relati ons in the AGV system and the cadastral system is given in Table 2 below. We

think that the answer to the questions how to model a system in relation to its environment cannot be treated independent from the question for what design purpose the modeling takes place. A crucial ques tion is whether something is cons idered to be open to design or not. The surface on which a car is driven is crucial to the cars movement and to its functioning as a vehicle. When designing a car, the character of the surface on which it will drive has to be taken into account and will have to be modeled. However, an adequate way to model this surface when it is not open to design at all

and the car must be adapted to the surface will very likely be inadequate when the surface is part of a transportation system that is under design
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as a whole. For socio-technical systems this carries over to the behavioral and institutional elements that are crucial to the functioning of the system. When these are treated as open to design, the aspect of intentional ity which lies at th eir basis may well have to be taken into account to a much larger extent than when th ey are treated as belonging to the systems environment and therefore as out of the designers reach (cf.

Mar & Morais 2002). With respect to our third question about the desi gn of socio-technical sy stems, we can answer the sub-question about the IEEE and ISO standard on systems engineering with a simple no. These standards explicitly exclude elements that we include in socio-technical systems (see Ottens et al. 2004). When the difference in nature of the elements we introduce in socio- technical systems is taken into account, problems emerge that ar e fundamentally different from systems without these elements. This can be expl ained by looking at the rela tions in the systems. Physical

relations are subject to the laws of nature, while normative relations are subject to, or are forms of, social rules. Unlike physical objects with respect to the laws of nature, intentional agents have a choice whether or not to act in a ccord with such rules. Since the nature of the relations in which agents participate is theref ore fundamentally different, systems incorporating these relations cannot be de signed in the same way as technical systems are. Another reason why the traditional systems engin eering design approach runs into difficulties with socio-technical systems is that the

notio n of life cycle becomes problematic for socio- technical system, especially in comparison to the notion of life cycle of s imple technical artifacts. Where physical products wear and will have an end of their life, the system in which they are embedded stays in existence, which could theoretically be forever as long as the physical elements will be replaced regularly (and also th e human actors). Social elements are subject to change, but this is not because of wear, as in technical elements. AGV system Cadastral system Technical elements Vehicles, stops, lanes, central command center

Instrumentation to define spatial coordinates, an information system to input, store, change and extract information. Agents Users, mechanics, owners, non- cooperative users Users, surveyors, people who deal with legal issues, with administrative issues Social elements Agreements about use of the system, special regulations regarding the pilot projects, Laws, regulations, boundaries, Primary relations Physical and functi onal relations are evident, normative relations exist between regulations and agents and technology Normative relations, the ownership relation, which may be a relation that

does not fit into the scheme of four kinds of relations presented above. Function Aim/goal Transportation of people Pilot for new technologies Providing legal security Providing information about land System boundaries ? ? Table 2: A comparison of tw o socio-technical systems
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The final reason why traditional design approa ches may become problematic concerns the question: What is a successful design? How do we verify a design? The answer to this question is quite different when different objects of design are considered. W ithin a socio-technical system, different actors may

have different cr iteria for the success of the design. The designing engineers may consider the design of a technologi cal artifact successful when it meets the design specifications, whereas the CEO of the company may consider it successful when the company makes profit with the product (d irectly, or indirectly ), and again its users may consider it successful when they get value for money. While th e specifications for elements in the bottom of the design hierarchy might be clear, they tend to become more ambiguous and contested when moving up. This ambiguity and contestedness derives from

the fact that, as we have seen before, different agents in the socio-t echnical system may attribute diffe rent functions to the system. From the preceding considerations we draw the conclusion that for the task of designing socio-technical systems some fundamental questi ons concerning the way such systems are to be modeled have to be addressed in to much more depth than has h itherto been done. This will include setting up criteria for deci ding where the boundaries of such systems are to be drawn, and clarifying the nature of the diverse elements that make up su ch systems and of the

relations that exist among these elements and between these elements and aspects of the systems environment. REFERENCES Bogaerts, T., "Cadastral system s: critical success factors." Proceedings of the 21st Urban Data Management Symposium 1999 (Venice, April 21-23, 1999), pp. I.1-12. Goode, H.H., & Machol, R.E., System engineering: an introduction to the design of large-scale systems. McGraw-Hill, New York/Toronto/London, 1957. Hall, A.D., A methodology for systems engineering . Van Nostrand, Princeton, N.J., etc., 1962. Hughes, T. P., "The Evolution of Large Technological Systems." In The

social construction of technological systems: new directions in the sociology and history of technology , W.E. Bijker, T.P. Hughes & T. J. Pinch, eds ., Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press, 1987, pp. 51-82. Hylckama Vlieg, N.E. van, & Groeneveld P., De People Mover Roadmap . Delft, Connekt, 2003. IEEE 1220-1998, IEEE Standard for Application and M anagement of the Systems Engineering Process , 1999. ISO/IEC 15288, Systems engineering System life cycle processes , 2002. Kroes, P.A., Franssen, M., Poel, I.R. van de, & Ottens, M.M., " Treating socio-technical systems as engineering systems: some

conceptual problems." Forthcoming in Systems Research and Behavioral Science . Mar, B.W., & Morais, B.G., "Does systems engin eering have to be done by systems engineers?" lecture, February 18, 2002, http://www.eas.pdx.edu/Systems/about.html , then http://www.media.pdx.edu/Mar/021802_Part1.asx . Ottens, M.M., Franssen, M., Kroes, P.A., & Poel, I.R. van de, "Modeling engineering systems as socio-technical systems." Proceedings of the IEEE-SMC 2004 Conference (The Hague, October 10-13, 2004), pp. 5685-5690. An extende d version is forthcoming in International Journal of Critical Infrastructures

. Sheard, S.A., "Three types of systems engineering implementation." Proceedings of the INCOSE 2000 Symposium (Minneapolis, MN, July 16-20, 2000). Zevenbergen, J., & T. Bogaerts , "Alternative approa ches for succesful cadastral systems." Proceedings of the 22nd Urban and Regi onal Data Management Symposium 2000 (Delft,
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September 11-15, 2000), pp. III.67-76 Zevenbergen, J., "A systems approach to land registration and cadastre." Proceedings of FIG XXII International Congress 2002 (Washington, DC, April 19-26, 2002). BIOGRAPHIES Maarten Ottens obtained an MSc in mechanical

engineer ing at Twente University. Since 2003 he is doing a PhD project at Delft University of Technology. For this project he investigates the design and modeling of socio-technical systems. Maarten Franssen studied theoretical physics and histor y and received a PhD in philosophy. He is a staff member at Delft University of T echnology since 1996, lecturing in the philosophy and methodology of science and techno logy. His research interests in clude decision methods in engineering design, measurement, norma tivity, and the nature of artifacts. Peter Kroes studied physical engineering in

Eindhove n and obtained a PhD for a thesis in philosophy on the notion of time in modern physical theories. Since 1995 he is full professor of philosophy, in particular the phi losophy of technology, at Delft University of Technology. His main areas of interest are philosophy of technology and philosophy of science. Ibo van de Poel completed his PhD in the field of Science and Technology Studies (STS) in 1998. Since 1996 he is lecturing and researching in the field of engineering ethics at Delft University of Technology. His current research fo cuses on ethical issues related to engineering

design and technological risks.