Socio-technical systems

This course was presented as part of an Engineering Doctorate (EngD) course in Large-scale Complex IT Systems at York University.  Students had a background in computer science or engineering and were all working on systems research projects in conjunction with industry.

Aim of the course

The aim of the course was to introduce socio-technical systems and explain why socio-technical issues are particularly important in the procurement, design and operation of large-scale complex IT systems.

Background reading

Because the students taking this course had little or no previous experience of socio-technical systems and were generally from a technical background, I thought that it was important for them to ‘read-in’ to the course rather than try to cover all of the material in a course introduction.  I also asked students to watch three videos on socio-technical systems that I made.

Recommended background reading before starting the course

Course lectures

I have given this course several times and select material from a range of lectures that I have prepared. Rather than try and suggest a lecture set, I have made all of my lecture slide decks available here.

Restrictions on use

You may use any of the material made available here under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Sharealike International 4.0 license. You must attribute the material to Ian Sommerville.

WARNING: The lecture material may contain copyright images that have been included under the provision for ‘academic fair use’. The material is intended for non-commercial use only. It is not licensed for commercial use and MUST NOT be used for this purpose.

Lecture topics

Lecture: Designing software for a million users

Lecture: LSCITS and socio-technical systems

Lecture: Cooperative work

Lecture: System failure – a socio-technical perspective

Lecture: Human failure

Lecture: Organisational failure

Lecture; Research methods

Lecture: Socio-technical systems engineering

Lecture: Recovering from failure


Assessment for the course was based around  setting the students a set of readings of work that I have done on making ethnographic techniques accessible to software engineers and asking a set of questions where the students had to apply the knowledge gained from their reading.

Required reading for course assessment