Communication in Socio-Technical Systems

Daniel G Morrow, Ute M. Fischer

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Communication in socio-technical systems is essential for safe and efficient work. Using goal-directed theories (e.g., common ground theory), we analyze processes and resources required for successful communication. This approach frames a selective review of research on predictors of communication success in complex work domains, focusing on health care and aerospace settings. The research suggests that communication that supports effective work in socio-technical systems requires continual explicit grounding of partners’ contributions, with speakers and listeners collaborating to ensure that presented information is mutually understood and acted on as intended. Such communication leads to shared mental models that support joint decision making and action. Grounding in turn requires a variety of resources associated with communication media (e.g., partner visibility and contemporality), communication partners (e.g., cognitive abilities, knowledge), and cognitive artifacts or tools. Effective grounding is accomplished by efficient use of these resources, minimizing collaborative effort. Communication is more challenging and less successful to the extent that fewer communication resources are available or used. The chapter concludes by considering important unanswered questions in this area of research.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Engineering
EditorsJohn D Lee, Alex Kirlik
PublisherOxford University Press
StatePublished - Feb 2013


  • communication
  • collaboration
  • common ground
  • aerospace
  • health care


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