Networks

To set the groundwork for ‘socio-technical networks’ we will start with a general concept, one that ICT in practice is socially shaped. In standard (non-social informatics) accounts of ICT and social change, it is common to hear of information technologies characterized as tools.

Questions are raised about their ‘social impacts’. In the 1970s, several colleagues and I studied local governments to help us understand the ‘impacts’ of computerized information systems on the nature of work, client relationships, and possible redistribution of power within organizations. Our views of the character of computerization and how to conceptualize ICTs were reŽ ned as an outcome of this research.

We found that local governments selectively adopted and developed different types of information systems, depending upon their form of internal organization. In some cities a professional city manager’s ofŽ ce or a central Ž nance department exerted strong control over information systems developments. In these cities, the information development staff was often centralized, and responsible for projects in various departments. In contrast, other cities were much more decentralized. Many departments, such as police and planning, controlled their own computer systems and their own information systems development staffs.

The systems were designed to help departmental managers better understand and control their functional areas. American local governments organized their technical staffs in different arrangements, and created different ICT policy regimes for systems developments, reprogramming and operations. They created different governance structures for regulating and directing their commitments to ICT.

Professionals and managers who were seeking new information systems or changes in existing systems did not deal solely with computers; they had to mobilize an organizational system as well. These structures tended to reinforce preexisting social relationships (i.e. ‘reinforcement politics’). We called this combination of equipment, people, governance structures, and ICT policies ‘the local computing package’.