Sociotechnical Evaluation: A Capability on the Rise

Simply put, understanding the concept of sociotechnical evaluation and its significance is crucial for senior-level decision-makers in the age of AI. If you take one thing away, start with remembering this concept and its applicability. Below we attempt a somewhat comprehensive overview of a sociotechnical evaluation, its relevance in the age of AI, and practical examples that highlight its implications for organizations.

What is Sociotechnical Evaluation?
Sociotechnical evaluation involves the thorough assessment and analysis of the dynamic relationship between social and technical components within organizations or systems. It recognizes that successful implementation and adoption of AI depend not only on technical aspects but also on the social context in which it operates. Social context refers to the environment, circumstances, and relationships that influence individuals’ behaviors, beliefs, and interactions within a society or community. This changes over time.

Social context is important because it can shape people’s perceptions and responses to real-world events. For example, during a political rally, individuals’ reactions can vary depending on their social context—such as their political affiliation, socioeconomic status, or cultural background—which influences their interpretation of the event and their support or opposition towards it.

Why Does This Matter in the Age of Artificial Intelligence?
1. Ethical Considerations:
– A Real Example: Sociotechnical evaluation addresses ethical concerns in AI-powered facial recognition systems. It examines the impact on privacy, civil liberties, and potential biases in identification accuracy across diverse populations.

2. User Acceptance and Trust:
– Example: Sociotechnical evaluation ensures user acceptance and fosters trust in AI-based virtual assistants. Understanding user preferences, societal norms, and cultural contexts helps develop systems that provide personalized and reliable assistance, enhancing the user experience.

3. Mitigating Bias and Ensuring Fairness:
– Example: Sociotechnical evaluation plays a critical role in reducing bias in AI-driven hiring platforms. It assesses how gender or racial biases may be perpetuated during the hiring process, suggesting methods to promote fairness, diversity, and inclusivity.

4. Organizational Effectiveness:
– Example: Sociotechnical evaluation optimizes supply chain management through AI-driven predictive analytics. By assessing the impact on employee collaboration and supply chain processes, organizations can ensure efficient inventory management, waste reduction, and streamlined operations.

5. Adaptability and Resilience:
– Example: Sociotechnical evaluation assists organizations in adapting to AI advancements by evaluating the impact of chatbot integration on customer support services. Understanding effects on customer satisfaction, employee workload, morale and  mindset on responsibly unlocking value and optimal resource allocation. Working this through, is one of the key criteria that led to a successful integration of capability with human potential.

Where to Start with Integrating Sociotechnical Evaluation into Decision-Making:

To successfully integrate sociotechnical evaluation into decision-making processes, consider the following steps:

1. Raise Awareness: Educate decision-makers about the importance of sociotechnical evaluation in AI adoption. Highlight its benefits, including ethical considerations, user acceptance, bias mitigation, organizational effectiveness, adaptability, and resilience.

2. Foster Collaboration: Encourage collaboration between technical experts, social scientists, and stakeholders from different domains to ensure comprehensive evaluation that considers both technical and social factors. Your team may not have these titles, such as social scientists. A social scientist is a researcher or (human with good intent) expert who studies human society and social behavior. They use scientific methods to examine social phenomena, understand social interactions, and analyze societal trends and patterns. Social scientists may focus on disciplines such as sociology, psychology, anthropology, economics, political science, or others to gain insights into how individuals and groups function within societies.

In the absence of a dedicated social scientist on staff, introducing a social science viewpoint in decision-making within a large company can still be achieved.

