Date of Award

Spring 1997

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Engineering Management & Systems Engineering


Engineering Management and Systems Engineering

Committee Director

Charles B. Keating

Committee Member

Billie M. Reed

Committee Member

Laurence D. Richards


This research applied sociotechnical systems theory to explore the process used by two elected bodies to decide upon adoption of a complex technical engineering proposal. The research used a modified sociotechnical systems conceptual framework that was developed by Pava (1983) for application to non-traditional work settings. Pava applied the conceptual framework to what he termed non-routine office work which is characterized by non-linear conversion flow, multiple, concurrent conversion processes and vocational separatism (Pava, 1983).

The research was designed as a multiple case study of two town councils each undertaking a decision process to approve or reject a public works proposal to join a metropolitan public utility. The proposal was submitted to the towns in the form of a technical engineering feasibility study which was distributed to the council members in each town. Qualitative data was collected in the form of field notes from meetings and telephone conversations, tape recordings of meetings, tape recordings of interviews, copies of official meeting minutes and newspaper articles.

A modified sociotechnical systems conceptual framework based on Pava (1983) was used to structure the data analysis and provide rigor to the case study method (Yin, 1994). The sociotechnical systems conceptual framework provided a theoretically based set of categories with which to draw evidence from the raw data and compile it into a case study data base. The case study data base was then used as the source of emergent themes and issues for development of the case study narratives. The case study narratives were reviewed by selected participants for content and accuracy. Case study review comments were incorporated into the final drafts of the narratives.

A cross case analysis was performed on the two narratives. The research generated implications for applications of sociotechnical systems theory in non-traditional settings and the capability of sociotechnical systems as a conceptual framework for case study research. In addition implications were also developed for engineering practice in a political environment and for further research.