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Function allocation in complex systems: reframing an old problem

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In this article, we offer a new, macroergonomics perspective on the long-debated issue of function allocation. We believe thinking in this domain needs to be realigned, moving away from the traditional microergonomics conceptualisation, concerned predominantly with task-based decisions, and towards a macroergonomics approach, viewing function allocation choices as central to effective systems design. We frame our arguments within a systems perspective, advocating that function allocation issues need to be on the agenda of all individuals with a wider interest in the human and organisational aspects of complex work systems, including people who commission, sponsor, design, implement and use such systems. We also argue that allocation decisions should form a transparent, explicit stage early in the systems design and development process, involve multiple stakeholders (including end-users), be evidence-based, framed within the language of risk and utilise iterative methods (e.g. scenarios planning techniques).

Practitioner Summary: This article presents a macroergonomics approach to function allocation, advocating its importance in effective systems design. Adopting a systems mindset, we argue function allocation should form an explicit stage early in the design process, involve multiple stakeholders, be evidence-based, framed within the language of risk and utilise iterative methods.
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Keywords: allocation of function; complex systems; human–machine systems; socio-technical systems

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Institute of Work Psychology, Management School, The University of Sheffield, Sheffield, S10 2TN, UK 2: Socio-Technical Centre, Leeds University Business School, University of Leeds, Leeds, LS2 9JT, UK 3: Nottingham University Business School, Jubilee Campus, Nottingham, NG8 1BB, UK

Publication date: July 1, 2013

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