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David Wastell

Image of David Wastell
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. In 2003, he moved to UMIST as Professor of Information Systems, before taking up the Chair in Information Systems at Nottingham in 2005.

David was President of the UK Academy for Information Systems in 2014-2015, and he continues to play an active role in the Information Systems research community, especially through his continuing involvement with IFIP (International Federation of Information Professing ) Working Group 8.6 (Transfer and diffusion of IT).

Areas of Expertise
Neuroscience and social policy: critical perspectives; psycho-physiological 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.


The following lists my publications from 2014 to the present day.

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I began my career as a neuroscientist, studying the relationships between brain activity and cognitive processes, such as attention. An interest in psycho-physiological 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, and biotechnology more broadly, in contemporary child welfare policy.

Although they seem rather disparate, various strands of my research interests are united around a general theme, namely the design of the organization as a socio-technical system. There are two complementary aspects to this. My main focus has been design and innovation in the public services, originally in health-care but broadening into local government, social care in particular. My book "Managers as designers in the public services: beyond technomagic" summarizes this work (a copy is available on including implications for business education and 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 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 City's transformation strategy in the early days of the New Labour administration (1997 onwards). Reflecting growing external interest, a formal SPRINT training and accreditation system was developed, and a User Group was set up in 2004 which at one point reached 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 over the ensuing years,

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 has been used in several laboratories in the US and Europe.

My recent work has seen a return to my original interests in neuroscience, and biotechnology more broadly. This has focused on the translation of research on the biological bases of human development (neuroscience and genetics) into the social policy domain, highlighting the way science becomes co-opted by political ideology. This work is reported in two books published since retirement, in particular my 2019 book with Sue White, "Blinded by Science: the social implications of neuroscience and epigenetics" (Policy Press).


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