Technological frames: making sense of information technology in organizations

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Citation: Wanda J. Orlikowski, Debra C. Gash (1994) Technological frames: making sense of information technology in organizations. ACM Transactions of Information Systems (RSS)
DOI (original publisher): 10.1145/196734.196745
Semantic Scholar (metadata): 10.1145/196734.196745
Sci-Hub (fulltext): 10.1145/196734.196745
Internet Archive Scholar (search for fulltext): Technological frames: making sense of information technology in organizations
Tagged: frames (RSS), organizational theory (RSS), Lotus Notes (RSS), socio-technical systems (RSS)


This work builds heavily on Orlkikowski's (1992) on Learning from Notes but focuses on one key finding and provides a longer and more theoretically rigorous treatment. A technological frame, as defined in this paper, identifies "that subset of members' organizational frames that concern the assumptions, expectations, and knowledge they use to understand technology in organizations."

One of the key findings in Learning from Notes is that organizational use of technology is directed by technological frames which, borrowing from Goffman's work on frames, plays and important role in setting the cognitive context through which users of technology understand the tools they are using.

This paper uses the same dataset as the earlier work and focuses on the rollout of Lotus Notes in a large consulting company. Building from that earlier finding (but going into much more ethnographic depth), Orlikowski and Gash show that the way that users conceive of their technology frames, and therefore limits, what they can do with it.

This paper goes further than earlier work in a series of ways. First, it break users within an organization explicitly into different groups and demonstrates that they have different frames and goals through which they are approaching the technology. In particular, it shows the managers, the consultants, and the information technology staff.

They talk about the way that congruence in technical frames, or a lack thereof, can be connected to conflicts around developing, implementing, and using technologies.

In their implications section, the authors suggest that studying technological frames could allow researchers to "trace the often unacknowledge structural influences of shared interpretations", therefore allowing for a theoretical bridge between institutional theory and perspectives that focus on micro-organizational dynamics. This is essentially the point made by Barley and Tolbert in their 1997 piece on Institutionalist and Structuration theory.

The data presented in ethnographic and from extensive interviews (~90), rich in detail, and provided at length.

Theoretical and Practical Relevance

This paper is highly cited in the CSCW literature and provides a core link between the sociological and social science literature on organizations and the literature on technology. This provides the "go to" literature on technological frames which continues to be a useful concept in the broader CSCW community.