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Emerging Needs and Opportunities for Human Factors Research Executive Summary This report identifies 11 areas considered by the National Research Council Committee on Human Factors as fertile ground for human factors research during the next few decades. The papers in Part II, written by committee members, staff, and colleagues and addressing these areas, provide the basis for the conclusions and recommendations articulated in Part I of the report. The committee's first report, Research Needs for Human Factors, published in 1983, three years after the committee was established, focused on six topics that reflected interests of the sponsors at the time and were within the expertise of the committee members to address. Since the committee's establishment, both its sponsorship and the composition of its membership have broadened considerably. Technology has also advanced rapidly, and both the national and world situations have changed in significant and remarkable ways. Some of these changes create new challenges and opportunities for human factors research. The committee therefore thought it appropriate to again attempt to identify research needs and opportunities for human factors. The process of selecting the topics to emphasize in the report was lengthy and deliberative. It was agreed at the outset that committee members should write the report, that the report should be forward-looking, that it should focus on problems that need attention rather than on the research that is currently being done, and that it should be selective rather than comprehensive. The process produced a consensus on 11 topics, which can be fairly easily grouped under three major headings—as follows:
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Emerging Needs and Opportunities for Human Factors Research National or global problems Productivity in organizations Training and education Employment and disabilities Health care Environmental change Technology issues Communications technology and telenetworking Information access and usability Emerging technologies in work design Transportation Human performance Cognitive performance under stress Aiding intellectual work In keeping with the committee's decision to be forward-looking, relatively little past research is reviewed in the report, and that is done only to help provide an appropriate frame of reference for thinking about future possibilities. Some of the recommendations are relatively general; others, quite specific. Some follow traditional lines of research; others relate to problems that have received little attention from the human factors community so far. In the latter cases, the recommendations are offered more as points of departure for further discussion and planning than as items for a research agenda. PRODUCTIVITY IN ORGANIZATIONS Productivity is a major national and international concern. Economists see productivity as a primary determinant of competitiveness both for companies within an industry and for national economies. Productivity is also believed to be causally linked to standard of living, so increasing productivity globally is seen as the best hope for improving living conditions worldwide. Human factors researchers have given considerable attention to how to improve human performance in the workplace and thereby increase individual productivity; they have put relatively little effort into determining how individual productivity relates to the productivity of the groups, organizations, or industries in which the individuals' work is done. Our focus is on the latter issue, in particular on identifying the conditions under which increases in individual productivity are likely to be reflected in increases at organizational levels. Research needs and opportunities include developing a better understanding of the linkages among within-job activities that have implications for total-job productivity, determining how individual jobs within an organization are causally linked to the productivity
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Emerging Needs and Opportunities for Human Factors Research of the organization as a whole, and identifying structural differences among organizations that show how the productivity of higher organizational units depends on the productivity of their components. TRAINING AND EDUCATION It is widely recognized that education and training are of critical importance to the national economy and to the well-being of the nation and that the country's educational and training systems have not been meeting the nation's needs. The problem is compounded by the expectation that in the future the workforce will have to be more proficient—especially more versatile and adaptive—in order to cope effectively with the rapidity of technological change in the workplace. As a discipline that historically bridges psychology and engineering, human factors should be important in applying laboratory discoveries about learning to the design of educational and training systems. Determining how best to do this is a major challenge for research. A closely related research challenge is the identification of training and educational requirements that arise from interactions among changing technologies, changing workforce demographics, changing organizational structures, and other developments that are likely to have implications for the design of effective educational and training systems. Other opportunities for human factors research in this area include evaluating technologically innovative approaches to education and training, applying user-centered design principles to educational and training systems, developing approaches to support lifelong learning within work settings, and anticipating technology-induced changes in job-skill requirements and their implications for educational and training needs. EMPLOYMENT AND DISABILITIES The population of people with one or another type of disability is large. The rate of unemployment for people with disabilities who would like to work is several times higher than the unemployment average nationwide, and the percentage of people who live below the poverty line is two to three times greater for people with a disability that interferes with their ability to work than for the total working population. These circumstances not only represent a severe problem for many people with disabilities, but they also create a significant economic burden for the nation. Most of the previous research on how to enhance employment opportunities for people with disabilities has tried to find ways to use technology—especially computer and communication technologies—to mitigate the limiting effects of disabilities in the workplace and elsewhere.
