Platform-Supported Cooperative Work

How do platforms affect cooperation in traditional institutions such as healthcare, education, banking, public services etc.? Studying gig platforms like Uber, Upwork, and Amazon Mechanical Turk is quite popular among CSCW researchers. These platforms create new conditions for cooperation. But what does this platform model mean for cooperative work beyond the gig platforms? Our workshop at ECSCW 2021 collected a group of researchers to discuss these matters.

Background for the workshop

The platform model, made popular by large internet-based companies such as Apple, Google, and Uber, is not anymore confined to simple transactional services such as buying music, searching the internet, or booking a taxi. Recently we have been witnessing a variety of organizations – both private and public –adopt aspects of the platform model. For example, healthcare platforms are acquired and introduced in hospitals and implement standardized models of engaging with patients and coordinating across healthcare actors. Learning management platforms are bought by schools and universities and shape the way we educate our students. Governmental agencies have developed or acquired web-based platforms for public services. Cities and municipalities implement digital platforms that allow new ways of engaging with citizens.

This kind of organizational platformization is often studied from a management perspective. The CSCW literature already contains substantial volumes of research on digital platforms, but this research is mainly about global platforms such as social media, on-demand gig work, and crowdsourcing. In this workshop we wanted to look at platformization from a more local cooperative work perspective. What happens to our everyday work routines when the organization we work for acquires a platform?

The workshop was a part of the ECSCW 2021 online conference. We accepted short position papers through the workshop web page. The workshop itself consisted of short presentation (see below) and a discussion of the concept of Platform-Supported Cooperative Work (PSCW), what it means, and what research challenges are related to the concept.

Presentations during the workshop

The workshop consisted of five talks as presented below:

  • Designing a Digital Platform to support Treatment of Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder (Steinunn Gróa Sigurðardóttir, Anna Sigridur Islind, María Óskarsdóttir).
  • Supporting older adults’ learning through co-design: embedding global platforms through creating local digital ecologies (Katerina Cerna, Claudia Müller).
  • Participatory Implementation of Public Health Platforms and the Role of Managed Communities (Hamid Mehmood, Nora Othilie Ringdal).
  • Who decides? The changed platform roles in datafied digital spaces (Dragana Paparova).
  • Platformization of The Public Sector: The Role of Work Practices (Syed Sajid Hussain).

Topics that emerged from discussions

During the workshop we used Miro as a tool to allow all the participants to discuss and capture their views of PSCW as a concept (see Figure 1 above). We then used the results to create a set of themes for future research as shown in the table below:

Theme/topicWhat it means
Business modelWhat is the value of cooperation? For whom is this a value? Values can be different than monetary/commercial values, e.g. they can be public values.
PerspectivesPlatforms are studied from different perspectives, e.g. developer, user, owner, complementor. 
Unit of analysisPlatforms are studied at the level of individual users, groups of users, organizations, and ecosystems.
Role of dataWhat can become data? What are the risks? Monetization, surveillance, trust. Also, algorithmic management (being fired by an algorithm), platformization as datafication.
ScaleWhat is specific about PSCW and scale? What are the differences/overlaps with the concept of infrastructures? Conflicting values, distances among stakeholders.
Process aspectsCo-creation, co-design and necessary skills/competences to participate, having time and resources to participate, need for continuous learning, during initial design but also appropriation, the role of institutional cultures, how do platforms themselves facilitate co-creation?
Impact on cooperationWhat cooperative work is supported by the platform? Invisible work made visible (and vice versa), paid and unpaid work (e.g. social media asinvisible work), focus on transactions rather than relationships.

Building a PSCW community

Although global multisided platforms are being studied from a CSCW perspective, we seldom see studies of platforms within organizations from a CSCW perspective. This might be derived from the dominance of managerial and technology-drivenviews in existing literature, instead of a socio-technical, and worker-related view; a view that would fit the CSCW perspective well. Moreover, this might be due to the multiple meanings that a platform has in the literature. However, the workshop participants agree that PSCW in modern organizations needs further research using CSCW concepts and approaches, and one of the conclusions is that a socio-technical work focus is needed.

Our plan is to host our online discussion in our “space” at the EUSSET community hub, turning PSCW into a permanent special interest group there. We are also investigating various modes of dissemination towards both the academic community and practitioners, such as a special issue of a relevant journal, which would specifically focus on the topic of PSCW.

Babak Farshchian is an associate professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology ((NTNU) in the lovely town of Trondheim approximately half the way north of Norway. At NTNU he teaches research methods and software engineering. His research interests are currently related to platformization processes in the public sector, in particular in the area of healthcare and social/welfare services. He is also interested in participation and empowerment processes in digitalization. He is a member of the EUSSET steering committee where he is currently helping develop early career services with a focus on academic mobility. You can find out more about him in his NTNU profile page.

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