A Paradigmatic Analysis Contrasting Information Systems

A Paradigmatic Analysis Contrasting Information Systems Development Approaches and Methodologies Juhani Iivari • Rudy Hirschheim • Heinz K. Klein Department of Information Processing Science, University of Oulu, FIN-90570 Oulu, Finland [email protected] College of Business Administration, University of Houston, Houston, Texas 77204-6283 [email protected] School of Management, State University of New York Binghamton, Binghamton, New York [email protected] edu


his paper analyses the fundamental philosophical assumptions of five “contrasting” information systems development (ISD) approaches: the interactionist approach, the speech act-based approach, the soft systems methodology approach, the trade unionist approach, and the professional work practice approach. These five approaches are selected for analysis because they illustrate alternative philosophical assumptions from the dominant “orthodoxy” identified in the research literature. The paper also proposes a distinction between “approach” and “methodology.” The analysis of the five approaches is organized around four basic questions: What is the assumed nature of an information system (ontology)? What is human knowledge and how can it be obtained (epistemology)? What are the preferred research methods for continuing the improvement of each approach (research methodology)? and what are the implied values of information system research (ethics)? Each of these questions is explored from the internal perspective of the particular ISD approach. The paper addresses these questions through a conceptual structure which is based on a paradigmatic framework for analyzing ISD approaches. (Paradigms; Paradigmatic Analysis; Information Systems Development; Information Systems Development Methodologies and Approaches; Assumption Analysis)

1. Introduction The interest in how IS development (ISD) can be improved through the application of new approaches or methodologies continues to receive considerable attention in both the practitioner and academic literature. Yet alternative approaches to ISD arguably remain one of the most controversial topics in the field. This paper takes up the theme of alternative approaches by analyzing the fundamental assumptions of five specific ISD approaches. In its most general sense, the paper contributes to the discussion of approaches and meth-


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odologies by providing a new way of thinking about ISD. It strives toward this goal by suggesting a general way of analyzing the fundamental assumptions of ISD approaches, and by drawing a distinction between the concepts “methodology” and “approach.” Since the incipient work of Hirschheim and Klein (1989), there has been increasing interest in philosophical assumptions underlying ISD approaches, cf. Orlikowski and Baroudi (1991), Iivari (1991), Hirschheim and Klein (1992), Hirschheim et al. (1995, 1996), Iivari and Hirschheim (1996). A common finding 1047-7047/98/0902/0164$05.00 Copyright q 1998, Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences

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of Hirschheim and Klein (1989), Orlikowski and Baroudi (1991), and Iivari (1991) was the identification of a single set of dominant philosophical assumptions about the nature of ISD and what constitutes valid knowledge about the phenomena to be associated with ISD. The rationale behind the selection of the five ISD approaches which this paper analyzes has been to include “contrasting approaches,”1 which, according to Hirschheim and Klein (1989), challenge these dominant assumptions. This paper draws on those earlier analyses, which broke the ground for a deeper understanding of the philosophical and conceptual issues in ISD but remained much more global than is advanced in this paper. Our analysis is based on Iivari’s (1991) paradigmatic framework and is an extension of his earlier analysis of the “contemporary traditions.” As will be shown, the most appropriate unit of analysis for this undertaking turns out not to be that of an ISD ‘methodology’ but classes of similar methodologies that we call approaches. By using this new unit of analysis we can convey the essential characteristics (features) of the methodologies more precisely and concisely than was possible with past paradigmatic analyses only. The purpose of the paper can thus be succinctly stated: to analyze the underlying features of five contrasting ISD approaches. The paper focuses on the ontology of ISD (the nature of information/data, information systems, technology, human beings, organizations), the epistemology, research methodology, and ethics of IS research.2 The organization of the 1

The use of the word “contrasting” in the title of our paper needs to be understood in the dual context for which we intend. The first relates to the fact that we have chosen ISD approaches which are in “contrast” to the dominant IS tradition. The second, relates to our attempt to “contrast” approaches with methodologies.


Of course there have been other comparative analyses of ISD methodologies and approaches in addition to the philosophical analyses noted above. The most notable among them, the CRIS—Comparative Review of Information Systems development methodologies— conferences that took place throughout the 1980s. These comparisons have mostly taken place at the level of more concrete features. This paper addresses more fundamental features—in particular, underlying assumptions—and therefore goes beyond these earlier analyses. The paper has some affinity with the in-depth analysis of individual ISD methodologies as done by Beath and Orlikowski (1994). However, our paper does not aim at providing a systematic decon-

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paper is as follows. Section 2 starts by defining the key notions of approach and methodology and how they relate to one another. We then explain our rationale for the selection of the five “contrasting” approaches. Next, we offer an historical review of and the principal references for the five selected approaches. Section 3 articulates the conceptual basis for the paradigmatic analysis. Section 4 discusses the results of applying the paradigmatic framework to the five approaches. Section 5 summarizes and reflects upon the results of the paradigmatic analysis.

2. Contrasting ISD Approaches and Methodologies 2.1. Definition of Approach and Methodology According to Hirschheim et al. (1995), an ISD methodology (ISDM) can be interpreted as “an organized collection of concepts, methods, beliefs, values and normative principles supported by material resources.” More specifically, an ISDM is codified into a set of goal-oriented procedures that guide the work and cooperation of the various parties (stakeholders) involved in the building of an IS application. These procedures are usually supported by a set of preferred techniques and tools, and activities (cf. Hirschheim et al. 1996). A technique or method, in this context, consists of a well-defined sequence of elementary operations which permits the achievement of certain outcomes if executed correctly. As ISDMs have proliferated in great numbers, there has been a tendency to group them into families or clusters based of their similarity. Examples of such groupings are the family of structured methodologies and methodologies for object-oriented analysis and design. This suggests that a hierarchy of “classes” exists through abstracting from the details of methodology “instances.” The resultant abstraction hierarchy provides an order which reduces the multiplicity of individual methodologies. Specifically we define an ISD

structive analysis attempting to identify internal inconsistencies within the five approaches. Rather, we identify the fundamental features of the approaches in a new way and illustrate their usefulness by contrasting them both with each other and with the concept of methodology.


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approach (ISDA) as a set of goals, guiding principles, fundamental concepts, and principles for the ISD process that drive interpretations and actions in ISD.3 Basically, an ISDA is a class of methodologies which share the fundamental concepts and principles for ISD. It should be noted that, just as in object-orientation, an ISDA may exist without any (methodology) instances. In this case an ISDA may serve as a template for deriving concrete ISDM instances. Partly depending on whether ISDAs have any ISDM instances, one can identify two ways of deriving them. First, one can derive an ISDA as an abstraction of some existing ISDMs. This would naturally require that there exists some instances of the ISDMs. Second, some ISDAs might initially have been developed primarily as approaches (without any concrete ISDM instances). Our claim is that the concept of an approach makes it meaningful to compare various ISDAs which may be in quite different stages of development with regard to the number of their ISDM instances (some with zero and some with several instances). The concept of “approach” also leads us to focus on more general principles underlying specific ISDMs (Iivari 1986) manifesting themselves as similarities (e.g., functional decomposition in many structured ISDMs and incremental entity modelling in both structured and objectoriented ISDMs), and differences (e.g., encapsulation between structured and object-oriented approaches). It is also possible to see an analogy between our categorization of ISDA and ISDM and Brook’s (1987) distinction between essences and accidents of software products. An ISDA focuses on the essences of its ISDMs while a concrete ISDM necessarily includes accidental features (e.g., related documentation notations), which while important for practice, do not define its essence. 2.2. Selection of Approaches The choice of the five contrasting ISDAs to be paradigmatically analyzed needs some justification, as the 3