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Emerging Needs and Opportunities for Human Factors Research With more than half the workforce now engaged in information-oriented jobs, we need to continue our efforts to find ways to use computer and communication technologies to increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Another major challenge for research is to increase our understanding of how the capabilities and limitations of people with specific disabilities compare with the requirements of specific jobs; such an understanding is essential to the design of devices, systems, and procedures that will expand the range of jobs that people with disabilities can effectively perform. There is also a need to explore ways in which specific jobs might be designed or redesigned to accommodate people with disabilities. HEALTH CARE Many health risks, such as cancer and heart disease, stem at least in part from behavioral and occupational factors. Significant threats to health are even found within the increasingly complex technology used for the delivery of health care. Many of these threats arise from the possibility of human error in using health-care equipment and carrying out health-care procedures, for example in trauma centers and by people without medical training in their homes. A major challenge to human factors research is to help improve the designs of medical devices and health care procedures so that they are less conducive to human error. Another challenge is that, as the percentage of our population that is elderly and very elderly continues to grow, it will become increasingly important to learn to design living environments that limit the risk of accidents without sacrificing the functionality that residents need or want; this effort must include work on the design of spaces that accommodate the types of health care devices that are more and more commonly utilized in the home. Other challenges include developing effective memory aids for helping people to take medicines in proper dosages on schedule; improving the interpretability of labels, warnings, and instructions on medicines and health care devices that are intended to be used by nonprofessionals; developing and evaluating practical ways to train people in using such devices, and devising ways to convey health care and health maintenance to consumers generally. ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE The topic of detrimental environmental change is not usually associated with human factors research but is included in this report because it is a serious national and international problem that has elements that deserve attention from human factors researchers. Scientists, policy makers, and the general public have become increasingly concerned about the threat that
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Emerging Needs and Opportunities for Human Factors Research certain changes in the environment pose. This threat has many dimensions, and human activities are among its causes. Because these activities are aimed at satisfying human needs and desires, it is reasonable to assume that they will increase as world population grows. Some research has been done on how to get people to modify behavior to make it more environmentally benign. A complementary effort is needed to find ways to modify technology so as to decrease the opportunities it affords for harming the environment without impairing its effectiveness in meeting human needs. Because many of the most significant threats to the environment are direct consequences of the production and use of energy, a major objective should be improving the efficiency of energy use and substituting forms of energy that do not harm the environment for those that do. Computer and telecommunications technologies—including electronic mail, teleconferencing, computer-supported work facilities, and virtual reality systems—provide many opportunities to substitute energy-light and material-light resources for energy-heavy and material-heavy ones. The challenge to human factors researchers is to help ensure that such facilities are sufficiently well designed from the users' point of view that they will be used in ways that decrease overall energy demands. Other challenges include helping to make mass public transportation a more attractive alternative to private automobiles for transport in urban areas; improving, from a human factors perspective, approaches to recycling and waste management, including procedures for handling radioactive and toxic wastes; and increasing accessibility of information in environmental databases to users and potential users of that information. COMMUNICATIONS TECHNOLOGY AND TELENETWORKING Since the establishment of the first computer networks, network technology has advanced rapidly. The ARPANET began as a four-node system in 1969; its successor, the Internet, now connects computers around the world, and the number of users, already in the millions, has been doubling annually for some time. With the carrying capacity of networks continuing to increase, it is now possible to transmit enormous amounts of data (including digital voice and high-quality video) from almost anywhere to almost anywhere at relatively low cost. People have unprecedented access to information (in libraries, museums, news databases, and other repositories), to information-based tools and resources, and to other people. Computer-based communication should remain a high priority for human factors research, because in the future nearly everyone is likely to be a user of this technology, directly or indirectly, for work and for numerous other reasons. Human-computer interaction has been the focus of considerable human factors research in the past. Many of the problems that have received
