Theoretical Frameworks for the Study of Structuring Processes in Group Decision Support Systems

Adaptive Structuration Theory and Self-Organizing Systems Theory


  • The preparation of this article was supported by a grant from Apple Computer's Advanced Technology Group and a University of California at Santa Barbara academic research grant. The authors gratefully acknowledge responses by Mark Heller, Andrea Hollingshead, Peter Monge, and Sami Kudsi to an earlier version of the article, as well as the insightful input of Bob McPhee. Inquiries and requests for reprints should be sent to Professor Noshir Contractor, 244 Lincoln Hall, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL 61801.


Most theoretical perspectives used to explain the use and effects of communication and decision support technologies assume some form of technological determinism. Inconsistencies in the research findings have prompted theorists to reject the assumptions of technological determinism in favor of an emergent perspective. To date, only adaptive Structuration theory (AST) offers the promise of satisfying two requirements for explanation based on an emergent perspective: recursivity and unique effects. The current article reviews the application of AST to the study of a relatively recent technology in the work place—group decision support systems (GDSS). Next it discusses AST's challenge to capture, dynamically and precisely, GDSS processes and outcomes. In response to these concerns, self-organizing systems theory (SOST) is reviewed and applied to problematic areas in GDSS research with the aim of advancing AST.