The problems that arise in procuring, developing and operating complex IT systems are not just technical, engineering problems. These systems are developed and are operated by people, working in organisations. These people and organisations inevitably have different, often conflicting, views on what the system should do and how it should inter-operate with other systems. Different organisations have their own ways of working, goals and culture. The IT system is therefore part of a broader ‘socio-technical’ system and many people are increasingly convinced that we have to think about systems engineering from this broader socio-technical perspective if we are to improve the quality and effectiveness of our IT systems.

Socio-technical systems engineering (STSE) is a set of methods and techniques that support the technical processes of systems engineering. These methods and techniques help systems engineers understand the socio-technical issues that affect the systems being designed and operated and provide help in taking these socio-technical issues into account when making procurement, specification and design decisions. Like all systems engineering, STSE relies on judgement and creativity and cannot be simply represented as a standard set of processes or best practices.

The aim of this handbook is to summarise almost 20 years of research and development in socio-technical systems engineering. We have designed the handbook to be accessible to both practitioners and researchers. The handbook is organised as a set of short chapters that explain the issues in the chapter to practitioners. Each chapter is backed up by an appendix, which includes summaries of and links to relevant research in the area.

We have also collected together a number of related websites, originally hosted at Lancaster University which provide supplementary information to the material in this Handbook. These include the Patterns of Interaction website and a tutorial on carrying out fieldwork. Over time, websites have a tendency to stop working properly as the underlying technology changes so we thought it important to rehost these in a form which was relatively resistant to technological change.

We have designed this handbook as a web site that, we hope, will have a long lifetime with minimal broken links. We maintain local copies of as many papers as possible so that there is no reliance on these continuing to be available elsewhere. We have minimised dependencies on external web sites and clearly indicate where a link is internal (red) and these should always work. External links (blue) are potentially unreliable.

Over the past 20 years, many colleagues and friends have contributed to this research. We have listed as many as we can think of in the acknowledgements pages - apologies to anyone who has been left out. The background pages discuss how this work started in the early 1990s and how it has developed since then.

The complete handbook (PDF)