Adaptive Structuration Theory

role of information technologies in organization change

History and Orientation

Adaptive Structuration Theory is based on Anthony Giddens' structuration theory. This theory is formulated as “the production and reproduction of the social systems through members’ use of rules and resources in interaction”. DeSanctis and Poole adapted Giddens' theory to study the interaction of groups and organizations with information technology, and called it Adaptive Structuration Theory. AST criticizes the technocentric view of technology use and emphasizes the social aspects. Groups and organizations using information technology for their work dynamically create perceptions about the role and utility of the technology, and how it can be applied to their activities. These perceptions can vary widely across groups. These perceptions influence the way how technology is used and hence mediate its impact on group outcomes.

Core Assumptions and Statements

AST is a viable approach for studying the role of advanced information technologies in organization change. AST examines the change process from two vantage points 1) the types of structures that are provided by the advanced technologies and 2) the structures that actually emerge in human action as people interact with these technologies.

1. Structuration Theory, deals with the evolution and development of groups and organizations.

2. The theory views groups or organizations as systems with ("observable patterns of relationships and communicative interaction among people creating structures").

3. Systems are produced by actions of people creating structures (sets of rules and resources).

4. Systems and structures exist in a dual relationship with each others such that they tend to produce and reproduce each other in an ongoing cycle. This is referred to as the "structuration process."

5. The structuration process can be very stable, or it can change substantial over time.

6. It is useful to consider groups and organizations from a structuration perspective because doing so: (a) helps one understand the relative balance in the deterministic influences and willful choices that reveal groups' unique identities; (b) makes clearer than other perspectives the evolutionary character of groups and organizations; and (c) suggests possibilities for how members may be able to exercise more influence than they otherwise think themselves capable of.

Conceptual Model

See Desanctis, G. & Poole, M. S. (1994). Capturing the Complexity in Advanced Technology Use: Adaptive Structuration Theory. Organization Science. 5, p. 132.

Favorite Methods

To be added.

Scope and Application

The AST could be used to analyze the advent of various innovations such as the printed press, electricity, telegraph, mass transpirations, radio, telephone, TV, the Internet, etc., and show how the structures of these innovations penetrated the respective societies, influencing them, and how the social structures of those societies in turn influenced and modified innovations' original intent. In conclusion AST's appropriation process might be a good model to analyze the utilization and penetration of new media technologies in our society.


In this example two groups are compared that used the Group Decision Support System (GDSS) for prioritizing projects for organizational investment. A written transcript and an audio tape produced qualitative summary. Also quantitative results were obtained which led to the following conclusions. Both groups had similar inputs to group interaction. The sources of structure and the group’s internal system were essentially the same in each group, except that group 1 had a member who was forceful in attempting to direct others and was often met with resistance. Group 2 spent much more time than group 1 defining the meaning of the system features and how they should be used relative to the task at hand; also group 2 had relatively few disagreements about appropriation or unfaithful appropriation. In group 2 conflict was confined to critical work on differences rather than the escalated argument present in group 1. This example shows how the Adaptive Structuration Theory (AST) can help to understand advanced technology in group interactions. Although the same technology was introduced to both groups, the effects were not consistent due to differences in each group’s appropriation moves.


Key publications

Desanctis, G. & Poole, M. S. (1994). Capturing the Complexity in Advanced Technology Use: Adaptive Structuration Theory. Organization Science. 5, 121-147

Maznevski, M. L. & Chudoba, K. M. (2000). Bridging Space Over Time: Global Virtual Team Dynamics and Effectiveness. Organization Science. 11, 473-492

Poole, M. S., Seibold, D. R., & McPhee, R. D. (1985). Group Decision-making as a structurational process. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 71, 74-102.

Poole, M. S., Seibold, D. R., & McPhee, R. D. (1986). A structurational approach to theory-building in group decision-making research. In R. Y. Hirokawa & M. S. Poole (Eds.),

Communication and group decision making (pp. 2437-264). Beverly Hills: Sage. 

Seibold, D. (1998). Jurors¹ intuitive rules for deliberation: a structural approach to communication in jury decision making. Communication Monographs, 65, p. 287-307. 

Anderson, R. & Ross, V. (1998). Questions of Communication: A practical introduction to theory (2nd ed.). New York: St. Martin¹s Press, not in.

Cragan, J. F., & Shields, D.C. (1998). Understanding communication theory: The communicative forces for human action. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon, p. 229-230.

Griffin, E. (2000). A first look at communication theory (4th ed.). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill, p. 209-210, & 224-233. 

Griffin, E. (1997). A first look at communication theory (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill, p. 256.

Infante, D. A., Rancer, A.S., & Womack, D. F. (1997). Building communication theory (3rd ed.). Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press, p. 180 & 348-351. 

Littlejohn, S.W. (1999). Theories of human communication (6th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, p. 319-322. 

West, R., & Turner, L. H. (2000). Introducing communication theory: Analysis and application. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield, p. 209-223. 

Wood, J. T. (1997). Communication theories in action: An introduction. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, not in. 

J.M. Caroll (Ed.) Scenario-based Design: Envisioning Work and Technology in System Development. Wiley, NY, 1995.

W. Chin, A. Gopal, W. Salisbury. Advancing the theory of Adaptive Structuration: the development of a scale to measure faithfulness of Appropriation. Information Systems Research 8 (1997) 342-367.

G. DeSanctis, M.S. Poole. Capturing the complexity in advanced technology use: Adaptive Structuration Theory, Organization Science 5 (1994) 121-147.

A. Giddens. The constitution of society: outline of the theory of structuration. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA, 1984.

A. Giddens. New rules of sociological method: a positive critique of interpretive sociologies, 2nd ed., Polity Press, Cambridge, UK, 1993.

J. Greenbaum and M. Kyng (Eds). Design at Work: Cooperative Design of Computer Systems. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Hillsdale, N.J., 1991.

P. Grefen, R. Wieringa. Subsystem Design Guidelines for Extensible General-Purpose Software. 3rd International Software Architecture Workshop (ISAW3); Orlando, Florida, 1998, 49-52.

P. Grefen, K. Sikkel, R. Wieringa. Two Case Studies of Subsystem Design for Extensible General-Purpose Software. Report 98-14, Center for Telematics and Information Technology, Enschede, Twente.

J.A. Hughes, D. Randall, D. Shapiro. Faltering from Ethnography to Design. Proc. ACM Conf. on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work, 1992, 115-122.

C. Korunka, A. Weiss, & S. Zauchner. An interview study of 'continuous' implementations of information technology, Behaviour & information technology 16 (1997) 3-16.

P.B. Kruchten. The 4+1 View Model of Architecture. IEEE Software, Nov. 1995, 42-50.

V.L. O’Day, D.G. Bobrow, M. Shirley. The Social-Technical Design Circle. ACM Conf. on Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW’96), Cambridge, Mass., 1996, 160-169.

W.J. Orlikowski. Improvising Organizational Transformation Over Time: A Situated Change Perspective. Information Systems Research 7 (1996) 63-92.

Dynamic Object Oriented Requirements System (DOORS) Reference Manual, Version 2.1 Quality Systems and Software ltd., Oxford, UK.

L.A. Suchman. Plans and Situated Actions. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 1987.

A. Sutcliffe and S. Minocha. Linking Business Modelling to Socio-Technical System Design. CREWS-Report 98-43, Centre for HCI Design, City University, London.

L. Tornatzky and M. Fleischer. The process of Technological Innovation. Lexington Books, Lexington, Mass., 1992.

See also Organizational Communication