The goal specifies the general purpose of the approach. Guiding principles form the common “philosophy” (cf. Avison and Fitzgerald 1995) of the approach which ensures that its methodology instances form coherent wholes (cf. Hirschheim et al. 1995). Fundamental concepts define the nature of an IS implicit in the approach as well as the focus and unit of analysis in ISD. Principles of the ISD process express essential aspects of the ISD process in the approach.


reader is entitled to ask why these approaches were chosen and not some others. Our choice is based on contrasting paradigmatic assumptions and the belief that ISDAs reflect different paradigmatic positions (cf. Hirschheim and Klein 1989). Based on Iivari’s (1991) analysis of seven contemporary approaches (or “schools of thought” as he called them), we note that his ISDAs were predominantly functionalist, sharing a number of common features. For example, they viewed an IS as a largely technical system with social implications, conceived of information as descriptive facts, subscribed to a structuralist view of organizations, adopted a positivist epistemology, embraced mostly nomothetic and constructive research methods, and emphasized a means-end oriented view of IS conforming to organization/management values. (See §3 for an expansion of these paradigmatic notions.) Based on our preunderstanding (cf. Hirschheim and Klein 1989, Hirschheim et al. 1995) and supported by further literature study, we sought to select ISDAs which would be in contrast to these functionalist features.4 As a result we selected the speech act-based approach to contrast the functionalist views about information and information systems, the interactionist approach to contrast the structuralist view of organizations, the soft systems methodology approach to contrast a positivist epistemology, the professional work practice approach to contrast nomothetic and constructive research methods, and the Scandinavian trade unionist approach to contrast the means-end oriented view of IS reflecting organization/management values. In this sense, the selection of the five ISDAs resembles a type of theoretical sampling. Under this concept, the researchers select cases representing polar extremes that enable comparison across the spectrum of possibilities (cf. Pettigrew 1989, Applegate 1994). Although we are 4

It must be kept in mind that although Hirschheim and Klein (1989) postulated the existence of ISDAs that reflected non-functionalist paradigmatic assumptions, it was beyond the scope of that paper to provide a detailed paradigmatic analysis. The paper presented a more “deductive” classification of ISDAs, cultivating them into “paradigmatic ideal types” in order to make their differences more apparent. This paper aims at extending that analysis by selecting a wider variety of “contrasting” ISDAs, analyzing them in much more detail. One could draw a parallel here with Iivari’s (1991) analysis, which focused solely on functionalist ISDAs. We focus on nonfunctionalist ISDAs.

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aware that ISDMs are consistently changing and that new ones regularly emerge, the five ISDAs chosen hopefully represent a reasonable balance of philosophical differences which currently exist. Because it is unlikely that all readers will be familiar with the ISDAs that we selected for the analysis, we now provide what we call a reflective review of the five ISDAs. This review presents a brief historical overview of the ISDAs highlighting their major features, and a summary of the key literature references. 2.3. Review of the Approaches Table 1 summarizes the five ISDAs in terms of their goals, guiding principles, fundamental concepts, and principles of the ISD process (see footnote 3). The focus of the interactionist approach (Kling and Scacchi 1980, 1982; Kling and Iacono 1984; Kling 1987; Iacono and Kling 1988; and Kling and Iacono 1989)5 is on the institutional arrangements associated with IS development and use in organizations. One can identify two phases or generations in the conceptualization of ISD within the interactionist approach: the first phase is based on the distinction between the discreteentity model and the web-model (Kling and Scacchi 1982); the second phase on the distinction between the tool and institutional viewpoint of ISs (Iacono and Kling 1988). “The basic unit of analysis of the discrete-entity model is a computing resource” (Kling and Scacchi 1982, p. 9), the use of which is isolated “from the actual work practices and organization of labor within which automated data systems are typically developed and used” (p. 3). In contrast, “web models make explicit the salient connections between a focal technology and its social and political contexts” (p. 3). The tool and institutional views have been used in a similar way as the discrete-entity and web models to analyze social and organizational aspects of IS.6 The authors do not 5

The adjective “interactionist” has not directly been used by the representatives of this tradition to characterize their approach, but is selected to characterize the most distinctive aspect of the approach— its view of organizations (Kling and Scacchi 1980, 1982).


They suggest (p. 104) that when “analysts emphasize the information-processing capabilities of a computer-based technology, they are foregrounding its ‘toolness’ or instrumental value of IS for particular social units.” On the other hand, when “analysts emphasize the social and political choices that organizational actors have

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explain the relationship between the two distinctions, but we conclude that the distinction between the tool view and the institutional view is an evolutionary step towards a more structural view of organizations as will be explained in our detailed paradigmatic analysis. Iacono and Kling (1988) also contend that computerbased information systems (CBIS)—developed from complex, interdependent social and technical choices—are better conceptualized as institutions than as tools. Consequently, the characterization of the interactionist approach in Table 1 is based on the web and institutional views rather than the discrete-entity and tool. The Interactionist approach is very embryonic as an ISDA, without any concrete ISDM instances. Moreover, it has not relied on any constructive research methods (see section 3). Nevertheless, we propose to treat it as an approach, because we argue that an ISDA may also be based on purely descriptive research provided that the concepts, understanding, and insights gleaned from such descriptive research contribute a useful framework for ISD. In particular, at the level of ISDAs, we encourage their derivation from descriptive theories, this is because the general features of ISDAs link more directly to the theoretical constructs of descriptive theories whereas ISDMs contain more practical details such as notations, tools, etc. The Speech Act (SA)-based approach to ISD is an attempt to understand and model the rich meanings exchanged in ordinary conversation. It was developed largely concurrently and quite independently in North America (e.g., Flores and Ludlow 1980, Winograd and Flores 1986) and in Europe, especially in Scandinavia (e.g., Goldkuhl and Lyytinen 1982, Goldkuhl and

made over time, they are foregrounding its institutional character.” They also claim that “the image of a CBIS as a tool is associated with tremendous personal freedom,” “there is an underlying assumption that computer-based technologies have no inherent politics: they are consistent with any social order” and “attention is focused on a future of technological perfection.” In contrast, “institutional analyses emphasize the social use of CBIS and social control over computing arrangements,” “politics play an important role” and the focus lies on “the developmental trajectories of CBIS. Institutions develop a character based on the interest they have served in the past, their organizing ideologies, and the world views which bind their participants together” (p. 104–105).


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Table 1

Summaries of the Five IS Development Approaches Interactionist Approach

SA-Based Approach


To shed light on the social issues surrounding organizational change and implementation of information systems

To provide a methodology for modelling communicative action in organizations, especially speech acts of changes: creating, maintaining, reporting, modifying and terminating organizational commitments.

To provide a learning methodology to support debate on desirable and feasible changes.

To develop conditions for effective worker participation in order to support democracy at work and quality of work.

To promote increased professionalism of IS designers.

Guiding Principles

An information system is a social object with social meanings serving different interests; The infrastructure supporting the focal system is critical; Control over the infrastructure is a political process; Commitments of the past constrain the future; IS development is social action of negotiation.

An information system is a social system only technically implemented; An information system is a communication system (mediating speech acts); ISD is formalization of professional (work) language.

Use of notional system models called “human activity systems” to illuminate different Weltanschauungen which may be applied to any social system; An information system is a system to support the truly relevant human activity system.

Design of computer support is design of conditions for work; Craftmanship as the ideal of work; A collective resource approach based on trade union participation.

Systems developers must reflect systematically their practice; Methodologies can support inspired practitioners but cannot replace experience; ISD situations are different, requiring different working practices; Effective IS development requires the handling of two types of principles: performance principles and management principles.

Fundamental Concepts

Information systems as institutions; Social use of information systems; Complex and overlapping negotiation context; Nonneutrality of IS resources.

Speech acts; Illocutionary points; Propositional content; Discourses/ conversations.

Weltanschauung; Human Activity Systems; Root definition; Relevant system.

Computers as tools Performance vs. (under the control of each management; Reflection worker). vs. action; Visions vs. present reality; Productoriented vs. process oriented; Analysis vs. design; Planning vs. evaluation.

