Centre for Knowledge, Innovation, Technology and Enterprise

Staff Profile

Professor Mike Martin

Professor of Social Informatics


Mike has had a career in Research and Development in the computer and telecommunications industries of over 45 years. After working in the early development of Human Factors and HCI in the 1970s, he was involved in the collaborative research of the `80s and `90s which developed modern distributed systems architecture and systems design methodologies and their ultimate translation to form the global information infrastructure.  In 1999 the focus of his work shifted to the challenges of information systems in the public sector and particularly to the creation of infrastructure to support multi-agency partnership working in Health and Social Care.

He was a Visiting Professor at the Centre for Software Reliability in the School of Computing Science at Newcastle University from 1994 to 2000 where he led the COBRA service brokerage architecture project of the 4th Framework Programme. 1997-8 he was appointed Senior Visiting Research Fellow at BT Research Laboratories developing a Business Modelling Facility.  He moved to the Newcastle University Business School in 2000 bringing the DH funded Durham and Darlington Electronic Health Record project and the EPSRC funded AMASE project which formed the platform for the Social and Business Informatics Group later incorporated into the KITE Research Centre.

In 2013, Mike was appointed to the staff of the Business School as Senior Research Advisor where he is collaborating in the Digital Economy Research. He has also been responsible for the development and operation of the Newcastle Living Lab which is a set of visualisation and sense making theory, tools and methods to support the co-production and governance of complex socio-technical systems and environments.


My primary research interest is the architectural discourse of complex, large scale, socio-technical systems. In particular, I study the information and communications infrastructures that support health and social care, and other relational services, in mixed economies in which public, private and third sector agencies need to interwork and co-operate. In these contexts, the “Integrationist” assumptions of the “single point of truth”, and that there is recourse to a single point of management and control, are unsustainable. In the face of this complexity and ambiguity, conventional approaches to design, whether organisation centred or user centred, prove problematic. Equally the “universalist” assumption that everything is connected to everything else in a world of Big Data, that there is consensus and no ambiguity (and we all play nicely together) is equally problematic.

The theoretical and practical framework which I have been developing involves a significant  extension of the functionalist-realist approach based exclusively on architectural projections of function, capability and capacity, that is to say how the system behaves, the nature and distribution of its behaving components or members and rates and flows that are expected occur between them.

The contexts of care and development demand that we are equally explicit and rigorous about the intentional aspects of a system that produces outcomes rather than simply outputs. I define the latter as measurements whereas the former I consider to be evaluations (or more precisely, and according to Lawrence Halprin’s terminology, “valuactions” where value adding, value extraction and evaluation are brought together under a single construct).  This leads to a concept of governability which supports the systems’ reflection on how results correspond to what we intended and, as a result of the experience, have intentions changed?

As this “neo-socio-technical” approach has matured it has become clear that:

  • Measurements are a matter of management whereas outcomes are a matter of governance,
  • Because we are concerned with care, some core responsibilities of both management and of governance are inalienable from the carer and even the ward themselves: they have to be engaged in a “live” conversation rather than the performers and subjects of institutionalised processes.
  • The technical systems of management and support must therefore be infrastructural, underpinning communication, informed consent and record as well as mediating transactions of care between carers. This is in contrast to the pervasive approach of attempting to programme and enforce pre-defined pathways and processes.

All of this recognises that there is both an “at least” threshold, which demands us to be as rigorous and precise as we are able in the face of the consequences of failure, and an “at most” threshold. If we take our systematisation beyond this, we have at best lost the plot and, at worse, become part of the problem.

In combination with this theoretical framework I have been developing and applying practical tools to support what is characterised as a “third order intervention” which has the objective of nurturing provoking or encouraging constructive transitions between ordinary first order work within the existing conceptual framings and second order work in which re-examines are reformulates those framings. This is the Newcastle Living Lab which is based on the use of multi-screen visualisations and animations to help participants negotiate shared intentions and to co-produce designs of envisaged socio-technical systems allowing them to appropriate and operationalise the architectural discourse. This is the Newcastle Living Lab.