From E-Consultation Guide
Jump to: navigation, search


The term Groupware can be used to describe any application that allows a workgroup to share information, with updates by each user being made available to others, either by automated replication or concurrent sharing. Groupware supports and enhances the communication, coordination and collaboration among networked teams and workgroups and utilises software tools for electronic communications, conferencing and cooperative work management. (Udell, 1999 [1]; Herring, 1996 [2]; Andriessen, 2003 [3]) It is a generic label for the many types of computer software designed to enable group rather than individual computer usage. Andriessen (2003)[3] proposes that the major activities undertaken in a cooperative setting can be ordered into five basic categories of interaction processes:

  • COMMUNICATION: i.e. using communication tools and exchanging signals
  • CO-OPERATION: i.e. working together, decision making, co-editing etc
  • CO-ORDINATION: i.e. adjusting the work of the group members; this includes leadership
  • INFORMATION SHARING & LEARNING: i.e. exchanging (sharing and developing information, views, knowledge
  • SOCIAL INTERACTION: i.e. group maintenance activities, developing trust, cohesion, conflict handling, reflection

Within these categories, the processes can be further grouped into; Interpersonal exchange processes (communication), task oriented processes (co-operation, co-ordination & information sharing and learning) and group-oriented processes (social interaction). Overarching these processes, communication has special status in that it is conducive to the other task and group oriented processes. (Andriessen, 2003)[3] It is clear that these same processes are applicable in a consultation context. This would suggest that groupware systems could appropriately be applied to public consultation activities. However, whilst groupware systems would appear to have obvious benefits in terms of communication and information exchange as well as knowledge transfer and teamwork over limitless geographical distance, their more widespread adoption has been limited by both technical and human factors. The implementation of such a system requires adequate infrastructure provision in the form of reliable network connections and the technical capacity to meet user expectations in terms of quality of output and relevance to the task. Unless the quality of the output (for example sound transmission) in the virtual meeting is as good as in a real world scenario, the benefit to the user is lost. Aside from potential technical defects in a system, issues can arise in relation to the human actors and their acceptance and adoption of a system. These problems can be evident even in a system that is technically adequate and are related to the psychological impact on the user of the introduction of a new system and the impact on the culture of the group. Therefore, the design of these systems requires a deep understanding of users needs and expectations. Ease of use is paramount to user acceptance as is evidence of a clear advantage over other media. Adequate training and support must also be provided if the full functionality of the system is to be adapted by the users.

‘Unless there is a balance between the perceived effort required on the part of the user and the benefit delivered to that user, a person is not likely to employ the functionality present’ (Bullen & Bennet, 1990, p. 297 cited in Andriessen)[3]

Most groupware systems allow for common data access by many individuals and/or provide a means of communicating via computer. (Pytches-Walker, 2004). The main benefit of groupware is its capacity to enable geographically dispersed individuals to collaborate through interaction within a virtual workspace, facilitated by ICTs connected to a computer network such as the Internet. Undoubtedly the growth of the Internet has increased the viability for groupware use by providing network capabilities.

‘Computer Mediated Communication was once confined to technical users and was considered somewhat arcane, this no longer holds true. Computer Mediated Communication is a key component of the emerging technology of computer networks, in networks people can exchange, store, edit, broadcast and copy any written document. They can send data and exchange messages instantaneously, easily, at low cost, and over long distances. Two or more people can look at a document and revise it together, consult with each other on critical matters without meeting together or setting up a telephone conference, or ask for and give assistance interactively.’ (Hiltz & Turoff, 1978 [4]; Williams, 1977 cited in Kiesler, Siegel & McGuire, 1984 [5])

There are many highly sophisticated examples of generic groupware available that provide users connected to the network with a shared interface featuring a range of interactive functions. One such example is Groove Virtual Office. A demonstration is available at Groove Virtual Office facilitates dialogue among users via voice transmission and text in the form of a 'chat' facility. It has a number of mechanisms for sharing and collaboratively modifying documents. Users can upload documents in a shared storage space for the perusal of others in the group or for later retrieval. Collective annotation and modification of documents in real time is also possible. A drawing facility enables demonstration in the same way a white board does in a real world meeting room. It also features a calendar function that enables a group working together to schedule tasks and track progress. Lotus Notes, is another common example of such a groupware system.

Examples of groupware, such as Groove Virtual Office, combine a number of smaller applications into a 'suite' of software that allows a range of functions to be performed by a group. These smaller applications or tools are collaboration technologies in their own right. When taken on their individual merits, they can also fulfil the broad definition of groupware (any software/groupware that helps people accomplish or manage joint working activities), if they are applied to group processes. Therefore it is possible to apply the individual component technologies to processes of group activity such as public consultation, to match the specific activities required.

Aside from e-enabled technologies, a number of traditional technologies such as telephone and printed documents are commonly used in public consultation. Any of these technologies can be used individually or in combinations within a larger more complex system to accomplish the essential operational activities associated with consultation such as; information provision/distribution, dialogue and collective decision making. This is achieved by matching the capabilities of the technologies to the information and communication requirements that are deemed necessary at each stage in the process of any given consultation exercise and combining them in a structured way. A mixed approach to consultation and dialogue (intermodal) is also achievable by including both online and offline tools and approaches that complement one another, to achieve the desired objectives. For example the electronic meeting system when used in a meeting room with screen and projector.

Appendix 2 includes an indicative list of some of the available technologies, loosely described as 'groupware' that can be used to support online collaboration. They can be used individually or in combination to provide more sophisticated capabilities. Andriessen (2003) [3] lists the favourable consequences of groupware as:

  • Speeding up the exchange of information
  • Easy access to new information
  • Many people being able to receive information at the same time
  • Increased number of potential participants in discussions
  • Expanded horizontal and diagonal contacts
  • Easier to reach people


  1. Udell, J. (1999) Practical Internet Groupware. O’Reilly
  2. Herring, S. C. (ed) (1996) Computer Mediated Communication—Linguistic, Social & Cross Cultural Perspectives. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Co.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Andriessen, J. E. (2003). Working With Groupware: understanding and evaluating collaboration technology. London: Springer. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Andriessen" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Andriessen" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Andriessen" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Andriessen" defined multiple times with different content
  4. Hiltz, S.R. & Turoff, M. (1993) The Network Nation: Human Communication via Computer. Revised edition. Cambridge, Massachusetts, London: The MIT Press.
  5. Kiesler, S., Siegel, J. & Mc Guire, T. W. (1984) ‘Social Psychological Aspects of Computer Mediated Communication’, American Psychologist, 39(10), 1123-34