Nottingham University Business School
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David Wastell, Emeritus Professor

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BSc (Durham), PhD (Durham)
Emeritus Professor (Operations Management and Information Systems)


David Wastell began his academic career as a cognitive neuroscientist at Durham University, studying the relationships between brain activity and psychological processes. Following his PhD, he moved to the MRC Applied Psychology Unit in Cambridge in 1978, where he undertook research on stress and technological innovation in collaboration with British Telecom. His interests in technology and work developed during an extended period at Manchester University before being appointed Professor of the Information Society at Salford University in 2000. Subsequently he moved to UMIST, before transferring to Nottingham in 2005.

Areas of Expertise
Neuroscience and social policy: critical perspectives; psychophysiological design of complex human-machine systems; Information systems and public sector reform; design and innovation in the public services; management as design; human factors design of safe systems in child protection.

I began my career as a neuroscientist, studying the relationships between brain activity and cognitive processes, such as attention. An interest in psychophysiological methods has been continuing theme of my work, especially their application in the design of complex systems. Most recently, I have become concerned about the misuse of neuroscience in contemporary child welfare policy.

Although they seem rather disparate, my various research interests are united around a general theme, namely the design of the organization as a sociotechnical system. There are two complementary strands to this. My primary focus is design and innovation in the public services, originally in health-care but more recently local government, social care in particular. My recently published book "Managers as designers in the public services: beyond technomagic" summarizes this work, including implications for policy making at the national level. Much of my public sector research follows an action research approach, working with partner organizations on problems of mutual interest.

The main fruit of this first research theme has been methodological. In a long-standing collaboration with the City of Salford, I developed a framework for service re-design (SPRINT) to underpin the CityAs transformation strategy in the early days of New Labour. Reflecting growing external interest, a formal SPRINT training and accreditation system has been developed, and a User Group was set up in 2004 which now has over 1200 individual members representing over 150 different local authorities. The User Group held its first national conference in Nottingham in January 2006, followed by annual conferences ever since.

Cognitive ergonomics forms the second strand. I continue to pursue my long-standing interests in technologically intensive workplaces, looking in particular at the design of automated work environments. This research has made extensive use of computer-simulations (microworlds) as a means of investigating human-machine performance under controlled but realistic conditions. Initial work was supported by the European Space Agency and addressed the relationships between interface design, operator well-being and overall system performance. One of the main simulation tools used in this research is now in use in several laboratories in the US and Europe.


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