Special Issue on Moving Back to the Control Room - Revisiting Centres of Coordination

Guest Editors

Maria Normark, Södertörn University Stockholm, Sweden, maria.normark@sh.se 
Paul Luff, King’s College London, UK, paul.luff@kcl.ac.uk
Petter G. Almklov, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway, petter.almklov@ntnu.no 
Ilaria Redaelli,  ASST di Lecco Lecco, Italy, i.redaelli@asst-lecco.it 

In CSCW’s early years, many seminal studies focused on control room work where collaboration was demanding, time-critical and, in some cases, also safety-critical. Following these control room studies conducted during the 1990s and early 2000s, this research has continued on a smaller scale, and CSCW has in turn broadened its scope to address a wide range of coordinative and social applications following in the traces of a wide variety of technological developments. In this call we ask for innovative studies of collaboration in control rooms and reflections on the consequences of recent technological and organizational developments on the control rooms of today. Whilst we welcome submissions from a range of backgrounds, accepted papers need to show a clear contribution to themes, methods and concepts in CSCW.   

The initial control room studies provided an opportunity to investigate the role of coordinative artefacts in detail and the work practices that emerged in these settings. These complex settings included, for example, air traffic control (e.g. Bentley et al. 1997;  Berndtsson and Normark 1999; Harper et al. 1991), airline ground operations, (Goodwin and Goodwin 1996; Goodwin 1996;  Suchman 1993; 1996; 1997), underground management (Filippi and Theureau 1993; Heath and Luff 1991; Heath and Luff 1992), emergency dispatch (Beynon-Davies 1999; Bowers and Martin 1999; Finkelstein and Dowell 1996; Fitzgerald and Russo 2005; Normark and Randall 2005; Whalen 1995). Suchman (1997) outlined some important recurring themes in these studies and suggested the term ‘centres of coordination’ to encapsulate their common features. Centres of coordination were described as: 

“/…/characterizable in terms of participants' ongoing orientation to problems of space and time, involving the deployment of people and equipment across distances, according to a canonical timetable or the emergent requirements of rapid response to a time-critical situation” (p 42) 

These work situations were well suited to study artefacts’ role in collaboration. For example, it became clear how important the common environment was as a coordinative resource; participants noticing what others were doing, how artefacts were arranged, as well as activities requiring attention because they were out of the ordinary. This, in turn, raised questions about how to provide computer support to transfer and represent that kind of rich information between spaces without requiring too much effort and obtrusion. This could for example concern air traffic controllers handing over responsibility of a flight to the controller responsible for the next air space the flight passed. As a work task it was mundane, constantly occurring throughout the work shift, but as an action, handing over the responsibility for directing a flight with hundreds of passengers, it had huge implications. It could not fail.    

The early studies were continued with investigations of how to decentralize the coordination system (Juhlin and Weilenmann 2001), how to design ecologies of displays (Bader et al. 2008) or whether to virtualize displays or to design tangible ones (Letondal et al. 2013). In addition, the spread of social media and the understanding of new artefacts as information infrastructures (Monteiro et al. 2013) have afforded the possibility for control room operators to exploit informal resources, but this has also raised questions about how, for example, to retrieve relevant information to address coordination problems (Panagiotou et al. 2016) or about how to coordinate informal suppliers (Purohit et al. 2014). 

Some of the more recent research issues concern the fragmentation and decentralization of control rooms and how management tasks are distributed among several actors in distinct locales and organizations.  These developments imply that that personnel in control rooms will need to manage and negotiate activities across organisational boundaries. Some control rooms have also become larger, so-called ‘mega-control’ rooms, where previously distinct control rooms have been merged in one physical location. This presents challenges for the subtle practices of overseeing and monitoring identified in the early control room studies. 

Control rooms have also seen the deployment of new visual and mobile technologies, control personnel can now have greater access to objects and the environment outside the control room. Although there has been a tendency to broaden the access to different kinds of information, the technologies and artefacts through which these are made available have become more homogenous. Controllers tend to be supported by multi-screen workstations rather than a diverse set of physical and electronic resources (e.g. there is less reliance on large bespoke, public displays and on small, paper documents). These developments mean the range of resources that control room personnel draw on may be, on one hand richer in terms of the information they provide, whilst being more homogenous in terms of the physical and digital system through which they are made available. (Luff et al. 2018) 

All of these recent developments offer not only new insights regarding coordinative practices and technology use, but also suggest analytic opportunities that can contribute to CSCW in general. For example, they can provide new insights regarding awareness, peripheral participation, the integration of individual and collaborative and private and public activities, the use of material objects and the co-ordination of activities in the contemporary control room. Have these practices remained the same, or, if not, what replaced them? What are the challenges for undertaking studies in the contemporary control room, with the current configuration of dispersed technologies, cross- organisational structures and at these different scales? In this call we want to address where we are now and how far we have come. We welcome both theoretical and empirical contributions on these broadly connected topics: 

  • With a perspective on CSCW's history, how far have we come concerning centres of coordination work and technology use? Examples of central problems that are addressed, and what important problems that remain. 
  • What are the challenges of decentralized coordination “centres”? How is coordination affected as a practice when there is no localized centre of attention, but is distributed to the periphery of activities? 
  • Based on CSCW contemporary breadth, can a widened scope on coordination and interaction shed new light on the complex and critical coordinative control room work?

