A theoretical essay on socio-technical systems design thinking in the era of digital transformation

M. Govers*, P. van Amelsvoort

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Digital technology is here to stay. Currently, digital technologies are unleashing the fourth industrial revolution. This so-called digital transformation is about the integration of digital technology into all areas of society. Within organisations, work is fundamentally changing which impacts how organisations will operate and deliver value to customers. Furthermore, but often forgotten, it is also about a cultural change that requires organisations to continually challenge their status quo, experiment, and get comfortable with failure.Digital possibilities are emerging which cannot be viewed separately from social effects in organised (eco-)systems and for people in those systems. The challenge is to jointly optimise technical and social aspects for creating both added value in a sustainable manner and improve quality of working life. As we have an 'organisational choice', technical possibilities can be aligned with social needs and requirements, and vice versa. This alignment forms the basis of socio-technical systems (STS) thinking, which is necessary for developing sustainable organisational solutions. Sociotechnical theory and practice originally have a focus on optimising social and technical aspects in organisations. Therefore, we choose in this essay for an STS perspective, especially for the STS Design (STS-D) approach which is elaborated by the Lowlands STS school of thought. As digital technologies offer new affordances and constraints for organisational design, we aim, with this essay, to merge STS-D with digital thinking.We start with a brief sketch of the understanding of current digital technologies. After this, we discuss organisational design in terms of the division of labour and the penetration of digital technology into the nature of work. Then, the STS-D's core design principles and design sequence, specifically from the Lowlands school of thought, are introduced and adapted for digital thinking. This is followed by a section on design routines for unlocking the potential for designing future, digital-receptive workplaces and organisations. We end the essay with some closing remarks and reflections.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)27-40
Number of pages14
JournalGruppe. Interaktion. Organisation. Zeitschrift fuer Angewandte Organisationspsychologie (GIO)
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2023


  • Socio-technical systems design
  • Digital transformation
  • Designing organisations
  • Workplace innovation
  • Design routines and sequence
  • Quality of working life
  • Quality of organisation
  • Division of labour
  • Agile organisation

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