To transform work practices, it is necessary to clearly communicate the best practices to the work force, and to track actual performance to enable review and training. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has developed protocols for following best practices in its Manned Space Flight program by developing detailed standard operating procedures. NASA has recently completed a transition from a paper-based procedure infrastructure to an electronic procedure infrastructure.

NASA uses procedures to define tasks and communicate those tasks to the astronauts and flight controllers who perform them. These procedures are used to train and to perform work on the space vehicles that NASA operates. Procedures are written to define tasks of all kinds, from dealing with emergency conditions to flushing the zero-gravity toilet. Through the Shuttle program these procedures were written and distributed as paper documents, but recently NASA has transitioned to providing these procedures as electronic documents.

Electronic procedures have a number of definite advantages over paper procedures. By delivering the procedures on hand- held devices, the procedures are available at the point where work is being performed; paper documents are often left on a shelf somewhere. The electronic documents can be searched more easily than paper documents, facilitating maintenance of the procedures in the face of changing systems. The electronic procedures can be updated and the updates transmitted to the work force in real time; this is particularly important when work is performed in remote locations where it is difficult to deliver updates to paper documents.

By providing the procedures as electronic documents a number of new features can be provided. Displays can merge the procedures with data from the system being operated. Hazard conditions can be highlighted. Interaction with procedures can be logged, making it possible to reconstruct how the procedure was executed after the fact. Finally, performance of the procedures can be monitored for compliance and improved training. The authors have participated on a series of NASA projects to create and deploy technologies to enable electronic procedures, and we see them as transformative technologies for creating and sustaining changes in the way work is performed.

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