DAVID FROHLICH

Criterion: Personal benefit

Exemplar: Communicating personal digital assistants (PDAs)

David is a member of the User Studies Group at Hewlett Packard Laboratories in Bristol.
Some time ago I learned of an interesting comparison between two groupware systems designed to collect healthcare statistics from mobile community care professionals. The first system, called COMCARE, ran on a handheld computer and required workers to input patient and visit statistics primarily for management audit. This took considerable time and effort and workers were very bad at keeping their statistics up-to-date. The second system, called COSS, ran on a laptop computer and required workers to input the same statistics. However this time, the statistics could be used by workers themselves through an additional patient care planning system. Consequently workers were better at maintaining up-to-date records, which management could then use to improve the funding and coordination of group work. Thus the second system was altogether more successful because it provided a personal as well as a group benefit to workers.
Taking forward this simple lesson I argue that personal benefit is a powerful criterion for effective groupware, and particularly appropriate to the design of lightweight tools for remote collaboration. Using data from a video-based study of mobile professional work I show that much personal work is itself interpersonal in nature. This means that substantial personal benefits can be provided through support for communication as well as for personal information management; as shown by the rise of the communicating PDA as the ultimate 'personal system'. I also point to the need for effective groupware to deliver mutual personal benefit across the workgroup so that some members do not use the technology to exploit the goodwill of others to their own benefit. Taken to its conclusion, this argument suggests a new paradigm for groupware in which group benefits are specified as emergent properties of tools supporting individual collaborative work.

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