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Emerging Needs and Opportunities for Human Factors Research attention will continue to be major challenges for research. These include issues relating to interface design, information finding and utilization, personal information management, and users' comprehension of the systems with which they interact. Speech as a means of communication deserves continuing human factors research, and ''walk-around," three-dimensional representations of objects and environments with which users can interact—i.e., virtual reality—are innovations that will require the resolution of a variety of human factors issues before their potential can be fully realized. Other needs and opportunities for human factors research involve the development of tools to facilitate interaction with huge and complex databases and studying interpersonal communication through computer-based systems to compare it with more traditional communication and to learn how to shape its technology to enhance its effectiveness for the various human purposes it is intended to serve. INFORMATION ACCESS AND USABILITY Among the more striking characteristics of modern society—the "information society"—is the dependence of its many institutions on constant accessibility to accurate, up-to-date information. Associated with this increasing dependence on information is a greatly increased quantity of information available to people in all walks of life. Availability does not necessarily mean ready accessibility, however, and users, or potential users, of information that is available often experience frustration in locating, accessing, and interpreting the information they want. Any effort to make information more accessible to people who need or want to use it—including many people who are not technically trained or oriented—must devote attention to a variety of human factors issues relating to the ways in which people might interface with information repositories and tools that are intended to facilitate finding, using, and conveying information. Much relevant work has focused on the design of interfaces and query languages for databases representing restricted domains, on the effects of alternative organizations or representations of databases for search and retrieval, and on the relative effectiveness of various information search techniques. These issues will continue to require research. As databases continue to increase in both size and complexity, effective "navigational" tools will become more important to the user and more difficult to develop. Evaluating the effectiveness of information systems is, in large measure, a human factors problem. To support the design of effective automated search and retrieval systems, or retrieval aids, progress is needed on quantifying the value of information as distinct from the amount of information retrieved. Assessing the effectiveness of systems that are intended to facilitate browsing, as opposed to structured search, is another difficult, and unsolved,
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Emerging Needs and Opportunities for Human Factors Research problem. Related problems include the need for a better understanding of how to exploit the potential of computer-based information systems for presenting data and information in innovative visual forms and of how to use the spatial metaphor to construct data worlds that can be explored effectively by moving around within them. EMERGING TECHNOLOGIES IN WORK DESIGN Many U.S. industries, especially in manufacturing, have found it increasingly difficult to remain competitive in the global marketplace. Competing effectively in the future will depend on the ability of the country to use its material and human resources more efficiently, and especially on its being able to adapt quickly to rapidly changing technology and market conditions. This means, among other things, that firms must become sufficiently flexible to shift production quickly from one item to another and that they must be able to produce items economically in relatively small quantities. This in turn requires a different job design from that found on conventional twentieth-century assembly lines. Emerging technologies—automation, robotics, information technologies—will figure prominently in the workplace changes that will occur. Jobs have always changed over time as new technologies have been introduced in the workplace, but the rate of change has accelerated considerably in the recent past with the pervasive infusion of computer-based technologies. Human factors researchers must devote more attention to the introduction and use of new technologies in the workplace. This need has become evident in such disparate problems as the physical difficulties (e.g., eyestrain and carpal tunnel syndrome) that are sometimes associated with the use of information technology devices and the claims of some investigators that these technologies are not providing the expected increase in productivity. Other challenges include reducing human error in the workplace, especially in information work in which errors that are difficult to identify can significantly affect the quality of work products; determining the skill requirements of new high-technology jobs and of ways to combine human and machine capabilities effectively; and developing a better understanding of the increasing demand for people to play the role of supervisory controllers, and of backups in the case of failure, in highly automated systems. A special challenge is helping to ensure that the work climate, culture, and environment are humane and fulfilling to the human beings who work within it. TRANSPORTATION The goal of all forms of transportation systems is the expeditious movement of people and goods from place to place with a minimum risk to life