Principles of the ISD Process


Discourse/conversation analysis; Analysis of the propositional content.

Stream of cultural analysis; Stream of logicbased analysis.

Parallel and independent process of accumulating knowledge of the union; Design by doing; Cooperative design.


SSM Approach

Lyytinen 1984, Lehtinen and Lyytinen 1985). Both the North American and Scandinavian streams have their theoretical roots in Searle’s philosophy of language (Searle 1969, 1979; Searle and Vanderveken 1985). The two streams differ, however, in their “supplementary theories.” While Winograd and Flores (1986) partially base their ISDA on the philosophical hermeneutics of


Trade Unionist Approach

Professional Work Practice Approach

All of the above dualities are mutually dependent and therefore should be performed concurrently.

Heidegger and Gadamer, the Scandinavian stream was strongly influenced by the Critical Social Theory of Habermas. These supplementary theories imply certain differences between these two streams.7 In the fol7

The Critical Social Theory (CST) stream seems to lead to an emerging ISDA (e.g., Lyytinen and Klein 1985, Lyytinen 1986, Hirschheim

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lowing, however, we focus on their commonalities based on the common roots in SA theory rather than on their differences. Since the early 1990s, SA theory has aroused considerable interest in the IS community, leading to a number of ISDM instances or methodology fragments.8 According to SA theory, speech acts are basic units of communication expressing a human intent, such as making a promise or asserting a claim. Searle (1969) claims that speech acts can be classified by their illocutionary point into the following five categories: assertives telling how the world is or will be (statements of fact or predictions), commissives committing the speaker to doing something (e.g., to promise or to agree), directives trying to get the hearer to do things (e.g., to order or to request), declaratives changing the world by saying so, and expressives expressing the speaker’ feelings and attitudes.9 Performing a speech act also includes a subsidiary act of expressing a propositional content of the speech act referring to the propositions expressed in the speech act. Speech acts form larger wholes, e.g., networks of recurrent conversations (Winograd and Flores 1986) or conversations and

et al. 1987, Lyytinen and Hirschheim 1988, Hirschheim et al. 1991, Hirschheim and Klein 1994, and Hirschheim et al. 1995), which is distinct from the SA-based approach. Further to our object-oriented analogy of § 2.1, the SA-based methodology, SAMPO, developed by Aurama¨ki and Lyytinen et al. (e.g., Lehtinen and Lyytinen 1986, Aurama¨ki et al. 1988, Aurama¨ki et al. 1992a) can be interpreted in terms of multiple (double) inheritance. In addition to the SA-based approach it has inherited from the CST-based approach. 8

The principal references are Flores and Ludlow (1980), Goldkuhl and Lyytinen (1982, 1984), Lehtinen and Lyytinen (1986), Winograd and Flores (1986), Winograd (1987/1988), Aurama¨ki et al. (1988), Flores et al. (1988), Dewitz and Lee (1989), Dietz and Widdershoven (1991), Dobson et al. (1991); Donaldson Dewitz (1991), Kensing and Winograd (1991), Aurama¨ki et al. (1992a, 1992b), Dietz (1992), Janson and Woo (1992), Truex (1993), Johannesson (1995), and Klein and Truex (1995).

discourses (Aurama¨ki et al. 1988, Klein and Truex 1995).10 The interpretation of the SA-based approach in Table 1 is not entirely based on the abstraction of common features of existing ISDMs, but also on SA theory as its theoretical background. The North American tradition of the SA-based approach has focused on conversations consisting of directives and commissives, without addressing the propositional content of speech acts. Based on our interpretation of speech act theory (see also Ljungberg and Holm 1995), Table 1 identifies discourse/conversation analysis and propositional content analysis (information modelling in Lehtinen and Lyytinen 1986) as a fundamental aspect of the SAbased approach. Consequently, we interpret the SAbased methodology of Winograd et al. as partial in this respect. On the other hand, the Scandinavian tradition (e.g., Lehtinen and Lyytinen 1986) has covered a wider variety of illocutionary points and has also focused on the propositional content of speech acts. It is beyond the scope of this paper to go into details of these specific ISDMs. We only wish to point out with this example that each ISDM instance of the SA-based approach may use slightly different activities, techniques, and tools for discourse and propositional content analysis. The Soft Systems Methodology (SSM) approach is also an example of an ISDA with a number of ISDM instances. SSM can be considered as both an ISDA and an ISDM. It has been evolving since the early 1970s, and its principal versions are published in three books (Checkland 1981, Wilson 1984, Checkland and Scholes 1990). In SSM, the distinguishing feature is its explicit focus on problem formulation by helping the user to identify the “relevant” systems from the perceptions of possibly disagreeing stakeholders. SSM aims at supporting a learning cycle that, ideally, is never ending, underlining the crucial importance of intellectual frameworks (e.g., SSM) as a precondition for effective learning and understanding (Checkland and Scholes 1990, p. 16).


Directives and declaratives can be regrouped into imperative statements (commands) because they both imply that there is a source of power which can command that the world needs to be changed to fit the state described in the imperative statement (see Habermas 1998 and Dietz and Widdershoven 1991 for a critique of Searle’s classification).

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The IS literature often uses the terms conversation and discourse interchangeably despite their fundamental differences (see Ljungberg and Holm 1996). In view of the need to model larger units of communication as well-formed sequences of speech acts, the term discourse would seem to be more appropriate.


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One can identify two generations in the evolution of SSM. Originally, Checkland (1981) proposed an inquiry process of SSM that corresponds to the “logicbased analysis” in the new version of SSM (Checkland and Scholes 1990). The most essential change in the new version is the incorporation of cultural analysis as a parallel stream to logic-based analysis. In the case of the logic-based analysis, we interpret this as an evolution of SSM as an ISDA. At the same time, Checkland and Scholes cautiously distance themselves from the seven stage model (Checkland 1981) of the stream of logic-based analysis. This can be interpreted as an evolution of SSM as a methodology from Checkland’s (1981) original version. Referring to Table 1, we note that techniques like rich pictures and CATWOE do not define SSM as an ISDA, even though they are intimately associated with SSM. Although SSM is a general systems approach without any specific orientation toward IS, its developers have increasingly advocated its application to IS (e.g., Checkland and Scholes 1990). It also has aroused considerable interest within the larger IS community, especially in Europe and Australasia. For example, soft systems thinking is an integral part of such ISDMs as MULTIVIEW (Wood-Harper et al. 1985, Avison and Wood-Harper 1990), and FAOR (Scha¨fer et al. 1988). The Trade Unionist approach, which has evolved since the early 1960s mainly in three Scandinavian countries (Denmark, Norway, and Sweden), suggests that the improvement of systems development is an issue of industrial democracy.11 The Scandinavian background can be explained by the high unionization of the Scandinavian labor force leading to strong national labor federations and by large social democratic parties with tight links to their national federations (Ehn and Kyng 1987). This has created a favorable situation for co-determination arrangements and laws in the mid-1970s that ensured employees and unions the right to participate in the design of and decisionmaking on computer systems. However, the opportunity to participate in ISD posed a considerable challenge to trade unions, which traditionally have dealt 11 Even though the proponents of the trade union tradition have used various names to characterize their approach, the label “trade unionist” emphasizes the role of trade unions as sponsors and partners of its major research projects, and its belief in trade unions as legitimate representatives of resource-weak groups.


only with distribution issues such as pay, working hours, and terms of employment but not with systems design issues. With the participation in ISD, they were confronted with design and manufacturing issues that are often much more unstructured (Sandberg 1985). The recognition of this challenge was an important motivation for the formulation of trade union strategies for the development of computer-based systems (Bjerknes and Bratteteig 1995). One can identify three major generations in the evolution of the approach.12 The first covers the first three major projects (i.e., NJMF, DEMOS, and DUE, as referenced in footnote 12). It proposed a model for systems development, the essence of which is to have a union-led “shadow organization” to challenge the proposals developed by the management-led project organization and to propose alternatives to it (Ehn and Sandberg 1983). The second generation, the so called “collective resource approach” based on the UTOPIA project, has advocated the notion of craftsmanship as an ideal of work and a tool perspective as its natural ingredient. These two generations seem to reflect a gradual softening of the original, ideological Marxist tones and goals (Nygaard and Bergo 1974), to a theoretical synthesis of Marxist, Heideggerian, and Wittgensteinian elements (Ehn 1988). The most recent publications reflect the third phase of the trade unionist approach, called “cooperative design” (Bødker et al. 1991, Bødker and Grønbæk 1991a, Bødker and Grønbæk 1991b, Ehn and Kyng 1991, Ehn and Sjo¨gren 1991), which is theoretically based more on the philosophies of Heidegger and Wittgenstein rather than on

12 The review of the trade unionist approach and its paradigmatic analysis is based on the following material: Nygaard and Bergo (1974), Carlsson et al. (1978), Ehn et al. (1983), Sandberg (1983 and 1985), Ehn and Kyng (1987), Bødker et al. (1987), Ehn (1988), Kyng (1989), Bødker et al. (1991), Bødker and Grønbæk (1991a, 1991b), Ehn and Kyng (1991), Ehn and Sjo¨gren (1991), and Bjerknes and Bratteteig (1995). The preferred research strategy of the trade union approach has been action research. The most important action research projects were the NJMF project in Norway (Nygaard and Bergo 1974), the DEMOS project in Sweden (Carlsson et al. 1978, Ehn and Sandberg 1983, Sandberg 1983), the DUE project in Denmark (Kyng and Mathiassen 1982), and the UTOPIA project in Denmark and Sweden (Bødker et al. 1987, Ehn 1988).

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Marx.13 It has focused on the prerequisites of user participation in the actual building of IS, especially on various low-technology representations (mock-ups) and cooperative prototyping to support informal aspects of cooperation between users and designers. The experience with these ideas is mainly based on action research projects involving significant intervention and funding from researchers. Reported results suggest some difficulty in sustaining the continued use after the research intervention is finished (Clement and Van den Besselaar 1993). Nevertheless, the third generation has aroused considerable interest outside Scandinavia (Kuhn and Muller 1993). The attempts to transfer the ideas of “cooperative design” to North America have also aroused significant debate in Scandinavia (Kraft and Bansler 1994, Kyng 1995). Although the trade unionist approach has evolved through these generations, implying certain changes in emphasis and focus, Table 1 interprets it as a continued expansion and enrichment of the approach. This evolution has taken place mainly at the level of an ISDA. As an ISDM it is still somewhat embryonic, proposing some specific techniques (such the union-led shadow project organization, mock-ups, prototypes) but needing further development of tools, techniques, and activities. The Professional Work Practice (PWP) approach is based on the empirical analysis of ISD in the MARS projects in the early 1980s, investigating how ISD was actually carried out in practice (e.g., Lanzara and Mathiassen 1985) and experimenting with different ways of changing working practices (Andersen et al. 1990).14 Its advocates criticize ISDMs for not paying sufficient attention to what system practitioners actually do and if what they do is deficient, to take a realistic look how it could be changed for the better. In 13

Bødker et al. (1991a) nevertheless, express their sympathy for users as though they are members of “resource weak groups” (as opposed to management or executives), and refer to the trade union-centered approaches for organizing development projects for such resource weak groups (p. 146–147).


The PWP approach is described in a number of papers (Lanzara and Mathiassen 1985; Kensing 1987; Grønbæk 1989, 1991; Jepsen et al. 1989; Madsen 1989; Nielsen 1989; Kensing and Madsen 1991), and in a book (Andersen et al. 1990). Our analysis is mostly influenced by the last reference, i.e., Andersen et al. (1990).

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this sense the focus of the PWP approach has been on the relationship between ISD methods and practice. The empirical base for the strategy of the PWP approach is derived from investigating the conditions which determine the actual working practices of systems developers. Its theoretical base is inspired by organizational learning theories; in particular, Schon’s (1983) “Reflective Practitioner.” As an ISDA, the PWP approach has been particularly explicit in stating a number of principles for the ISD process. It lists 12 performance principles, 10 management principles, and 2 principles of the relationship between management and performance. These principles revolve around the dualities listed under “concepts” in Table 1 and should be addressed concurrently. The PWP approach has also suggested specific tools to support professional learning and reflection in ISD, including maps for diagnosing problematic situations (Lanzara and Mathiassen 1985), the use of metaphors (Madsen 1989) in generating visions (Kensing 1987, Kensing and Madsen 1991), and the systematic maintenance of professional diaries to document how decisions were made through the development process (cf. Lanzara and Mathiassen 1985, Jepsen et al. 1989). Almost ironically, the PWP approach has likely failed to see the importance of methods in this process of reflection and learning, not as methods to be followed obediently, but as intellectual frameworks with which the experience can be compared and reflected upon (cf. SSM above).

3. Framework for the Paradigmatic Analysis The term paradigm has been a controversial concept (cf. Lakatos and Musgrave 1970) ever since Thomas Kuhn (1970) introduced it in his influential book on scientific revolutions. Discussions of paradigms and paradigmatic frameworks abound. The framework used in this paper differs from the well-known Burrell and Morgan (1979) paradigm concept in that the dimensions of the paradigmatic analysis are not assumed to be mutually exclusive dichotomies because an ISDA may simultaneously incorporate assumptions from more than one paradigm. A critical difference between Burrell and Morgan and Kuhn’s use of the paradigm concept is


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Table 2

Summary of ontological Positions in IS Research

Ontological Unit

Realist Interpretation


Descriptive facts and relevant descriptive facts

Information Systems Human Beings

Technical system


Technology as a causal agent (technological determinism) Stable structures

Organizations and Society

Deterministic systems

Idealist/Constructivist Interpretation Socially constructed meanings signifying intentions A form of social systems realizing human intentions Voluntaristic systems with consciousness and free will Malleable structures subject to social and human choice Interaction systems or socially constructed systems (nominalism)

that Kuhn used it to describe the historical development of the natural sciences—in particular, physics and astronomy—whereas Burrell and Morgan applied it to the social sciences. The key implication of the difference is that in the social sciences, paradigm captures the basic assumptions of coexistent theories; whereas in the natural sciences, it captures the basic assumptions of historically successive theories. In this paper we take the position that IS research is more similar to the theories in social science than in natural science. In order to capture this distinction we use the term IS science to indicate that its paradigmatic status as an academic discipline is like the social sciences rather than the natural sciences. IS science consists of all contributions to the body of knowledge produced by different research traditions that are typically concerned with the development, operation, use, evolution, evaluation, and impacts of IS. IS research typically focuses on three levels of analysis: individuals, organizations, and society. The paradigmatic framework we use comes from Iivari (1991). In applying this framework to our five contrasting ISDAs, it is at least theoretically possible to identify the basic philosophical assumptions underlying any ISDA. This identification presumes three steps. First, we view the five ISDAs as artifacts produced by scientific research (March and Smith 1995) that has been governed by certain epistemological assumptions about knowledge acquisition and that has


been carried out using specific research methods. Second, we assume that the products of the scientific research, typically in the form of descriptions of ISDAs (articles and books) and examples (case descriptions), tend to reflect the paradigmatic assumptions that guided the research (otherwise one would have to believe that the researchers made a conscious effort to conceal their fundamental beliefs). Third, by performing a careful text analysis of these descriptions, we believe that we can infer the paradigmatic assumptions as depicted in Figure 1. These paradigmatic assumptions can be divided into: ontology (what is assumed to be the nature of IS), epistemology (what is human knowledge and how it can be acquired), research methodology (what are the preferred research methods for developing and continuous improving of the ISDA and what are the modes of evidence giving by which they are justified), and ethics (what are the values that ought to guide IS research). 3.1. Ontology Ontology is concerned with the structure and properties of “what is assumed to exist,” i.e., the basic building blocks that make up the phenomena or objects to be investigated. We propose that the ontology of IS research is concerned with the following phenomena: information and data, information systems, human beings in their different roles of IS development and IS use, technology, and human organizations and society at large. From observing how these terms are used in the research literature we can infer their ontological assumptions. From our observations we conclude that the two classical ontological views on the nature of reality, realism, and idealism reappear in IS research but in a somewhat modified form. Classical realism was most clearly formulated by Locke and later defended by the Vienna School and Popper. In IS, realism looks upon data as describing objective facts, information systems as consisting of technological structures (“hardware”), human beings as subject to causal laws (determinism), and organizations as relatively stable structures. Classical idealism was first proposed by Plato and most clearly formulated by Spinoza. In modern philosophy it was revived in the writings of Schutz, Husserl, and the “social constructivists” (cf. Berger and Luckmann 1967). Tables 2 and 3 summarize the two ontological Information Systems Research Vol. 9, No. 2, June 1998

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Table 3

Opposing Ontological Positions in the IS Literature

The two interpretation of information/data as descriptive facts and constitutive meanings are obtained from Klein and Hirschheim (1987) and Hirschheim et al. (1995). Based on Burrell and Morgan (1979), they distinguish objectivistic and subjectivistic interpretations of the Universe of Discourse (UoD), and state that “the difference is whether one believes that a data model ‘reflects’ reality or consists of subjective meanings and thereby constructs reality” (p. 9). The classification of information systems is based on Goldkuhl and Lyytinen (1982), who verbalize very elegantly the notion that information systems can be viewed as “technical systems with social implications” or “social systems only technically implemented” Differing from their use of the terms, we do not consider these two perspectives to be as mutually exclusive as they do. The characterization of an information system as a technical system hardly requires any explanation, but the view as an organizational/social system may require some qualification. The characterization as a social system does not only refer to the nature of an information system as “the outcome of coordinated human action and hence as inherently social” (Orlikowski 1992). Neither is it based on a broad interpretation of information systems which incorporates human beings. The point is that an information system is a constitutive part of organizational communication, control, coordination, cooperation and work arrangements and not only a separate support system for these organizational activities. In the more theoretical terms of structuration theory (Giddens 1984) one could say that an information system as a social system can be characterized as an embodiment of interpretive schemas, facilities for coordination and organizational/social norms (Orlikowski and Robey 1991, Walsham 1993). The technical and social views can also be illustrated by the distinction between “tool” and “institutional” views (Iacono and Kling 1988). A tool view reflects a technical/mechanistic perspective of an information system as an artifact, whereas the institutional view clearly emphasizes the social nature of information systems. The distinction between determinism and voluntarism in the view of human beings is borrowed from Burrell and Morgan (1979). A deterministic view “regards man and his activities as being completely determined by the situation or ‘environment’ in which he is located.” In contrast, in accordance with the voluntaristic view “a man is completely autonomous and free-willed” (p. 6). This dimension can be related to McGregor’s (1960) well-known distinction between Theory X and Theory Y, which has been applied in a number of analyses of IS designers’ views of IS users (Hedberg and Mumford 1975, Bostrom and Heinen 1977, Dagwell and Weber 1983). The view of technology makes a distinction between technological determinism which implies that technology develops according to its own “laws” and is relatively inflexible, whereas human choice emphasizes the flexibility of technology, the possibility of human beings to control it, and their responsibility for its development and consequences. The idea of technological determinism is forcefully expressed in Ellul (1965, p. 60): “Technique’s own internal necessities are determinative. Technique has become a reality in itself, self-sufficient, with its special laws and its own determinants”. By technique Ellul means not only machine technology, but any means guided by the quest of “the one best method” for the achievement of ends (p. 19–21). The fact that we do not interpret the two views of technology as mutually exclusive allows us to transcend the dichotomy of technology as an objective force or socially constructed product (Orlikowski 1992). Determinism points out that technology may constrain future human action because of its inflexibility and because it may become institutionalized to be part of the objective, structural properties of the organization. Finally, the dimension of the organizational view is based on Burrell and Morgan (1979) and Kling and Scacchi (1982). Burrell and Morgan use the dimension of realism vs. nomalism to describe ontological assumptions concerning social reality: Realism “postulates that the social world external to individual cognition is a real world made up of hard, tangible and relatively immutable structures.[. . .] For the realist, the social world exists independently of an individual’s appreciation of it [. . .] the social world has an existence which is as hard and concrete as the natural world” (p. 4). Nominalism, on the other hand, “revolves around the assumption that the social world external to individual cognition is made of nothing more than names, concepts and labels which are used to structure reality. [. . .] The “names” used are regarded as artificial creations whose utility is based upon their convenience as tools for describing, making sense of and negotiating the external world” (p. 4). The above two ontological assumptions can be regarded as extreme positions on the continuum describing the view of organizations and society. We prefer to apply a moderate position, however, based on the distinction between structuralism and interactionism adapted from Kling and Scacchi (1982). The term ‘structuralism’ is used here to cover the ‘formal-rational’ and ‘structural’ perspectives of Kling and Scacchi. It focuses on organizational structures, which are likened to an immutable or slowly adapting social reality (p. 23). The term ‘interactionism’ is also used in a broader sense than Kling and Scacchi to cover the ‘interactionst’ and ‘political’ perspectives, which emphasize organizational processes as determinants of the organizational phenomena. According to Kling and Scacchi (1982) the interactionist perspective views organizations “as arenas in which people enact important meanings” and the political perspectives as “battlegrounds in which participants continually struggle for control over valuable resources” (p. 23).30 Note that the above characterization of the political emphasizes resource control as a structural source of power (cf. Astley and Sachdava 1984). Since we do not interpret the dimensions as mutually exclusive, this does not cause any problems. The point here is that the political perspectives also stresses organizational processes. 30

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alternatives (realism vs. idealism) as they relate to IS phenomena (cf. Iivari 1991 for a more extensive discussion of the issues involved). Table 3 relates the ontological phenomena to key references from the IS research literature. Historically, ontology and epistemology have interacted (even though from a purely analytical point of view they are independent), and this can also be observed in IS research on ISD. 3.2. Epistemology In general, epistemological assumptions are concerned with the nature of knowledge and the proper methods of inquiry. By inquiry we mean the procedures or means by which we can obtain knowledge. In principle these definitions can be applied to any person or group (e.g., personal knowledge or ethnomethodology of inquiry; cf. Polanyi 1962 and Garfinkel 1967), but here we focus more narrowly on the nature of scientific knowledge about IS, i.e., what kind of knowledge is sought and can be obtained by the academic/scientific IS community and what its limits are. Some scientists seek to produce engineering-like, highly generalizable methods and approaches assuming that ISD is governed by law-like regularities, while others have suggested that this is inappropriate. Instead, they merely seek to provide constructs or metaphorical templates which could support ISD developers with potentially useful insights that must be carefully evaluated anew in each project and situation. These opposites are associated with Burrell and Morgan’s (1979) distinction between the epistemology of positivism and antipositivism. Positivism seeks “to explain and predict what happens in the social world by searching for regularities, causal relationships between its constituent elements,” whereas antipositivism maintains that the social world “can only be understood from the point of view of the individuals who are directly involved in the activities which are to be studied. Antipositivists reject the standpoint of the ‘observer,’ which characterizes positivist epistemology, as a valid vantage point for understanding human activities. They maintain that one can only ‘understand’ by occupying the frame of reference of the participant in action. One has to understand from the inside rather than the outside” (p. 5). Accordingly, positivism views


