Journal of Management Information Systems

Volume 11 Number 4 1995 pp. 149-176

Element Finding: The Impact of a Group Support System on a Crucial Phase of Sense Making

Massey, Anne P and Clapper, Danial L

ABSTRACT: Many of the problem situations facing organizations today are complex and ill-structured, lacking a definitive structure and formulation. The attempt to clearly understand and make sense of these situations is difficult, but crucial, early requirements for effective problem solving. Problem-solving theory suggests that element finding--identifying the elements or variables that are relevant to a problem situation--is one of the earliest essential divergent activities of sense making. This paper details a theoretical framework synthesizing the work of a number of problem-solving research streams to highlight how brainstorming, although with distinct objectives, can be used as a divergent tool during very different phases of the problem-solving process. Using this framework, we empirically explored the impact of electronic brainstorming--a feature of group support systems--on element finding as groups attempted to identify the elements of an ill-structured situation facing them.

Key words and phrases: brainstorming, cognitive models, group environment, group decision support systems, problem structuring and formulation, sense making