Capturing the Complexity in Advanced Technology Use: Adaptive Structuration Theory

Gerardine Desanctis, Marshall Scott Poole

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The past decade has brought advanced information technologies, which include electronic messaging systems, executive information systems, collaborative systems, group decision support systems, and other technologies that use sophisticated information management to enable multiparty participation in organization activities. Developers and users of these systems hold high hopes for their potential to change organizations for the better, but actual changes often do not occur, or occur inconsistently. We propose adaptive structuration theory (AST) as a viable approach for studying the role of advanced information technologies in organization change. AST examines the change process from two vantage points: (1) the types of structures that are provided by advanced technologies, and (2) the structures that actually emerge in human action as people interact with these technologies. To illustrate the principles of AST, we consider the small group meeting and the use of a group decision support system (GDSS). A GDSS is an interesting technology for study because it can be structured in a myriad of ways, and social interaction unfolds as the GDSS is used. Both the structure of the technology and the emergent structure of social action can be studied.

We begin by positioning AST among competing theoretical perspectives of technology and change. Next, we describe the theoretical roots and scope of the theory as it is applied to GDSS use and state the essential assumptions, concepts, and propositions of AST. We outline an analytic strategy for applying AST principles and provide an illustration of how our analytic approach can shed light on the impacts of advanced technologies on organizations. A major strength of AST is that it expounds the nature of social structures within advanced information technologies and the key interaction processes that figure in their use. By capturing these processes and tracing their impacts, we can reveal the complexity of technology-organization relationships. We can attain a better understanding of how to implement technologies, and we may also be able to develop improved designs or educational programs that promote productive adaptations.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)121-147
JournalOrganization Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 1 1994
Externally publishedYes


  • information technology
  • structural theory
  • technology impacts


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