A Multi-domain Approach Toward Adaptations of Socio-technical Systems: The Dutch Railway Case-Part 2

Abstract—Socio-technical systems are highly complex in which
a number of domains each of which including numerous interdependent
elements are present. Therefore, for adaptation of sociotechnical
systems, Part 1 of this paper presented a multi-domain
approach based upon Design Structure and Multi-domain matrices
to develop/analyze a multi-domain model of those system.
Moreover, that model is analyzed according to both (1) the change
propagation measures of the non-human domain and (2) the
information processing view of the stakeholder domain of the
socio-technical system. This papers presents application of the
presented method in the Dutch railway system. We have reviewed
the relevant railway literature, and interviewed with a number of
the Dutch railway experts and validated our model. The results
are presented in this paper.

Socio-technical systems conceptualize systems as consisting
of two independent, but linked, systems: a technical system
and a social system [14]. The former is composed of equipment
and processes, while the latter consists of people and
relationships [10]. In order to describe socio-technical systems
(STS), scholars have examined the common attributes of those
systems. In general, common features of STS include (1)
large number of elements [3], (2) nonlinear interactions [8],
[15], [17], [19], adaptive capacity [11], feedback loops [13],
[12], and emergent properties [16]. Another relevant aspect
is that since socio-technical systems are highly complex, a
deliberate and comprehensive and outcome-oriented planning
process may not be possible for such systems [1]. Thus,
evolutionary models that allow for learning and adaptation
can be an alternative for analysing/improving socio-technical
Part 1 of this paper presents a multi-domain approach
that aims to identify performance-enhancing adaptations in
the domains of socio-technical systems. The core ideas of
our approach relies on the four distinct notions: (1) rather
than planning a socio-technical system, identifying adaptation
possibilities is recommended [1], (2) socio-technical systems
encompass several inter-related domains (e.g., stakeholders,
functional, technical), and thus, a multi-domain approach
could be an appropriate approach toward those systems [4],
(3) change lies at the heart of safety critical systems like
power plants, and railway systems [6], and hence, change
propagation measures can be used to examine the non-human
(e.g., technical) elements of socio-technical systems, finally,
(4) those results obtained from analysing the non-human
domain, and the information processing view of organizational
systems [7] can be used to examine stakeholders coordination/
communication structures.
More specifically, Part 1 uses the Design Structure Matrix
(DSM) and multi-domain matrix (MDM) notions [2], [4] to
analyze socio-technical systems through the following steps:
1) Define scope
2) Select and define critical domains
3) Collect data and build design structure and multidomain
4) Analyse multi-domain matrices
The rest of this paper is organized as follows. The next
section discusses the application of our method for the Dutch
railway system. Lastly, the discussion and conclusion sections
end our paper.

Fig. 1: Technical DSM of the Dutch railway system. The
technical elements are illustrated using their IDs provided in
Table 1.

Socio-technical systems are highly complex, and adaptive
approach toward managing them are advised [1]. In this paper,
we presented an application of the presented multi-domain
approach in Part 1 of our paper. It illustrates potentials of
that method (see Part 1) in identifying performance-enhancing
adaptations in domains of the Dutch railway system as a sociotechnical
At first, using DSM and MDM matrices, we build a multidomain
perspective of the Dutch railway. In particular, both
of the stakeholders and non-human domain matrices are developed.
In the next step, and for the non-human (technical) domain,
four categories of the elements that require different adaptation
strategies are identified. That is done based upon the change
propagation perspective [6]. For the stakeholders domain, and
according to the information processing view of an organizations,
we argue that in a socio-technical system, those
non-human elements that are classified in different classes
according to change propagation, impose various information
processing requirements on the overall performance system
and its stakeholders.
We have applied our method to a highly complex sociotechnical
system: the Dutch railway system. Our analysis
indicates that some stakeholders like infrastructure maintenance
and rolling stock operations managers should have more
of group meetings for their communications/coordinations,
whereas, the other stakeholders like train driver and train conductors
might incorporate less information capability mechanisms
(e.g., reporting) for their coordinations. In addition to
these, our technical domain analysis implies that changes in
the subsystems like station and power supply are less likely to
propagate, and conversely, the opposite is the case for some
other subsystems (e.g., signaling and track).
The presented practical case in this part (Part 2) of our
paper opens up some directions for studying the other sociotechnical
systems. For instance, different sytems of either the
healthcare or the aviation industry could be analyzed in a
similar approach.

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