Brahms Technical Abstract
Modeling and simulating complex human-system interactions requires going beyond formal procedures and information flows to analyze how people interact with each other. Such work practices include conversations, modes of communication, informal assistance, impromptu meetings, workarounds, and so on. To make these social processes visible, we have developed a multiagent simulation tool, called Brahms, for modeling the activities of people belonging to multiple groups, situated in a physical environment (geographic regions, buildings, transport vehicles, etc.) consisting of tools, documents, and computer systems.
A Brahms model of work practice reveals circumstantial, interactional influences on how work actually gets done, especially how people informally involve each other in their work, thus changing the quality of the result. In particular, a model of practice reveals how collaboration is accomplished in communications, including meetings, email, workflow systems, and written documents. Choices of what and how to communicate are dependent upon social beliefs and behaviors-what people know about each other's activities, intentions, and capabilities and their understanding of the norms of the group. As a result, building a Brahms model leads human-computer system designers to question how tasks and information actually flow between people and machines, what work is required to synchronize individual contributions, and how tools hinder or help this process. In particular, workflow diagrams generated by Brahms are the emergent product of local interactions between agents and representational artifacts, not pre-ordained, end-to-end paths built in by a modeler.
Constructivist Stance Need for Multiple Views
To illuminate how formal flow descriptions relate to the social systems of work, Brahms incorporates multiple views-relating people, information, systems, and geography-in one tool. Such views help work system designers, managers, and trainers better understand the interactive, circumstantial importance of proximity of people and tools to each other, timing of individual interactions, and how attention is conceptually scoped by work settings and roles. Accordingly, we begin to see how work flow is an abstraction; actual work is accomplished and practices learned through often chance interactions, which are omitted from most process models and written procedures.
Many challenges remain for representing work practices. For example, we need to better represent the nature of identity as played out in interpersonal interactions (e.g., "office politics" and friendships); relate social, cognitive, and anthropometric models; model fatigue, boredom, diurnal rhythm, "external life" (e.g., errands, family interruptions); and model learning (especially by watching and mimicking).
Plus we have practical challenges of developing reusable model components organized by types of settings and human interactions; statistically generating cases for simulation analysis; and validating analog models (e.g., relating Earth to Space Station and Arctic settings to Mars).
Brahms is being applied at NASA for crew scheduling, human-robot system design, and operations assistants in extreme environments.
Brahms is potentially useful for system requirements analysis, instruction, implementing software agents, and as a workbench for relating cognitive and social theories of human behavior.