STS vs Social Media

A true Socio-Techical System (STS) is not FB or Twitter.  STS tools and techniques combine comparative and longitudinal evaluation with action learning and allows for feedback from all levels with regards to changes implemented within breathing, living organizations, institutions and communities through the use of Information Systems (IS).  The use of IS accelerates communication, learning and knowledge sharing.  STS links humans and technology to maximize self-regulation, productivity and job satisfaction while maintaining flexibility and a competitive advantage.  Socio-Technical System (STS) was studied and carried out by Fred Emery and Eric Trist in Great Britain in 1949.  Trist coined the term Socio-Technical System to be “the interaction of people (a social system) with tools and techniques (a technical system)”.  His approach focused on group relations from three depths: Primary work systems, whole organization systems and macrosocial systems.  Primary work systems consist of face to face work units.  Whole organization systems involve entire organization, and lastly, macrosocial systems include systems in communities, business sectors and societal institutions.  The use of Web 2.0 allows educational entities to expand their teaching and curriculum outside a given global destination, much like what is used here at CCU.  Many organizations are developing KM systems that increase knowledge flow from multiple levels: in the community, home and workplace.  Producing and sharing knowledge is the key characteristic in Socio-Technical Systems (STS).  Trist observed in his studies that changes in technology bring about changes in cognitive structure, communication, habitats, lifestyles and values of its participants.  STS and KM continue to open boundaries of communication and knowledge sharing and is here to stay well beyond the 21st century.  There are many programs, web resources and sites claiming to be STS models, but not all are created equally, as FB, Twitter, My space and the like are not true Socio-Technical Systems according to the work of Trist and his colleagues.


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  1. LeaderNine says:

    Socio-technical Systems (STS) are considered the new organizational paradigm whereby the new structure challenged the current mechanistic top-down paradigm (Aldridge 2004, p. 1). In today’s organizations, many companies are utilizing information systems to improve communication, learning, and knowledge sharing (Aldridge 2004, p. 2). STS changes the paradigm by bringing the focus from out of group to in group. Aldridge (2004) states, “It is an emotional as well as cognitive experience in that STS empowers organizational members to ask questions and challenge assumptions” (p. 3). By shifting the focus to a more collaborative decision making process it allows all individuals of a team to feel empowered and creates tacit experiences which connect people and technology (Aldridge 2004, p. 3). As a result, social networking sites are not considered true Socio-technical Systems. Social network sites do not have the fundamental priorities that would innovate change and knowledge amongst an institution. Social networking also does not allow for collaborative work groups or utilizing these sites to promote communication and learning.

    Aldridge, J.W. (2004). Information on Socio-technical Systems. Socio-Technical Systems: Team Building Glossary. Retrieved from

  2. LeaderTwelve says:

    True STS format provides workability and knowledge gain from within the system. An STS format is utilized to empower employees to travel outside the normal activities and provide a technology that can provide accessibility and operability at all levels. The concept of the socio-technical system was established to stress the reciprocal interrelationship between humans and machines and to foster the program of shaping both the technical and the social conditions of work, in such a way that efficiency and humanity would not contradict each other any longer. (Rophol, 1999) Providing employees at all levels with access to the organizational STS provides a greater pool from which to draw and allows the organization to contain the KM within a network that it has control over. There is contradictory information available, but based upon the initial studies conducted by Emery and Trist on an interactive socio technical design, the employees should be able to interact within the program at all levels and social media sites such as these do not provide the type of manipulation and knowledge sharing at all levels such as that of a true Socio-technical system.

    Rophol, G. (1979). Philosophy of Socio-Technical Systems. Society for Philosophy and Technology. Retrieved 20 April 2014 from

