The interdisciplinary study of coordination

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Computing Surveys, ACM, Volume 26, Issue 1, Number 1, p.87–119 (1994)




This survey characterizes an emerging research area, sometimes called coordination theory, that focuses on the interdisciplinary study of coordination. Research in this area uses and extends ideas about coordination from disciplines such as computer science, organization theory, operations research, economics, linguistics, and psychology.
A key insight of the framework presented here is that coordination can be seen as the process of managing dependencies among activities. Further progress, therefore, should be possible by characterizing different kinds of dependencies and identifying the coordination processes that can be used to manage them. A variety of processes are analyzed from this perspective, and commonalities across disciplines are identified. Processes analyzed include those for managing shared resources, producer/consumer relationships, simultaneity constraints, and tank/subtask dependencies.
Section 3 summarizes ways of applying a coordination perspective in three different domains: (1) understanding the effects of information technology on human organizations and markets, (2) designing cooperative work tools, and (3) designing distributed and parallel computer systems. In the final section, elements of a research agenda in this new area are briefly outlined.


Reprinted in Olson, G. M, Malone, T. W., and Smith, J. B. (Eds.) Coordination Theory and Collaboration Technology (pp. 7–50). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2001.
Reprinted in Malone, T. W., Crowston, K. & Herman, G. (Eds.) Organizing Business Knowledge: The MIT Process Handbook. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002.


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