VOSS: HRCT Scanning as Glue: Sociotechnical Analysis and Support of a Loosely-Coupled Virtual Organization of Emergent Distributed Projects

Project: Research project

Project Details


As the options for obtaining and sharing scientific information and problem-solving expand, there is an increasing need to understand and support the sociotechnical requirements of distributed scientific collaboration. While considerable attention has been directed at technical infrastructures for distributed science and engineering, little is known about how these entities function as virtual organizations ? how they formulate and pursue shared goals, acquire and manage resources, plan and implement tasks, and so on. This project will examine these issues in the context of a hybrid two-layer structure common in scientific communities: a persistent loosely-coupled virtual organization that itself consists of emergent distributed projects. The focal case subject is the virtual organization that has emerged around a rare piece of scientific equipment, a High Resolution Computed Tomography (HRCT) scanner, one of three such scanners worldwide. The scanner belongs to the Center for Quantitatitve Imaging (CQI), a research center associated with Penn State?s Department of Anthropology, which is used to generate three-dimensional internal maps of physical structures for human and animal subjects. The availability of these high-quality images has promoted many cross-institution and international research collaborations within the scientific community of physical anthropology. The HRCT virtual organization (henceforth HRCT-VO) is complex because it has a two-layer structure that is constantly changing shape. In one layer it provides persistent support for managing the scanning tasks and resulting data; in the other, it supports emergent projects that overlap in timeline, personnel, and resources.

This study of the HRCT-VO is guided by these research questions: (1) What sociotechnical practices have emerged for coordinating access to, interaction with, maintenance of, and dissemination from the HRCT scanner and its datasets? (2) How do these practices vary as a function of different distributed project needs and characteristics (e.g., size, project age, research goals and methods)? (3) How can these practices be better supported or enhanced through information and communication technology (ICT)? (4) How does the sociotechnical system evolve in response to new ICT support? The project will yield a rich qualitative account of the dependencies and coordination practices of virtual organizations that leverage a shared resource among diverse and overlapping distributed projects, including how these practices evolve in the presence of customized technology support. A direct impact will be improved practices for accessing and managing scientific resources in physical anthropology and more broadly to virtual organizations with similar two-layer structures in other domain areas. Finally the project will train undergraduate students in methods for analyzing and addressing real world socio-technical problems in the research domain.

Effective start/end date11/1/087/31/13


  • National Science Foundation: $412,000.00


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