  3. LeaderSeven says:

    Great posts!
    STS is the abbreviation for Socio-Technical Systems. To be honest, I had no idea what this meant until I did a little reading and research. This concept is not a new one, but the manner in which socio-technical systems are carried out today is much different than when it was coined back in 1949 in Great Britain (John W. Aldridge, 2009). The meaning of STS is simply the “interaction of people (social system) with tools and techniques (technical system) (John W. Aldridge, 2009).
    Even after reading this definition, my mind still was not grasping the concept. I began searching my memory bank (my mind) for an instance of when a computer was used in conjunction with my job to an extent that the managers did not have to be so involved in my work performance. It hit me fast. I remember a time when I worked at a hospital. We had a room called the “Central Paging Office”. This was when the doctors wore pagers, and in order to contact the doctor, people would have to call my office and request for us to page a particular doctor and have that doctor contact that person at a phone number that the person gave to us. It was a tedious job, but it kept me employed for a year and a half. But then cell phones came out and doctors no longer needed to wear pagers. They could be contacted by phone – not only alleviating my job, but almost the entire office! We still had to maintain emergency protocols, but the social-technical tool was in effect where people could phone a call center and the people in the call center could then relay via message more information than a pager could ever relay!
    But this was about twenty years ago. Technological advances are so grand that my example pales in comparison. “Today, organizational managers who advocate socio-technical systems seek to create enabling constructs using information systems to accelerate communication, learning and knowledge sharing” (John W. Aldridge, 2009). Because of this statement, I do believe that social media platforms such as Facebook an Twitter are true STS’s. (This is where I see that your opinions vary from my own).
    I am not aware of Twitter and the uses it has, but I am familiar with Facebook and I do know that many people set up a business Facebook account to share information in a manner that is easy to get to everyone and alleviates having to do a “phone chain”. Some people are very anti-Facebook and refuse to get an account, but those numbers are far and few between, and e-mail is usually the next option for getting the information across.
    Even this example is a little outdated. “Today, many organizations are developing KM systems that are intended to increase the flow of knowledge at multiple levels: in the workplace, at home, and at the broader community. With the advent of the Internet, our work experiences continue to transform from production-oriented to knowledge-centered, from competitive to collaborative, and from mechanistic to organismic” (John W. Aldridge, 2009). Take schooling, for example. My son who is in his Sophomore year of High School was issue a “Kindle” for reading purposes. He will be responsible for this electronic until he graduates school. Gone are the days where parents must purchase sets of Encyclopedias, and gone are the days that children are aware of what encyclopedias are! Gone are the typewriter days, as computers have taken over.
    When I was younger, I remember being scared that the technology on the computer would take over my job. I argued that someone would still need to make the computer work, but little did I know then how readily available information truly is. A perfect example is on-line learning. Who would have imagined that someone would be able to log on to a computer and have so much information readily available at one’s fingertips? No longer does a person need to sit in a classroom around someone else’s schedule in order to obtain a degree. This is a major example of STS in today’s generation. In sum, STS is here to stay. It is “anywhere a self-regulating and autonomous work groups collaborate, share knowledge and remain agile under turbulent conditions. STS provides the framework for organizational members to lead with confidence in times of uncertainty” (John W. Aldridge, 2009).

    Aldridge, J.W. (2004). Information on Socio-technical Systems. Socio-Technical Systems: Team
    Building Glossary. Retrieved from

  4. Shane Ratzell says:

    I too had a hard time wrapping my head around the concept of socio-technical systems (STS). I needed some examples of STS in action and after reading your reply amongst others on the topic a light bulb went off in my head.
    Aldridge (2004) states “[t]he socio-technical approach challenged the current mechanistic management paradigm where coordination and control had been externally located at the top of the organizational ladder in a hierarchical management archetype where the flow of information was situated one-way, top-down” (para. 3). There are many benefits to having a top-down type of organization, but one of the negative aspects of its nature is that it stifles innovation. In a manufacturing business who better is there to design a machine, or process that can increase autonomy, efficiency and safety than a worker in the department that does these jobs. The bottom of part of the company encompasses experts in process. They may even contain a wealth of knowledge on how to do it better, if they were given a voice and incentive. STS involves a more fluid transfer of this type of communication. Integration of a voice for the bottom of the organization to make the company better is paramount. An easy implementation of this voice would be through the tools of technology. Social media does have a place at this table and can be an example of STS. For example, Domino’s Pizza has recently released a video via YouTube, which not only calls on the drivers and other bottom-of-the-line employees but also the general public. In this video they show the routine of a pizza delivery driver. They show every little detail, from placing of a driver tag sticker on the shoulder of the driver to how he gets in the vehicle with the pizzas. This video is a call to the community to design a better system for this routine as to maximize delivery time, convenience and safety and ultimately maximize the profits of the company. Because this video is placed on social media it provides potential for someone from another pizza chain or a car manufacturer to create something that will revolutionize this routine and its potential profits. Social media in this instance is “emphasiz[ing] group-relations, empowering autonomous internal-regulation” (Aldridge, 2004, para. 3).
    Aldridge, J.W. (2004). Information on socio-technical systems. Socio-technical systems: Teambuilding glossary. Retrieved from