In that case consider the following these steps:

  • Identify relevant disciplines: Recognize the specific areas of social science that are most applicable to the decision at hand. This could include sociology, psychology, anthropology, economics, or any other relevant field. Infuse this to the team either via a consultancy or defined expectations of talent who is able to responsibly and adequately represent this view.
  • Make sure your AI teams are interdisciplinary: Create a team comprising individuals from various and diverse backgrounds who can bring different perspectives to the decision-making process. Seek individuals who have expertise or experience in the identified social science disciplines. This could involve collaborating with colleagues from different departments or hiring consultants with the required expertise.
  • Conduct research and gather data: Conduct thorough research and collect data related to the decision under consideration. This may involve analyzing existing research, conducting surveys or interviews, or reviewing relevant case studies. The aim is to gather empirical evidence and insights that can inform the decision from a social science perspective.
  • Analyze and interpret the data: Once the data is collected, utilize analytical tools and techniques to make sense of the information. Look for patterns, trends, and correlations that can provide a deeper understanding of the social context relevant to the decision. This analysis can help identify potential risks, opportunities, and impacts on various stakeholders.
  • Incorporate social science viewpoints in discussions: Encourage team members with social science expertise to actively contribute their viewpoints and insights during decision-making discussions. Emphasize the importance of considering social factors and potential implications on individuals, communities, or society as a whole. Create an inclusive and open environment that values diverse perspectives.
  • Seek external expertise if needed: If specific social science expertise is lacking within the organization, consider collaborating with external consultants or partnering with research institutions that can provide the necessary insights and guidance.
  • Test and evaluate decisions: Implement the decision and closely monitor the outcomes. Continuously evaluate and assess the impact of the decision in light of the social science factors identified earlier. This feedback loop will provide vital information for future decision-making processes. Let your interdisciplinary team learn how to debate and make choice. By actively involving team members with relevant expertise, conducting research, and analyzing data, organizations can introduce a social science viewpoint into their decision-making processes. Collaboration, data-driven approaches, and openness to diverse perspectives play key roles in incorporating this viewpoint effectively.
  • Incorporate Evaluation Frameworks: Implement evaluation frameworks that encompass sociotechnical aspects. These frameworks guide decision-makers in assessing the broader impact of AI technologies and inform the design and implementation processes.
  • Continuous Learning and Improvement: Foster a culture of continuous learning and improvement by regularly evaluating AI outcomes and adjusting strategies accordingly. Feedback loops and iterative processes refine sociotechnical evaluation practices.

Sociotechnical evaluation empowers senior-level decision-makers to harness the power of AI effectively.  By considering ethical implications, ensuring user acceptance, mitigating bias, enhancing organizational effectiveness, promoting adaptability, and building resilience, organizations can integrate AI in a manner that maximizes benefits and minimizes risks. Starting with increased awareness, fostering collaboration, incorporating evaluation frameworks, and nurturing a culture of continuous learning, organizations embark on a successful journey of sociotechnical evaluation and decision-making.

We hope this post provides valuable insights for senior-level decision-makers, enabling them to navigate the challenges and opportunities presented by AI in the digital era. If you need services or support in this area, contact Good Intent.

Highlighted Research Sources:

1. Trist, E., & Bamforth, K. W. (1951). Some social and psychological consequences of the longwall method of coal-getting. Human Relations, 4(1), 3-38.

2. Mumford, E. (2003). Socio-technical Design: An Unfulfilled Promise or a Future Opportunity? In J. W. Cortada, & J. A. Woods (Eds.), The digital hand: How computers changed the work of American manufacturing, transportation, and retail industries (pp. 455-473). Oxford University Press.

3. Coakes, S. J., & Willis, D. (2013). Oversight of Sociotechnical Systems. In The Handbook of Information Systems Research (pp. 157-181). Springer.

4. Dunleavy, Bastow, Tinker (2014). The contemporary social sciences are now converging strongly with STEM disciplines in the study of ‘human-dominated systems’ and ‘human-influenced systems.’ (

5. Abrams, Grossman (2023). Beyond the hype: How AI could change the game for social science research. (

6. Miller (2018). Explanation in Artificial Intelligence: Insights from the Social Sciences. (

5. Experience, debate and discernment: Good Intent Network