Journal of Management Information Systems

Volume 15 Number 3 1998 pp. 3-6

Special Issue: GSS Insights: A Look Back at the Lab, A Look Forward from the Field

Briggs, Robert O, Nunamaker Jr, Jay F, and Sprague Jr, Ralph H


LAST YEAR AT THIS TIME WE FOCUSED YOUR ATTENTION on the many unanswered research questions surrounding group support systems (GSS). We posed more than 250 research questions and invited you to find 1001 on your own. In this issue we invite you to reflect on some of what is already known about GSS. We challenge you to reflect on it, expecting that doing so will inspire meanings not yet understood and questions not yet asked, much less answered.

In past years most of the papers presented here have been quantitative investigations. Last year we presented nine studies of GSS based on a variety of empirical research methods. This year we are privileged to present you with an opus magnum, the most exhaustive compendium of published GSS experimental research ever compiled. We also offer you two independently conducted but closely related qualitative field investigations of GSS acceptance. All three of these papers were finalists in the best-paper competition at the Hawaii International Conference on Systems Science.

The bulk of this issue is devoted to a single paper, "An Assessment of Group Support Systems Experimental Research: Methodology and Results," by Jerry Fjermestad and Starr Roxanne Hiltz. This landmark paper summarizes the methods and results of the whole corpus of experimental GSS studies published in the English language in refereed academic journals. This paper specifically excludes case studies from the field, focusing instead on analyzing experimental results. So far as the authors, the editors, the reviewers, and many GSS researchers around the world have been able to determine, the list covered by this paper was exhaustive at press time. This paper is the product of eight years' work. When the authors began it, MS-DOS was king of the desktop, while UNIX ruled the text-based Internet, and fewer than twenty GSS experiments had been published in refereed journals. There are now 200 such experiments in the GSS literature, and that number is climbing even as we go to press. Should you know of any experiments not included in this analysis, please contact the authors, who hope to publish periodic updates.

Fjermestad and Hiltz offer a classification scheme for the dependent and independent variables in these experiments, examining which are initial causes, which are intervening variables, and which are outcome variables. Besides their exhaustive bibliography, they offer clear, readable tables summarizing each experiment, and detailing research methods, hypotheses, and results for all 200 experiments. The paper takes a first pass at making sense of the GSS literature. For example, it analyzes the percentages of experiments wherein GSS teams perform better than, the same as, or worse than face-to-face teams. However, it is beyond the scope of the paper to delve into why these patterns occurred. Under what circumstances were GSS experiments successful? Under what circumstances did they fail? To what extent were the experimental results of our literature artifacts of experimental designs, of facilitation techniques, or of genuine technological utility? Under what circumstances do GSS serve well, and under what circumstances do they serve poorly? We believe this paper will be a foundation for metaanalyses, experiments, and field investigations through the next decade and beyond. We invite researchers to submit future papers that leverage its contribution.

We believe this paper will also serve as an outstanding pedagogical resource for courses in MIS research and research methodologies. In the spirit of learning through discovery, the student can be presented with a number of papers to critique and analyze, and can be challenged to improve on what has been presented. An instructor can use this paper to quickly find exemplars of any methods, a vast array of hypotheses, a variety of results. Studying the Fjermestad and Hiltz paper may also help the student perceive how individual works fit into an academic whole.

Over the years a number of GSS experiments did not yield results. This was in part because of the constraints imposed by the laboratory. This is why it is important for GSS researchers to take their work into the field. The other two papers in this issue do just that. Both use largely qualitative methods to investigate and model the underpinnings of GSS acceptance in the rich context of real organizational life.

The first of them, "A Technology Transition Model Derived from Qualitative Field Investigation of GSS Use Aboard the U.S.S. CORONADO," by Briggs, Adkins, Mittleman, Kruse, Miller, and Nunamaker, recounts an intensive thirty-two-month action research effort to introduce GSS into the U.S. Navy's Commander, Third Fleet staff aboard the U.S. Navy's most advanced command ship. The investigation begins with Davis's TAM as a foundation for developing interventions designed to create sufficient acceptance for GSS among the staff to create a self-sustaining and growing community of users. TAM was created to predict individual technology use after the first hour of exposure, so the team did not expect it fully to explain and guide a complex multiyear transition. As the investigation proceeded, the researchers adapted and extended the model to explain phenomena that emerged.

The paper presents the resulting model, dubbed the Technology Transition Model (TTM), and describes the critical incidents that gave rise to it. The model frames acceptance as a multiplicative function of the magnitude and frequency of the perceived net value of a proposed change, moderated by the perceived net value associated with the transition period itself. TTM frames net value as having a number of dimensions, including cognitive, economic, political, social, affective, and physical. It posits that cognitive net value derives from at least three sources: changes in access, technical, and conceptual attention loads. TTM appears to explain the differences that emerged in the Navy community. GSS transition proceeded at different speeds in different segments of the Third Fleet; the intelligence and battle staffs became self-sustaining within weeks, while others are still not self-sustaining. TTM may prove useful for increasing the speed and reducing the risk of technology transition projects in the future.

This investigation also helped provide a foundation for the operating principles of the Navy's new Sea Based Battle Lab (SBBL). The SBBL now provides a venue for many researchers to stress-test cutting-edge mission-critical technologies at sea under simulated crisis conditions. During the investigation it became clear that it would be important to have a shore-based staging site for pilot testing and robustly packaging new technologies before they were taken aboard the SBBL. Therefore the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) established its Advanced Concepts Site (ACS). Its mission is to seek new technologies from laboratories around the world and to facilitate their transition to the warfighter. The ACS and the SBBL now coordinate their efforts to streamline the process of moving technology from the laboratory to the field. These sites have created a unique synergy among academics, technologists, and warfighters. SBBL and ACS will continue to be important catalysts for future technology-based field research.

As often happens with field research, the paper "Exploring the Application and Acceptance of Group Support Systems in Africa," by DeVreede, Jones, and Mgaya contributes on more than one level. Like the previous paper, this uses TAM as a starting point for action research. Unlike the previous paper, which examines the cognitive foundations of acceptance, this paper seeks to specify some of the external variables that influence acceptance. The paper recounts the introduction of GSS to nineteen sites in two East African countries. At the end of the paper the authors offer a grounded conceptual model of the external factors that influenced acceptance. Along the way, the authors take care to compare their observations from Africa with observations made in Europe and the United States. The authors also provide rich descriptions of the problem context for which they deployed GSS: capacity building in developing nations. Capacity building refers to the development of both physical infrastructure and human ability so as to improve the economic and social conditions of a country. Thus, this paper makes contributions on three fronts simultaneously: technology acceptance, cross-cultural GSS use, and GSS techniques for enhancing capacity building.

We commend these papers to your reading and trust that they will be thought provoking. We hope they stimulate further academic inquiry.

Key words and phrases : ,