scientific knowledge to consist of regularities, causal laws, and explanations, whereas antipositivism emphasizes human interpretation and understanding as constituents of scientific knowledge. Moreover, we interpret positivism to be characterized by the assumptions that a unified language of science is both desirable and possible, and that—in principle, at least—it is possible to separate facts from values in research. The term epistemology is used in the specific sense of Burrell and Morgan (1979). These epistemological assumptions are not part and parcel of ISDAs in and of themselves, and therefore are not typically documented along with the description of the researchers view of their ISDAs. They often have to be inferred. One has to look for language (embodied in text fragments) by which researchers explain their research goals, results, and methods to the readers of their work. Our analysis should be read as an attempt to “phenomenologically bracket” the assumptions of five ISDAs by means of a hermeneutic interpretation of their documentation, and use these results to “read” their authors’ mindsets. 3.3. Research Methodology The term research methodology in this context refers to the procedures (research methods) used to acquire knowledge about ISDAs and related ISDMs, methods, and tools. The knowledge referred to in the context of ISDAs consists of the canons and principles needed to elaborate and refine the ISDA. This is analytically separate from the canons and principles which designers and users follow when building an IS application.15 To reiterate this somewhat confusing distinction, when we refer to “research methodology” it relates to the methods of inquiry used to develop, evaluate, and justify each ISDA, not to the methods of inquiry used in systems development projects. Even though these methods may be related, they need not be. For example, a formal specification method may be studied using an ethnographic method, without a requirement 15 Note that in some situations it is analytically separate only because in practice users and developers can make a contribution to refining and elaborating an approach through testing it in a real-world setting. In fact, this typically is the case in action research where the distinction between researcher and practitioner is moot, because both are seen to contribute to the enhancement of theory and resolution of practical problems.

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that the formal specification method itself having any ethnographic features. Burrell and Morgan (1979) distinguish between two types of research methods: nomothetic and idiographic. Taking into account that Information Systems and Computer Science are applied disciplines, we can identify a third type of research methodology: constructive methods. Constructive methods are concerned with the engineering of artifacts (by the “Sciences of the Artificial,” as Simon 1969 called them), which may be either purely conceptual artifacts (models, frameworks, and procedures) or more technical artifacts with a “physical” realization (e.g., software). As artifacts, they do not describe any existing reality but rather help to create a new one. The significance of constructive research methods in IS and Computer Science has recently been emphasized by March and Smith (1995) and Brooks (1996). Nomothetic methods, including formalmathematical analysis, experimental methods (laboratory and field experiments), and nonexperimental methods such as field studies and surveys, are “epitomized in the approach and methods employed in the natural sciences, which focus upon the process of testing hypotheses in accordance with the canons of scientific rigor,” while idiographic methods such as case studies and action research place “considerable stress upon getting close to one’s subject and exploring its detailed background and life-history” (Burrell and Morgan 1979, p. 6). Even though ontology, epistemology, and research methodology are independent in principle, they tend to be interrelated in practice. Most researchers who have taken a realist view of the ontology of IS have also adhered to a positivist epistemology. This becomes very clear when one studies the research methods employed by the references used in Table 3. Realists prefer empirical surveys, laboratory experimentation, and to some extent case studies (cf. Lee 1989, Orlikowski and Baroudi 1991). Social constructivists prefer case studies or action research applying ethnography or grounded theory, conceptual analysis, language analysis, and a host of other “interpretive” methods of inquiry under lively discussion (cf. Nissen et al. 1991). Hence idiographic methods appear more closely associated with the idealist ontological position in IS even though some positivist case Information Systems Research Vol. 9, No. 2, June 1998

studies also appear to fall in this category. Both realists and idealists have used quantitative methods, as is explicitly advocated by Lee (1991). In the practice of a concrete research project, the interaction between ontology and epistemology is very complex and typically is not made explicit. Therefore this characterization can serve as merely a global orientation. Furthermore, as the IS discipline is “applied,” it does not exhaust the spectrum of research methods that should be considered as potentially fruitful. 3.4. Ethics of Research Ethics of research refers to assumptions about the responsibility of a researcher for the consequences of his/her research approach and its results. Without going into details of this quite controversial issue, one can expect research in the applied sciences to be highly value-dependent. Consequently, the basic values of research should be expressed as explicitly as possible (Mattessich 1978). In this paper we are specifically interested in the assumed relationship between IS as an applied discipline and IS practice. We distinguish two interrelated aspects: the role of IS as an academic discipline (the roles of IS science), and the values of IS research. Following the lead of Chua (1986) and Oliga (1988), we distinguish three potential roles for IS science: (1) means-end oriented, (2) interpretive, and (3) critical. In the first case, the scientist aims at providing knowledge about means for achieving given ends (or goals) without questioning the legitimacy of the ends. Interpretivists question whether human and organizational action is really goal-directed action, because many organizational studies have shown that goal statements follow rather than precede action (cf. March and Olsen 1976). Goal statements are reconstructed retrospectively to give meaning to action. The aim of an “interpretivist scientist is to enrich people’s understanding of their action,” “how social order is produced and reproduced” (Chua 1986, p. 615). A critical scientist insists that research has “a critical imperative: the identification and removal of domination and ideological practice” (Chua 1986, p. 622). Goals (ends) can be subjected to a critical analysis just as well as means. In considering the values of IS research, we analyze whose values and what values dominate IS research


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with the understanding that research may openly or latently serve the interests of particular dominant groups. The interests served may be those of the host organization as perceived by its top management, those of IS users, those of IS professionals, and potentially, those of other stakeholder groups in society. Realists and positivists have often claimed that research can and should be value free, whereas antipositivists have denied its possibility. (The extreme positions on the question of value free research are rarely observed today, but as a general orientation researchers tend to lean more toward one or the other depending on whether they believe that technology and research are neutral or not.)

4. Detailed Paradigmatic Analysis of the Five ISD Approaches 4.1.

Documenting and Analyzing Paradigmatic Assumptions Most ISDAs do not explicitly state the underlying philosophical (paradigmatic) assumptions they embrace: they have to be inferred. One option is to (1) identify the “key building blocks or features” of each ISDA; (2) categorize each feature/building block as, for example, either “functionalist, social relativist, radical structuralist or neohumanist”; (3) amalgamate the findings across the features/building blocks; and then (4) classify the ISDA in terms of its dominant paradigm (Hirschheim et al. 1995). Another option is to survey the available literature on the ISDA and code it in terms of paradigmatic categories (Iivari 1991). This paper follows the second option. The research protocol involves gathering the key literature for each of the contrasting ISDAs, analyzing its content and then placing the text fragments into the categories of the paradigmatic framework (as described in § 3 of the paper). These text fragments are presented to allow the reader some insight into our paradigmatic analysis process, i.e., how we came to categorize each ISDA’s assumptions the way we did. Clearly such an exercise is an interpretive process, and hence our form of content analysis was not like traditional positivist content analysis techniques whereby the researchers develop a coding scheme, code the text, calculate frequencies or


percentages, etc. (Lacity and Janson 1994). Instead, we acknowledged our own preexisting beliefs and biases (in hermeneutic terms, our “preunderstanding”) and then noted our changed understanding the more we interpreted and reinterpreted the texts. Each successive interpretation yielded a new understanding, extending our old understanding (this is the classic hermeneutic circle; cf. Gadamer 1976). According to Klein and Myers (1996): “The process of interpretation moves from the precursory understanding of the parts to the whole and from a global understanding of the whole context back to an improved understanding of each part” (p. 37).