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Emerging Needs and Opportunities for Human Factors Research and property. These two objectives—maximizing speed and minimizing risk—make up only one of several trade-offs involved in the design and operation of any transportation system. Helping to resolve these trade-offs is, in part, a human factors problem because these trade-offs involve questions of (1) how well vehicles can be controlled in various situations given human capabilities and limitations and (2) considerations of human attitudes and preferences with respect to comfort, convenience, and risk acceptance. Considerable research has been done on driver and pilot performance, and many sources of driver/pilot error have been identified, some of which have affected vehicle and cockpit design. There are, however, many remaining needs and opportunities for human factors research, especially in view of the ever-increasing technical complexity of vehicles and transportation systems. An example of a problem relating to driving safety that has received some attention but that needs further research is the dependence of driving performance on dynamic visual acuity. To receive a license, drivers are currently tested for static visual acuity, but there is evidence suggesting that dynamic visual acuity, for which tests are not given, is a more effective predictor of accident probability. More work is needed on this important question. We also need work leading to a better understanding of the roles of alcohol and drug intoxication in driving and of the effects of driver attitudes toward risk. The introduction of increasingly sophisticated equipment in automobiles and airplane cockpits, as well as the automation or semiautomation of more and more functions, raises many issues that human factors research should address. COGNITIVE PERFORMANCE UNDER STRESS Stress manifests itself in modern life in a variety of ways, sometimes tragically. Some occupations are generally viewed as especially stressful, air traffic controllers being a case in point. Here the reason for the stress—the possibly tragic consequences of a significant error—is obvious. Jobs can also be stressful for much more subtle reasons; they may cause low levels of relatively continuous stress, a situation that can also have major consequences for workers. Although much research has been done on the effects of stress on cognition, the need for research on this topic is likely to increase over the foreseeable future for several reasons, including threats to job security from increasing competitive pressures in many industries, the need to accommodate to increasingly rapid change in the workplace, the greater cognitive demands of many jobs, and the application of new methods of electronic monitoring and surveillance. Laboratory studies of stress have been limited by well-grounded restrictions on exposing participants in experiments to genuinely threatening situations
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Emerging Needs and Opportunities for Human Factors Research and the infeasibility of the long-term experimental studies that would be required to study chronic stress. One priority for future research must be a search for feasible ethical solutions to the problem of these limitations and for ways to study the influences of stressors that more closely approximate those that occur in real-world situations. Possibilities that have been used to some extent but that should be more fully and creatively exploited include analyses of naturally occurring incidents and the use of simulations. Virtual reality technology should extend the possibilities for simulating stressful situations with a high degree of realism without exposing people to physical threats; how best to exploit this technology for this purpose should be one goal of research. Other major goals of research should be to develop a better understanding of how the more detrimental effects of stress can be counteracted, how to predict individual differences in reactions to stress, how to train people to cope with stressful situations, and how to make person-machine systems more resistant to the detrimental effects of stress. AIDING INTELLECTUAL WORK As computer technology has become widely available in the workplace, many software tools have been developed to help people perform intellectual tasks. Efforts to develop additional and more powerful aids to intellectual work will undoubtedly continue for the foreseeable future. Human factors research is needed to evaluate the effectiveness of such aids, to provide—through task analyses—a better understanding of what further aids would be useful, and to participate in the design, implementation, and iterative improvement of such aids. Pas research has demonstrated that the introduction of technological aids to intellectual work has not had the anticipated effects and has not always increased either productivity or people's satisfaction with their jobs. Evaluative studies are needed to provide the insights required to improve upon existing aids and to ensure that they accomplish what is intended. There is also a need to study the demands of intellectual work in specific settings to identify how it could be aided by the development of new tools; any such studies should be done with a sensitivity to the fact that new tools often change the nature of a job by making it possible to do things that could not be done before. Human factors researchers can contribute to the design, implementation, and evaluation of new aids for intellectual work, especially by bringing to the process an iterative design philosophy and a focus on users' needs; these factors have proved to be important in the development of systems whose ultimate characteristics are impossible to specify in detail in advance. Other challenges for human factors research include (1) identifying nonobvious but important aspects of current ways of performing tasks (e.g., spatial arrangement of papers on a desk serving as
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Emerging Needs and Opportunities for Human Factors Research reminders of task priorities) for which some substitution should be made in an electronic aid and (2) developing a better understanding of why people often fail to use aids that could improve the performance of their jobs. CONCLUSION The needs and opportunities for research discussed in this report are considered by the Committee on Human Factors to be among the more important challenges to the human factors research community for the immediate future. The list is not exhaustive, nor was it intended to be, but the committee believes the items on it to be important without exception. The committee recognizes too that none of the problems discussed is the exclusive province of human factors research; most of them are broad in scope and deserve attention—especially collaborative attention—from many disciplines, human factors among them.
Representative terms from entire chapter: