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Influence Of Social Networks On Engineering Design Decisions

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1998 Annual Conference


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 28, 1998

Start Date

June 28, 1998

End Date

July 1, 1998



Page Count


Page Numbers

3.338.1 - 3.338.8

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Paper Authors

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James H. Dooley

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James L. Fridley

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 1608

Influence of Social Networks on Engineering Design Decisions

James H. Dooley, James L. Fridley Silverbrook Limited / University of Washington

Introduction One of the greatest challenges facing engineering and scientific problem solvers is finding ways to fully integrate social complexity and diverse viewpoints of external participants and interested publics into their work. Modern engineering decision-making generally developed under a paradigm that included a singular decision-maker or client and single (“Chief”) engineer. Only recently has engineering education embraced team approaches to design. During the last fifteen years a number of public policy and sociopolitical changes have either allowed or encouraged direct public participation in the activities of engineers and scientists. Discipline based design projects are being replaced with multidisciplinary and cross-functional team approaches to design and problem solving. Task teams and cross-functional or concurrent engineering teams are frequently assigned rather than self-selected, making society-building a necessary concurrent activity for team members.

A proposition of this paper is that the profession of design engineering is a social construction; therefore, it is logical that engineering design should be practiced in a broad societal context. In spite of its long history of creating artifacts to meet society’s needs engineering is believed by many people to be free of societal influence and “outside the checks and balances of social order” 1. Technical professionals are generally unprepared to understand or participate in social role and norm development that is critical to team success. Additionally, technical professions are struggling to discover and develop new operating paradigms that are consistent with engineering being as much a social process as it is a technical process.

Current Situation Increasing external public, regulatory and special interest group participation in engineering design comes at a time when the current generation of design engineers is least prepared to appreciate and accept non-technical input 2 3. Over the past forty years or so engineering has been positioned by educators and many practitioners as being necessarily independent of and immune from social influence 4 1. In the mid-1950’s engineering education in the United States was directed away from social-technical integration toward more scientific and mathematical content 5, 6. At the same time that engineering education stepped away from problem definition and consideration of non-technical aspects of design, the educational discipline of professional management provided specialists to assume the decision-making roles in society 7. Engineering students were subsequently taught that it was the role of managers and other non-technologists to cut through the politics, external interests and other non-technical design issues to craft a crisp engineering task statement 4 8. However, since the early 1980’s we have watched a major shift in the practices of engineering employers to place the burden for addressing non-technical design issues squarely back onto the design engineer. Design engineers are now being challenged to directly participate in a broader social system more than at any time in the past four decades.

Dooley, J. H., & Fridley, J. L. (1998, June), Influence Of Social Networks On Engineering Design Decisions Paper presented at 1998 Annual Conference, Seattle, Washington.

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