  5. jannadiane says:

    Facebook, Twitter and the like cannot be true Socio-Technical Systems (STS). Businesses may have Facebook and Twitter accounts which serve more as marketing platforms rather than a knowledge system or STS. A hospital or trauma center as mentioned in Aldridge’s article Socio-technical systems, need on-site and secure platforms for continual updating of relevant information. Facebook is anything but secure. A good example of a changing STS is the area of online schools. These online schools and classrooms can be any level from grade school through graduate school. I have never seen a truel STS using a platform such as Facebook or Twitter. That is, not to say that there is no valid information on Facebook. There are many new stations that have Facebook and twitter accounts that post updates to the news and news stories. While their followers can comment on the news posts, there is neither collaborative decision making nor shared leadership. Most comments are not based on the news story itself, but on the followers’ personal opinions. According to Aldridge, “Socio-technical systems create the organizational context for knowledge sharing learning and innovation enabling work groups to think and learn collaboratively thereby, develop original work patterns, maintain flexibility and competitive advantage.” In this aspect, social media while beneficial cannot be classified as a true STS.
    Aldridge, J.W. (2004). Information on socio-technical systems. Socio-technical systems: Teambuilding glossary. Retrieved from

  6. Chad Willson says:

    Hello! Great posts and excellent points being made across the board. To be clear, by definition, social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter ARE socio-technical systems. Facebook and Twitter are sites that promote the interaction of people (socio) by using technical tools and software. More and more businesses are using these websites to gain entry into new markets, interact with consumers, start and manage dialogue between various consumers, and engineer consumer behavior. The item for debate is: How effective are these social sites, and do they fall under the intent of Trist’s definition of a social technical system.

    In the context of the three levels of socio-technical systems, and the context of a organization, social media sites have less relevance. The primary work systems, whole organizational systems, and macrosocial systems have a different meaning that can’t be applied to social media. However the overall greater themes of group collaboration, and individual empowerment and accountability have social media overtones. Facebook and Twitter allow for group collaboration and “action” learning and research for entire communities. Had Trist been able to see these modern communities, he would have been astounded at the real time learning and information sharing.
    The problem with social media websites being considered socio technical sites, is often the validity of the information. The often spread is usually opinion based and lacks accountability for source citing and credibility. Consumers have the power to raise up, and bring down entire brands by word of mouth campaigns. That’s why companies must be incredibility careful and precise with control of information and the way people interact with their brand on these sites.

  7. JH says:

    Socio-technical systems are interactions of people with technical tools and techniques. While I love this post and agree with many things said here, I would argue that social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have potential to be STSs and in many cases they are. A STS, as you allude to, does accelerate communication, learning, and knowledge. Facebook and Twitter are used in this exact way; although, I’ll admit, not 100% of the time. Take CCU Admission’s Facebook page for example. Its purpose, unlike most of the noise on Facebook and Twitter, is meant to serve as an avenue for potential students to easily gain knowledge and information pertaining to CCU. This, by definition, is a socio-technical system.
    At the same time, I definitely agree with your point that not all socio-technical systems are created equally. Facebook was not designed to be a socio-technical system; which is okay. There are better designed systems that exist that can serve the purpose of a true STS significantly better than Facebook and Twitter. However, Facebook and Twitter are more accessible to the general public and for that reason they can serve as an acceptable substitute for socio-technical systems.

  8. Steve says:

    I agree with you in that most social media platforms were not designed to be socio-technical systems (STS). However, by offering the technical workings of an STS, and allowing autonomous self-regulation, a social media platform can set the stage for a true STS to develop. This can take place as a primary work system, whole organization system, or macrosocial level system.
    One such example of a social media platform that can morph into an STS is Facebook. Private organizational groups and pages can be created to allow value sharing and collaborative decision-making. At a primary work system level, this could develop by a work section creating a private group for internal discussions and praxis theory on day-to-day tasks. On a larger scale, an organizational group could shape the outlook and direction of a global entity.

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