In undertaking the analysis, it became apparent that in some cases, the underlying assumptions could be identified fairly straightforwardly. In others, however, difficult judgments had to be made when identifying the paradigmatic assumptions of each of the five ISDAs. We shall attempt to highlight where and how these judgments were made. This kind of interpretive process is of course not new in the IS community and has been used by many others (cf. Boland 1979, Klein and Hirschheim 1983, Newman 1989, Orlikowski 1991, Lee 1994, Myers 1994, Walsham 1993). Our application domain—texts documenting ISDAs—differs from the above. Our interpretive content analysis does not apply a formal coding scheme to the analyzed texts, as it would be very difficult to account for the subtly different usage of the same or similar terms in the documentation of the five ISDAs. Instead, we have sought to document and understand the underlying philosophical structures of the ISDAs. Contrast this with Beath and Orlikowski (1994), who use a detailed content analysis to deconstruct James Martin’s (1989, 1990a,b) books on information engineering in an attempt to reveal the intrinsic contradictions and distortions in it.16 Since our mission was to document rather than search for contradictions and distortions in the assumptions, we feel the research vehicle chosen is 16

Note also that Beath and Orlikowski’s dictionary and content variables only had to reflect the word usage of one author (Martin), whereas the application of this approach to our textual data would have to reflect differences in word usage among many different authors whose semantics have evolved over time. This clearly limits such an application of content analysis.

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appropriate. Of course, the true test is whether the reader finds our paradigmatic analysis intelligible and believable. 4.2. The Interactionist Approach Ontology. The interactionist approach does not sufficiently elaborate the concepts of information and data to support any clear conclusion about their ontological status. Regarding the notion of information system, both the web model and the institutional view focus primarily on its social aspects. For example, “web models view computer-based systems as complex social objects whose architecture and use are shaped by the social relations between influential participants, the infrastructure that supports them, and the history of commitments” (Kling 1987, p. 314). Human beings are not addressed enough to allow any clear conclusions. The view of technology is dualistic: on the one hand it emphasizes the role of intentions, i.e., human choice, in the development trajectory of CBIS and related technology: “CBIS live and develop through the energies of their promoters rather than ‘evolve’ through a ‘life of their own’” (Kling and Iacono 1984, p. 1225). On the other hand, especially the institutional view of CBISs emphasizes the relative inflexibility of technology: “the immense installed base of earlier technologies means substantial conversions” (Kling and Iacono 1989, p. 25). As its name indicates, the organizational view of the interactionist approach is predominantly interactionist as argued above in the review of the approach. One can, nevertheless, recognize an interesting evolution toward structuralism in the papers based on the institutional view (Iacono and Kling 1988, Kling and Iacono 1989). Kling and Iacono (1989), for example, criticize the political explanations of implementation failures noting that they are often tautological, when a failed implementation is the primary evidence of political conflict and resistance, and that they usually ignore the structural features of organizations which can be slow to change (p. 11). In the institutional view, Kling and Iacono insist that resistance to implementation can result from the “inertia” of the social structure, pointing to standard operating rules as major determinants of the inertia (p. 10–11). Epistemology and Methodology. The epistemology of the interactionist approach was inferred from such Information Systems Research Vol. 9, No. 2, June 1998

phrases as “the web model looks for systematic causal features of the environment” (Kling and Scacchi 1982, p. 39) and from its emphasis on predictive power: “Web analyses become attractive only because the simple discrete-entity analyses don’t have the predictive value we need” (Kling 1987, p. 345). We concluded that the epistemology is positivist. In its methodology, the interactionist approach has relied very heavily on case studies which may have positivistic leanings as Lee (1989) has shown. Examples of case studies as a preferred research methodology are the UMIS case (Kling and Scacchi 1980), CSRO case (Kling and Scacchi 1980, 1982), Audiola case (Kling and Scacchi 1982), and the PRINTCO case (Kling and Iacono 1984, Kling 1987, Iacono and Kling 1988, Kling and Iacono 1989). It is also interesting to note that the interactionist approach does not engage in constructive research, i.e., development of conceptual or technical artifacts for ISD. Ethics. The interactionist approach’s ethical view of IS science is highly interpretive because its major interest is in the actual consequences of computing, including symbolic, ceremonial, and ritual use. It does not advocate the instrumental side of ISD with a means-end orientation (Kling and Scacchi 1980, p. 320). Regarding the values of IS research, the approach takes no clear position. 4.3 The Speech Act-Based Approach Ontology. The SA-based approach predominantly views information/data as constitutive. Lyytinen (1987) attacks the “descriptive fallacy” of traditional information modelling, and Winograd and Flores (1986) criticize the “correspondence theory of language as the element of the rationalistic tradition” (p. 17–20), noting that “language does not describe a pre-existing world, but creates the world about which it speaks” (p. 174). Among the five illocutionary points of speech acts (assertives, commissives, directives, declaratives, and expressives), only assertives have the descriptive role (i.e., the word-to-world fit), while commissives and directives illustrate the constitutive role (i.e., the worldto-word fit). As a possible counter-argument, in the context of IS a speech act, once stored, becomes a descriptive record, independent of its illocutionary point. The view of an information system is primarily that of a social system. Goldkuhl and Lyytinen (1982, 1984)


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characterize IS as “socially constructed formal linguistic communication systems” and suggest the notion of IS as “social systems only technically implemented” (cf. Aurama¨ki et al., 1988, p. 127). Likewise, Flores et al. (1988) point out that “technology is not design of physical things. It is design of practices and possibilities to be realized through artifacts” (p. 153). Regarding human beings, we interpret the SA-based approach to adopt a predominantly voluntaristic position because it views humans as “rational, intentional, and acting social beings” (Goldkuhl and Lyytinen 1982, p. 14) who exhibit “individual responsibility and autonomy” (Flores et al., 1988, p. 168). The limits to this are recognized when Winograd and Flores (1986) emphasize that humans can never be free of tradition and prejudice which limit our thinking (p. 30). The same authors also recognize biological limits for humans when they speak of biological organisms as “mechanistic structure-determined systems” and try “to understand behavior that is mechanically generated but not programmed” (p. 10). The SA-based approach does not discuss technology to the extent necessary to identify its underlying ontological assumptions. The view of organizations clearly includes both structural and interactionist elements. Aurama¨ki et al. (1988) provide for structuralist assumptions when they refer to “activities as institutional action routines governed by organizational arrangements and to positions defining who is responsible for distinct phases of activities” (p. 128). Along similar lines, Flores et al. (1988) remark that in “today’s modern society . . . organizations tend toward being collections of nameless and faceless ‘functional roles’” (p. 165) and suggest that they are designing their coordinator system “for settings in which the basic parameters of authority, obligation, and cooperation are stable” (p. 168).”17 Goldkuhl and Lyytinen (1982), on the other hand, emphasize the interactionist nature of organizations when they write that “ISs are parts of the organizational sense-making process, where social situations are interpreted, defined, and evaluated” (p. 18). Aurama¨ki et al. (1988) also refer to 17

It should be noted that one of the criticisms raised against the SAbased approach is that it imposes too rigid a structure of roles (Ljungberg and Holm 1996).


the political nature of many office activities, and Flores et al. (1988) to power struggles. Epistemology and Methodology. The epistemology of the SA-based approach in principle is antipositivist but there are some embedded assumptions which are ambiguous and could be construed to be positivist. The major proponents of the SA-based approach lean toward an antipositivist epistemology. For example, Goldkuhl and Lyytinen (1982, p. 13–14; 1984, p. 80) are openly critical of a positivist epistemology based on “laws” with empirical content. Similarly, Winograd and Flores (1986) take issue with a rationalist ontology and epistemology presuming an objective reality and knowledge as a representation of reality (p. 73). They note, however, that SA theory “does not go outside the rationalist tradition” (p. 60). Yet in strict philosophical terms, being a rationalist does not imply that one is necessarily positivist nor that one admits the existence of concrete structures and laws. This is important to note, when one considers the prominent role of formal models of language in SA theory and their applications to IS, e.g., the model-theory definition of an IS (Lehtinen and Lyytinen, 1986) as a “formal theory of the logical structure of illocutionary forces, illocutionary commitments, and possible (meaningful) illocutionary acts” (p. 316). While this may sound as if SA subscribes to a positivist epistemology, in fact its focus on language modeling is merely rationalistic. The formal theory should be viewed as the rational reconstruction of the actual practices of IS use by a community. This rational reconstruction makes the implicit customs and practices of IS use explicit. This is rationalist but not positivist just as the reconstruction of the communicative competence of a speaker is rationalist but not positivist (cf. Habermas 1979).18 However, in its practical applications, the epistemological position of SA is more ambiguous (cf. Aurama¨ki et al. 1988). For example, in analyzing SAMPO (Aurama¨ki et al. 1992a,b) one could easily formulate the impression that its application in determining requirement are similar to that taken in a positivist 18 Instead, objects of one’s reconstructions are universal and generic abstract competencies that make speaking and inference possible, like assumptions concerning what is “my world” and what is the “external world.” For further details see Habermas’ discussion on “Universal Pragmatics” (Habermas 1979).

