Brahms: simulating practice for work systems design
International Journal of Human-Computer Studies
A continuing problem in business today is the design of human-computer systems that respect how work actually gets done. The overarching context of work consists of activities, which people conceive as ways of organizing their daily life and especially their interactions with each other. Activities include reading mail, going to workshops, meeting with colleagues over lunch, answering phone calls, and so on. Brahms is a multiagent simulation tool for modeling the activities of groups in
... t locations and the physical environment consisting of objects and documents, including especially computer systems. A Brahms model of work practice reveals circumstantial, interactional influences on how work actually gets done, especially how people involve each other in their work. In particular, a model of practice reveals how people accomplish a collaboration through multiple and alternative means of communication, such as meetings, computer tools, and written documents. Choices of what and how to communicate are dependent upon social beliefs and behaviors-what people know about each other's activities, intentions, and capabilities and their understanding of the norms of the group. As a result, Brahms models can help human-computer system designers to understand how tasks and information actually flow between people and machines, what work is required to synchronize individual contributions, and how tools hinder or help this process. In particular, workflow diagrams generated by Brahms are the emergent product of local interactions between agents and representational artifacts, not pre-ordained, end-to-end paths built in by a modeler. We developed Brahms as a tool to support the design of work by illuminating how formal flow descriptions relate to the social systems of work; we accomplish this by incorporating multiple views-relating people, information, systems, and geography-in one tool. Applications of Brahms could also include system requirements analysis, instruction, implementing software agents, and a workbench for relating cognitive and social theories of human behavior.