Supporting the Appropriation of ICT: End-User Development in Civil Societies 

Volkmar Pipek

Institut für Wirtschaftsinformatik der Universität Siegen < >

Mary Beth Rosson

School of Information Sciences and Technology, Center for Human-Computer Interaction, The Pennsylvania State University < >

Gunnar Stevens

Institute for Information Systems, University of Siegen, Germany < >

Volker Wulf

Information Systems and New Media, University of Siegen, Germany < >



The more open-ended and less organized contexts of home and social organizations present considerable challenges for the design and application of information and communication technology (ICT). An approach that actively supports user communities in their appropriation activities can help alleviate the lack of professional support in home and volunteering settings of use.




Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has become an important factor in our personal lives as well as in our social organizations—at work, at home, in our hospitals, in political institutions and in the public media. While in work settings the dynamics of shared business goals, shared task systems, and professional delegation structures result in a relatively predictable and organized design context, the more open-ended and less organized contexts of home or society present considerable challenges for applications of ICT. The goals and interests of the diverse actors in these more general contexts are quite unstable and unpredictable; home and society provide only weak structures of specialization and delegation regarding the use of ICTs. One approach to these challenges is to cede design power to the participating users, so that they can develop solutions that match problems and intentions for action.

There have always been motivations to involve users in the design and development of ICTs. On the one hand, the quality of products might be improved by involving end users in the early phases of design (the “User-Centred Design” tradition); on the other hand, end users have claimed the right to participate in the development of ICTs that affect their (working) environments (e.g., the Scandinavian tradition of “Participatory design”). Beyond these approaches to “change design” by changing design methodologies or other aspects of the setting of professional design work, there have also been approaches to “design for change” by offering technologies and tools that provide the flexibility to be thoroughly modified at the time of use (Henderson & Kyng, 1991). The latter approaches have been proffered under the label of ‘Tailoring Support’ and ‘End-User Development’ (Lieberman, et al. 2005; Sutcliffe & Mehandijev, 2004), and complement earlier research on ‘End-User Computing’ and ‘Adaptability/Adaptivity’.


Active support for technology appropriation


At some point it is no longer sufficient to provide the necessary flexibility for (re-)configuring tools and technologies while in use. It is also necessary to provide stronger support for managing this flexibility. Keeping the tool interaction simple, and providing good manuals may be one strategy, but the adaptation and appropriation of tools is often more a social activity than a problem of individual learning and use. Knowledge sharing and delegation structures often develop, although in home and other informal usage settings these structure are likely to be much more spontaneous and less organized than in professional environments. End-User Development methods can address the social aspects of computing by treating users as a ‘(virtual) community of tool/technology users’, and by providing support for different appropriation activities that users can engage in to make use of a technology. Examples of such activities (Pipek, 2005) include:

These are support ideas derived from the observation of activities that users perform to make use of a technology. They have been partially addressed in earlier research, for example by providing flexibility through component-based approaches (Morch, et al., 2004), or by offering sandboxes for tool exploration (Wulf & Golombek, 2001).


Supporting ‘Virtual Communities of Technology Practice’


Pipek (2005) also gave the example of ‘Use Discourse Environments’ as one possibility to support the user community in some of these appropriation activities. These environments tightly integrate communication mechanisms with representations of the technologies under consideration, for instance by integrating discourse processes with the configuration facilities of tools, or by providing easy citations of technologies and configuration settings in online discussion forums. By these means, technology needs and usages become more easily describable by end users, and communication among people sharing a similar use background (typically not the professional tool designer) is eased. However, evaluations of these environments suggest that the problem cannot be solved by offering technological support alone; additional social or organizational measures (establishing/mediating conventions, stimulation of communication) must also be considered to guarantee long-term success.

The approach to actively support user communities in their appropriation activities promises to alleviate the lack of professional support in home/volunteering settings of ICT usage. It may stimulate the spreading of good practice among users, and it offers a platform to actively deal with conflicts that occur between different stakeholders involved in a shared activity that involves ICT use (e.g., conflicts about visibility of actions and about the configuration of access rights).



Henderson, A., & Kyng, M. (1991). There's no place like home: Continuing design in use. In J. Greenbaum & M. Kyng (Eds.). Design at work: Cooperative design of computer systems (pp. 219-240). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Lieberman, H., Paternó, F., & Wulf, V. (Eds.). (2005). End user development. Berlin: Springer.

Morch, A., Stevens, G., Won, M., Klann, M., Dittrich, Y., & Wulf, V. (2004). Component-based technologies for end-user development. Special issue: End-user development. Communications of the ACM, 47(9), pp 59-62.

Pipek, V (2005). From tailoring to appropriation support: Negotiating groupware usage. In Faculty of Science, Department of Information Processing Science (ACTA UNIVERSITATIS OULUENSIS A 430) (p. 246). Oulu, Finland: University of Oulu.

Sutcliffe, A., & Mehandjiev, N. (2004). Introduction. Special issue: End-user development. Communications of the ACM, 47(9), 31-32.

Wulf, V., & Golombek, B. (2001). Exploration environments: Concept and empirical evaluation. In Proceedings of the International ACM SIGGROUP Conference on Supporting Group Work (pp. 107-116). Boulder, CO: ACM Press.