We welcome contributions from a broad range of disciplines and analytic orientations, including but not confined to science and technology studies, organizational studies, social psychology, ethnomethodology, interaction analysis and distributed cognition. Also, given the current context we would also welcome shorter research papers that reflect on contemporary concerns or survey past research on control room and control room studies from a new perspective. We envisage these shorter research pieces to be about half the length of a usual submission to the CSCW Journal (i.e. maximum of 60 000 characters).  These shorter submissions will be reviewed in the same way as full submissions. Please indicate on the submission that it is a “Short Paper’. 

Deadline for submission: 29th September 2021 

Peer Review Process

All the papers will go throug a single blind review process and will be reviewed by at least two reviewers. A thorough check will be done and the guest editors will check any significant similarity between the manuscript under consideration and any published paper or submitted manuscripts of which they are aware. In such case, the article will be directly rejected without proceeding further. Guest editors will make all reasonable effort to receive the reviewer’s comments and recommendation on time.
The submitted papers must provide original research that has not been published nor currently under review by other venues. Previously published conference papers should be clearly identified by the authors at the submission stage and an explanation should be provided about how such papers have been extended.  At least 30% of new content is expected.

Submission Guideline

Details on the submission format can be found on the web page of the Journal on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work: https://www.springer.com/journal/10606  


Juhlin, Oskar; and Alexandra Weilenmann (2001). Decentralizing the control room: Mobile work and institutional order. In ECSCW 2001. Proceedings of the Seventh European Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work. Dordrecht: Kluwer, pp. 379-397.

Letondal, Catherine; Christophe Hurter; Rémi Lesbordes; Jean-Luc Vinot;; and Stéphane Conversy (2013). Flights in my hands: Coherence concerns in designing Strip'TIC, a tangible space for air traffic controllers. In CHI 2013. Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM, pp. 2175-2184.

Luff, Paul; and Christian Heath (2019). Visible Objects of Concern: Issues and challenges for workplace ethnographies in complex environments. Organization, Special Issue on ‘Development of Ethnographic Organization Studies: Towards New Objects of Concern’, vol. 26, no. 4, pp. 578-597.

Luff, Paul; Christian Heath; Menisha Patel; Dirk vom Lehn; and Andrew Highfield (2018) Creating interdependencies: Managing incidents in large organisational environments. Human Computer Interaction Journal, vol. 33 nos. 5-6, pp. 544-584.

Martin, David; John Bowers; and David Wastell (1997). The interactional affordances of technology: An ethnography of human-computer interaction in an ambulance control centre. In People and Computers XII. London: Springer, pp. 263-281.

Monteiro, Eric; Neil Pollock; Ole Hanseth; and Robin Williams (2013). From Artefacts to Infrastructures. Computer Supported Cooperative Work, vol. 22, no. 4, pp. 575–607.

Normark, Maria; and Dave Randall. (2005). Local expertise at an emergency call centre. In ECSCW 2005. Proceedings of the Ninth European Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work. Dordrecht: Springer, pp. 347-366.

Panagiotou, Nikolaos; Ioannis Katakis; Dimitrios Gunopulos; Vana Kalogeraki; Elisabeth Daly; Jia Yuan Yu; and Brendan O’Brien (2016). Mining hidden constrained streams in practice: Informed search in dynamic filter spaces. In ASONAM2015. Proceedings of the International Conference on Advances in Social Networks Analysis and Mining. IEEE, pp. 571-578.

Purohit, Hemant; Andrew Hampton; Sheyansh Bhatt; Valerie L. Shalin; Amit. P. Sheth; and John M. Flach. (2014). Identifying seekers and suppliers in social media communities to support crisis coordination. Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW), vol. 23, nos. 4-6, pp. 513-545.

Suchman, Lucy (1993). Technologies of Accountability: On Lizards and Aeroplanes. In G. Button (Ed.), Technology in Working Order. London: Routledge, pp. 113–126.

Suchman, Lucy (1996). Constituting Shared Workspaces. In Y. Engeström and D. Middleton (Eds.), Cognition and Communication at Work. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 35–60.

Suchman, Lucy (1997) Centers of coordination: A case and some themes. In L. Resnick; R. Säljö; C. Pontecorvo; and B. Burge (Eds), Discourse, Tools, and Reasoning: Essays on Situated Cognition. Berlin: Springer-Verlag, pp. 41-62.

Whalen, Jack (1995). A Technology of Order Production: Computer-Aided Dispatch in Public Safety Communications. In P. ten Have; and G. Psathas (Eds.), Situated Order: Studies in the Social Organisation of Talk and Embodied Activities. Washington: University Press of America, pp. 187-230.