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CTG Study Models Organizational Behavior
DG-funded Study Examines the Way Disparate Professional Cultures Share Information
For the DGRC

CTG Models Organizational Behavior

" Project Profile
" eJusticeNY
" Center for Technology in Government


It used to be hard for people to grasp the fundamental importance of Theresa Pardo's work; their eyes would glaze over as she explained the value of using technology to integrate information across institutional boundaries, says Pardo, Deputy Director of the Center for Technology and Government at SUNY-Albany.

But two years ago this month, the entire country became acutely aware of the need for integrated communication between local, state and federal agencies. And in tragically timely fashion, just a few weeks after 9/11, funding came through for Pardo's project "Modeling the Social and Technical Processes of Interorganizational Information Integration."

The CTG, in partnership with SUNY-Albany's Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy, offers one of the best programs in the country for modeling organizational behavior in the public sector. (MIT offers a similarly strong program that focuses on the private sector.)

Pardo's research is modeling the ways that constituencies can better integrate disparate information systems and professional cultures.

Part of her methodology is to gather professionals together to discuss their concerns and goals. Pardo and her SUNY-Albany colleagues use those discussions as the basis for model systems that allow proposed solutions - and, most importantly, their perhaps unintended consequences - to be tested theoretically before being implemented in real-world situations.

Pardo's particular specialty is social process modeling, or being able to identify and anticipate the social processes that come into play in organizations.

"Everything is about decision-making and collaboration. It's about getting inside the questions, not allowing for over-simplified answers," says Pardo, explaining that often, the work involves guiding participants to examine issues and consequences they haven't yet thought about. They draw on every piece of professional life: technical artifacts, existing standards and in-place systems, as well as extensive group and individual interviews.

"We can then derive from this collective set of perspectives what we consider to be the core processes that are critical to effective organizations, as well as what choices would be detrimental," she says.

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Her colleague George Richardson, author of Feedback Thought in Social Science and Systems Theory, is a leading expert on dynamic systems theory.

"We build computer simulation models to help people think about change over time in complex systems," explains Richardson.

The computer game SimCity is a good example. The player is both mayor and god, altering the life of the city at will. But SimCity only models events: what happens when taxes get raised or a tidal wave hits. Richardson's more complex structures model "the continuous pressures that impinge on people.

"We don't think, 'A causes B;' we think in self-reinforcing feedback loops," he says. "In life, things don't just appear; it's a process of growing accumulations." Richardson says that his models can show that even with the best of intentions, "The real world reasserts itself in response to your new policy."

Both Pardo's and Richardson's work rely on continuous feedback from participants to refine the models, so that they can be come as close as possible to simulating reality. "No formal model does things you didn't build in," they both warn.

Under the current grant, Pardo is partnering with the New York State Department of Criminal Justice on development of their e-Justice Web portal. She and her government contact, New York State Division of Criminal Justice Deputy Commissioner/CIO Daniel Foro, are working together to implement Commissioner Chauncey G. Parker's vision for a Web portal that could offer one-stop shopping for criminal justice personnel at the federal, state and local levels.

The eJusticeNY portal is a collection of criminal justice information services organized into distinct "Service Suites," all of which can be accessed via web browsers and secure extranet. Each of the suites is security-based, with levels of access that can be tailored for each agency and individual user.

"The individual criminal justice agencies will continue to own and manage their own systems," says Foro. "But they'll be delivered over one portal - e-Justice." The challenge both he and Pardo explain, is deciding who determines who receives access to what information. "It's not just coming up with the rules, but [determining] who gets to decide what the rules are when you're going from single agency to cross-agency," explains Pardo.

The e-Justice portal will allow an individual to sign on anywhere to receive needed integrated criminal justice information - but the portal is designed so that once an individual log-on is identified, only information appropriate to his or her level of access will be shown.

This isn't simply having an all-purpose menu, where people without appropriate clearance click and see, "Access Denied, says Foro.

" As determined by the user's status, certain areas won't even be visible. "We've built in security, right down to the individual level," says Foro. "E-Justice recognizes who you are, where you work, and why you're asking."

eJusticeNY was recently awarded 2003 Best of the Web Award from the New York State Forum for Information Resource Management. To learn more about it, visit or contact the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services Customer Contact Center at 1-800-262-3257.

As the portal goes through wider implementation. Pardo says, she is interviewing criminal justice personnel to determine needs and scenarios.

"We were looking for a third party to help us through some of the touchier issues," adds Foro. "I think they're doing a great job. They've helped us get together and talk through the issues before they become a problem. The center's very well-respected, people listen to them."

Eventually the project will come to include Richardson's work as it moves into the final stages.

"When we're all done thinking about a complex system, you'd like it to fit into people's common sense" says Richardson. "After a while, it should make so much sense, people don't need the formal system. They can derive the answers on their own."