The need for a systematic and comprehensive approach to cognitive issues in the design of sociotechnical systems has emerged over the past 20 years as computer-based technologies have pushed the nature of operational work in a direction in which cognitive challenges dominate. Issues such as decision-making in complex and dynamic information environments, distributed
collaboration, and management of extensively networked systems have, in many cases, transformed the nature of work. Cognitive systems engineers identify the cognitive states, the cognitive processes, and the cognitive strategies used by skilled practitioners to perform this work and subsequently develop design solutions for such things as decision and planning tools that support expert human cognition.
At an abstract level of description, the approach taken is straightforward and not all that different to the analysis and design strategies used in other areas of engineering. Cognitive systems engineers observe the field practice and represent the knowledge thus acquired in some form that facilitates the design of appropriate cognitive support systems. Those design solutions are then
evaluated via computer modelling or human-in-the-loop simulation. While this approach will sound familiar to many engineers, the tools used for knowledge acquisition, knowledge representation and cognitive modelling will not. These have been developed specifically to deal with the complex and nonlinear nature of human cognition; its hidden interdependencies and those of its processes that are beyond the conscious awareness of the operational expert.