Disentangling Affordances of Online Collaboration Tools for Mutual Aid in Emergencies: Insights from the COVID-19 Lockdown

Xiao Zeng, David Ji, Dimple R. Thadani, Boying Li, Xiaodie Pu, Zhao Cai*, Patrick Y. K. Chau*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


With the uncertain trajectory of COVID-19 conditions worldwide, there lies the potential for emergencies to arise, abruptly yielding mass social and economic disruption. Gaining insight into how digital technologies may be leveraged for effective emergency response is therefore pertinent. Emergency-induced needs may prompt citizens to organize mutual aid initiatives where people give what they can and get what they need in response. An increasingly prominent technology used for emergency response, online collaboration tools (OCTs), enables the appropriate match between the supply of aid and its relevant demand in mutual aid initiatives by mediating information and interactions between participants. Through analysis of mutual aid cases during the 2022 Shanghai COVID-19 lockdown, this study elucidates the benefits OCTs provide through the lens of affordance theory and identifies five key affordances of OCTs for emergency mutual aid: persistent accessibility, iterative modifiability, structured consolidation and retrieval, multisynchronous participation, and multichannel broadcasting. We illustrate how such affordances are actualized and how their enabling features work across information flow processes, specifically highlighting benefits of software minimalism with implications for practitioners and future software design in emergency situations. This study contributes to the body of knowledge on OCTs and affordances by disentangling its role in emergency responses.

Original languageEnglish
Article number32
Pages (from-to)1-27
Number of pages27
JournalACM Transactions on Management Information Systems
Issue number4
Early online date26 Oct 2023
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Management Information Systems
  • Computer Science(all)

User-Defined Keywords

  • Mutual aid
  • online collaboration tools
  • emergency response
  • COVID-19
  • technological affordance
  • software minimalism


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