Enid Mumford, Emeritus Professor of the Manchester Business School, is a recognized world leader in the application of socio-technical concepts to information systems development. The socio-technical school of thinking was largely born in England after the Second World War. The key organization that led in this development was the Tavistock Institute, which got involved in solving productivity and absenteeism problems in various industries.
From the management perspective, the root of the problem was that Tayloristic management practices did not lead to the expected gains in productivity. The socio-technical approach led to the discovery that the focus on efficiency and technology had left employees with little control over their work and future at the work place. Enid Mumford adopted the socio-technical principles and produced ETHICS - a participative method for designing computer based information systems. The basic principle behind ETHICS is that individuals who participate in designing their information systems, will be happier with their working circumstances, which will increase their productivity.
In recent years, Enid has turned her attention to broader social issues. She has applied socio-technical concepts to solving complex, wicked global problems related to cyber-crime and drugs. She says:
"The groups and networks that surround criminal activity may be hard to penetrate because they are shifting and impermanent, with many hidden structures and boundaries. They can be similar to the structures described by mathematicians as 'chaotic.' They are prone to instability and breakdown if one of the connecting linkages is broken. These very complex systems have far reaching effects. At one end of the drug market the BMW stolen from someone's driveway may be sold to fund the drugs an addict must have. At the other end, the poppy crop grown by a poor village in the Andes may start the long spiral of relationships that snakes across the world and eventually leads to the car theft." (Mumford, 1999, p. 17)
Enid argues that solving complex problems requires equally complex solutions and that current thinking concerning problem solving may be too simplistic. The new situation requires a new management approach. The corporate world is also being affected:
"...today there is another set of challenging problems that managers are confronted with. These are very complex, and are very threatening. They are outside the manager's normal day-to-day experience, and there may be few experts available to give advice; but the consequence of not tackling them may send a company on a route to commercial disaster." (Mumford, 1999, p. 1)
Enid's approach to information system design and solving problems of crime and management is ethical, practical and participative. Computers should be used in all areas to enhance the quality of human life. Ideals must be translated into pragmatic steps to make an impact. Problem solvers should spend time with the people whose problems they are attempting to solve. When computers are used in a responsible way, a positive economic impact follows.
Enid has always been a pioneer. She was the first woman to set foot underground in the mines of the North West Coal industry. At the Manchester Business school she was the first person to do research on the human side of computing. She was amongst the first to introduce the principals of the Tavistock Institute and the socio-technical school to the information systems field. She was also amongst the first to receive the Association for Information Systems LEO award. She was also the recipient of the prestigious Warnier Award. Over her significant career, Enid Mumford has influenced the thinking and research of scholars all over the world.
Following her BA in Social Science from Liverpool University, Enid Mumford spent time working in industry, first as personnel manager for an aircraft factory and later as production manager for an alarm clock manufacturer. The first job was important for her career as an academic, since it involved looking after personnel policy and industrial relations strategy for a large number of women staff. The second job also proved invaluable, as she was running a production department, providing a level of practical experience that is unusual among academics.
Professor Mumford then joined the Faculty of Social Science at Liverpool University, where she carried out research in industrial relations in the Liverpool docks and in the North West coal industry. In order to collect information for the dock research, she became a canteen assistant in the canteens used by the stevedores for meals. Each canteen was in a different part of the waterfront estate and served dockers working on different shipping lines and with different cargoes. The coal mine research required her to spend many months underground talking to miners at the coal face.
She then spent a year at the University of Michigan, where she worked for the University Bureau of Public Health Economics and studied Michigan medical facilities while her husband took a higher degree in dental science. On returning to England, she joined the newly formed Manchester Business School (MBS), where she undertook many research contracts investigating the human and organisational impacts of computer based systems. During this time she became Professor of Organisational Behaviour and Director of the Computer and Work Design Research Unit (CAWDRU). She also directed the MBA programme for four years.
While at MBS, Professor Mumford developed a close relationship with the Tavistock Institute and became interested in their democratic socio-technical approach to work organisation. Since then, she has applied this approach to the design and implementation of computer-based systems and information technology. One of her largest socio-technical projects was with the Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) in Boston. In the 1970's she became a member of the International Quality of Working Life Group, the goal of which was to spread the socio-technical message around the world. She later became a council member of the Tavistock Institute and is also a member of the US Socio-technical Round Table.
In 1983, she won the American Warnier Prize for her contributions to information science.
In 1996, she was given an Honorary Doctorate by the university of Jyvaskyla in Finland.
In 1999, she was the only British recipient of a Leo Lifetime Achievement Award for Exceptional Achievement in Information Systems, one of only four in that year. Leo Awards are given by the Association for Information Systems (AIS) and the International Conference on Information Systems (ICIS).
When she passed away, she was an Emeritus Professor of Manchester University and a Visiting Fellow at Manchester Business School. She was a companion of the Institute of Personnel Development and a Fellow of the British Computer Society. She was also a founder member and ex-chairperson of the BCS Sociotechnical Group.