The conditions for the third, non-profit sector, such as grassroots organisations and trade unions, have changed dramatically in recent years, due to prevailing social trends. Non-profit organisations have been seen as early adopters of information technology, but the area is, at the same time, largely unattended by scientific research. Meanwhile, the field of information systems development is, to an increasing extent, recognising the importance of user involvement in the design process. Nevertheless, participatory development approaches, such as Participatory Design are not suited to the context of entire organisations, and new, networked organisational structures, such as those of non-profit organisations. This reasoning also applies to the theoretical framework of Activity Theory, whose potential benefits for systems development have been acclaimed but less often tried in practice.
This thesis aims, first, at extending Participatory Design to use in large, particularly non-profit organisations. This aim is partly achieved by integrating Participatory Design with an Argumentative Design approach and with the application of Activity Theory modified for an organisational context. The purpose is to obtain reasoning about and foreseeing the consequences of different design solutions. Second, the thesis aims at exploring information technology needs, solutions, and consequences in non-profit organisations, in trade unions in particular. The case under study is the Swedish Trade Union Confederation (LO) and the design of an information system for its 250 000 shop stewards.
The thesis is based on six related studies complemented with data from work in a local design group working according to the principles of Participatory Design. The first study was aimed at investigating and comparing trade union management’s view of the new technology and the actual needs of shop stewards. The second study investigated the situation, tasks and problems of shop stewards, as a pre-requisite for finding information technology needs. The third study merged the previous findings into an argumentative design of an information systems design proposal. The fourth study collected the voices from secondary user groups in the organisation, and presented an Activity theoretical analysis of the union organisation and a modified design proposal in the form of a prototype. The fifth study presented an Activity theoretical framework, modified for organisational application, and used it for producing hypotheses on possible shop steward tasks and organisational consequences of the implementation of the information system. The sixth paper was aimed at the initial testing of the hypotheses, through the evaluation of information technology facilities in one of the individual union affiliations. The complementary data was used to propose further modifications of the integrated Participatory, Argumentative, and Activity Theory design approach.
The major contributions of the study are, first, a modified Participatory Design approach to be applied at three levels; in general as a way of overcoming experienced difficulties with the original approach, in the context of entire, large organisations, and in the specific non-profit organisation context. The second contribution is generated knowledge in the new research area of information technology in the non-profit, trade union context, where for instance the presented prototype can be seen as a source of inspiration. Future research directions include further development and formalisation of the integrated Participatory Design approach, as well as actual consequences of implementing information technology in non-profit organisations and trade unions.