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Enid Mumford (March 6, 1924 - April 7, 2006) was a British social scientist, computer scientist and Professor Emerita of Manchester University and a Visiting Fellow at Manchester Business School, largely known for her work on human factors and socio-technical systems.
Enid Mumford was born in Merseyside in North West England, where her father Arthur McFarland was magistrate and her mother Dorothy Evans was teacher. She attended Wallasey high school, and received her BA in Social Science from Liverpool University in 1946.
After graduation 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.
Enid Mumford then joined the Faculty of Social Science at Liverpool University in 1956. Later 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.
She was a companion of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, a Fellow of the British Computer Society (BCS), and also a founder member and ex-chairperson of the BCS Sociotechnical Group.
In 1983 Enid Mumford was awarded 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. And 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).
Research in industrial relations
At the Faculty of Social Science at Liverpool University Mumford 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.
Human factors and socio-technical systems
Early in her career Enid Mumford realised that the implementation of large computer systems generally resulted in failure to produce a satisfactory outcome. Such failure could arise even when the underlying technology was adequate. She demonstrated that the underlying cause was an inability to overcome human factors associated with the implementation and use of computers. Four decades later, despite the identification of these sociotechnical factors and the development of methodologies to overcome such problems, large scale computer implementations are often unsuccessful in practice.
The socio-technical approach
While at MBS, 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 1970s 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 was also a member of the US Socio-technical Round Table.
Enid Mumford has produced a large number of publications and books in the field of sociotechnical design. A selection:
- 1989. XSEL's Progress: the continuing journey of an expert system. Wiley.
- 1995. Effective Systems Design and Requirements Analysis: the ETHICS Approach. Macmillan.
- 1996. Systems Design: Ethical Tools for Ethical Change. Macmillan.
- 1999. Dangerous Decisions: problem solving in tomorrow's world. Plenum.
- 2003. Redesigning Human Systems. Idea Publishing Group.
- Tudor Rickards. "Enid Mumford: Sociologist devoted to making computers work for people" The Guardian, Wednesday 3 May 2006
- Enid Mumford Biography. Accessed 3 Nov 2008.