General Chair: Paul Wilson, Computer Sciences Company, UK
Programme Chair: John Bowers, University of Nottingham, UK
Introduction from the Conference Chair:
Just four years ago, "Computer Supported Cooperative Work" was an obscure term known only to a few people. That's not to say that CSCW research wasn't being done - just that those doing it didn't have a rallying call. Then, in December 1986, the first CSCW conference was held in Austin Texas. I was lucky enough to be there and sensed the excitement of new horizons and the flowering of a vision. By the second conference in September 1988 in Portland, Oregon, CSCW had become a hot research topic and journalists were beginning to write about Workgroup Computing and Groupware.
European delegates and authors had been present at both conferences, but in relatively fewer numbers than those of the host country - the USA. So at an informal meeting of the Europeans attending the Portland conference it was agreed that a European event was needed to establish a European focus. By December 1988 the organisation I work for - Computer Sciences Company Limited - had agreed to underwrite a European CSCW event and I duly established a committee. We then faced a difficult decision: should the event be a low key workshop or a full blown conference? Furthermore, with the next CSCW conference planned for 1990, when should the European event be held? After much debate, we decided that the best long term strategy would be to hold full scale European CSCW conferences in alternate years to the US conferences - a decision endorsed by our US colleagues via our CSCW liaison officer - Irene Greif.
Furthermore, we thought it important to gain momentum as quickly as possible and therefore to hold the first European event this year. This left us with a highly ambitious schedule to organise the conference in less than eight months. Despite the compromises forced on us by this timescale, the conference has been organised in the time available and with a full programme of papers (selected from over sixty submitted abstracts). The efforts of all committee members - Liam Bannon, Steve Bedford, John Bowers, Giorgio de Michelis, Irene Greif, Pam Knibb, Lorna Meek, Agent Olerup, Wolfgang Prinz, Mike Robinson, Tom Rodden, Rolf Speth and myself - are to be commended - particularly the work done by John Bowers, our Programme Chair. We hope that we have done enough to achieve our objectives - indeed I anticipate being able to announce a venue for the 1991 European conference during EC-CSCW'89.
The motivation for having a European conference is not only to get Europeans together, but also to highlight some of the special perspectives that Europe has to offer the international, collaborative, CSCW effort. One such area is the derivation of a theoretical framework for CSCW. Another become apparent at last year's Portland conference where Scandinavian papers addressing the work design process figured prominently in discussions. Both topics will be debated in their own rights at EC-CSCW'89, but I hope that the latter will also serve to remind us that the creation of computer tools is not the prime goal of CSCW work. Our objective must surely be the improve the group work process in general, regardless of the tools, techniques and environments involved.
As far back as 1979, when visiting Japan, a group of European managers were told that "... your firms are built on the Taylor model - even worse, so are your heads. With your bosses doing the thinking while the workers wield the screwdrivers, you are convinced deep down that this is the way to run a business ... only by building on the combined brainpower of all its employees can a firm face up to the turbulence and constraints of today's environment ... this is why [our large companies] foster within the firm such intense exchange and communication. This is why they constantly seek everybody's suggestions ..." (Quoted in: Cooley, Mike, "Why our vision of the next century should be in a class of its own", The Guardian, London, 11th August 1989)
Our goal must be to seek organisational forms, design processes and associated computer-based tools that complement our European culture and environment. I suggest that this is a worthy focus for this conference.
You will see in your conference programme that there is a slot on Thursday evening for discussion of a COST programme. COST supports the creation of pan-European research collaboration in all disciplines by funding the administration and travel expenses of approved programmes. A proposal for a COST programme in Cooperation Technology has recently been put forward and the purpose of the Thursday evening meeting is to publicise and discuss the initiative.
COST, however, is not the only focal point for European CSCW research. The current ESPRIT call for proposals specifies at least two CSCW related projects; and the recently established "Foundation for Cooperative Work Technology" intends, among other things, to undertake active research in CSCW by linking a number of European research establishments.
All these initiatives are in their planning stages and will be important influences on future European CSCW activities, so I urge delegates to discuss their implications and influence their protagonists. Above all, try to get involved in some way or other in these collaborative ventures. Consider yourselves part of a world-wide CSCW team and take every opportunity to try out CSCW tools and techniques when collaborating with your colleagues. By utilising the tools we are designing, we have a better chance of ensuring their usability in the real, practical world.
So, my overall message to EC-CSCW'89 delegates is not only to enjoy the comprehensive conference programme, but also to consider how you can contribute to the "collective brainpower" of the international CSCW effort. Each and every one of us has something to contribute. If you can make that contribution by doing research using collaboration tools, then so much the better.