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approach. A positivist impression is also created by SA theory presuming fixed underlying patterns of meaning (Searle 1979, p. vii).19 Also, the way the legitimacy of an ISDM is judged in terms of its effects and consequences is suggestive of a positivist epistemology (Goldkuhl and Lyytinen 1982, p. 23; Flores et al. 1988, p. 155) as far as the effects are based on causal modelling. Regarding research methods, most of the IS research based on SA theory has applied constructive conceptual development (especially Lehtinen and Lyytinen 1986, Aurama¨ki et al. 1988). There has also been constructive technical development—the coordinator system as the most well-known result (Flores et al. 1988). Lehtinen and Lyytinen’s (1986) paper also represents an effort to apply formal mathematical analysis. The lack of empirical research, whether nomothetic or idiographic, is noteworthy in the case of the SA-based approach, although some initial inroads have been made by Klein and Truex (1995). Ethics. The research based on SA-theory adopts a means-end orientation for the role of IS science. This is subject to some debate, as Goldkuhl and Lyytinen (1982, 1984) make some general references to such notion as “critical construction of reality” and “rational reconstruction” of rules for social action. The basic idea underlying these notions is to assign the IS designer with an emancipatory role. On the other hand, their goal of enhancing intersubjectivity and understanding with rational, successful communication is mostly considered as a means of increasing organizational effectiveness in Goldkuhl and Lyytinen (1984, p. 79) and Aurama¨ki et al. (1988, p. 132). Flores et al. (1988) express this explicitly: “Our view of design is consciously oriented toward improving the quality and effectiveness of organizational life” (p. 169). 4.4. The Soft Systems Methodology Approach Ontology. SSM has multiple ontological assumptions because it distinguishes four major systems classes: natural systems, designed physical systems, designed abstract systems, and human activity systems (Checkland 1981, p. 110–122), the ontologies of which 19

The Aristotelian way of classifying illocutionary points and the noncontingent nature of meaning has also been criticized (Ljungberg and Holm 1996).

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differ from each other.20 Natural systems are as they are and include man who can create designed physical systems and designed abstract systems, which are man-made and the results of conscious design, and human activity systems, the distinctive feature of which is the self-consciousness of the human beings involved. SSM emphasizes that a human activity system is not an ontological concept, but rather an epistemological one (Checkland 1981, p. 249; Checkland and Scholes 1990, p. 24, 41–42). It defines a human activity system as a purely notional system that does not describe reality (Checkland 1981, Checkland and Scholes 1990; see Wilson 1984 for a slightly different classification).21 SSM makes a sharp distinction between data and information, conceiving the latter as data that have been interpreted by attributing meaning from the application (or use) context (Checkland and Scholes 1990, p. 54; Wilson 1984, p. 212; Winter et al. 1995). Winter et al. (1995) explain that “attributing meaning is a uniquely human act, though meanings may be shared, partially or completely, by groups of people” (p. 131). This interpretation of a “meaning” allows both individual (subjective) meanings and shared (intersubjective meanings), but does not elaborate the more primitive concept of data. We will argue that there is a potential inconsistency here in SSM’s view of the concept of data and in its general philosophy. We will first make the case for the claim that data are treated as descriptive and then present the counterargument that they are seen as constitutive. SSM’s view of the ontological status of data is not very explicit and is ambiguous.22 Checkland and Scholes (1990) argue that: “. . . there are myriad facts 20

As a fifth systems class, he mentions transcendental systems, which are beyond knowledge.


In spite of this, Checkland (1981) appears to have difficulties to keep the concept of human activity system and the real world separate. For example, he illustrates the human activity system as follows: “The human act of design is itself an example of a fourth possible system class: the human activity system. These are less tangible systems than natural and designed systems. Nevertheless, there are clearly observable in the world innumerable sets of human activities more or less consciously ordered in whole as a result of some underlying purpose or mission” (p. 110–111).


Checkland (1989), for example, makes reference to speech acts but does not elaborate the relationship between SA theory and SSM (its view of data).


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about the world which can be stated neutrally.” (p. 54). The way in which this text passage has been interpreted in the subsequent SSM literature forces the conclusion that SSM assumes data to have a descriptive role. One good example for this is Wilson’s (1984, p. 169–170) three decision elements: a “target,” performance expectations, and state information.23 The attributes of the three decision elements are treated as descriptive facts. The descriptive role of data and information is expressed more directly in FAOR, which assumes that information objects represent real-world phenomena (Scha¨fer et al. 1988, p. 45). In MULTIVIEW, data are seen as raw facts (Avison and WoodHarper 1990, p. 4). Yet, this argument for a descriptive view of data may be too superficial because it leaves out the important concept of the human activity system as a “notional” system. Clearly a notional system is a social construction, and human activity systems serve as constitutive models for the desirable and feasible changes to be realized in a project. A fortiori this should also apply to the data definitions that are part and parcel of the human activity system. The data definitions are social stipulations, “determining” which information/data will be provided by the future information system. From this angle, then information/data should be viewed as constitutive in SSM.24 The conclusion of the above analysis must be that the presentation and application of SSM could benefit from clarifying the nature of information/data. The lack of reflection of its ontological position has led to an internal inconsistency between the descriptive view of information/data as implied by the working definitions and the general “philosophy” of SSM that is constitutive. 23 A target provides feedforward information indicating a desired state for some subsystem and a performance expectation. State information indicates the existing state of the system. Information is the result of interpreting data as decision elements and attributing the meaning to them that is appropriate in the specific problem context at hand. 24 Gregory’s (1993) interpretation of the iterative debate among the stakeholders on the relevant human activity systems as a public language game (in the sense of Wittgenstein) can be understood to imply a constitutive process where not only the meanings attached to the conceptual models but also the conceptual models themselves (including data definitions) are created, negotiated, recreated, and renegotiated.


The SSM view of information system is primarily organizational/social. In accordance with the definition of the concept of information, Checkland and Scholes (1990) perceive an information system to entail both data manipulation, which machines can do, and meaning attribution, which is uniquely a human act (p. 55). They suggest an approach to ISD that is essentially based on defining human activity systems through debate about their relevance. Once a “truly relevant” system has been agreed upon, one can proceed to the analysis of information flows. For each activity identified in the relevant human activity, one can ask what information would have to be available to enable someone to do this activity and what information would be generated by doing it (p. 56–57). The dominant view of human beings in SSM is explicitly voluntaristic even though, biologically, man is a part of the natural system and subject to various deterministic laws of nature. Checkland (1981), for example, has a detailed argument in favor of the free will of human beings (p. 116–118, cf. also Checkland and Scholes 1990, p. 2). Technology is not addressed in SSM to the extent necessary for drawing any conclusions. The view of organizations and society includes both structural and interactionist elements. The analysis of the social system in terms of roles and related expectations draws on the structural view whereas the cultural analysis in general and political analysis in particular reflect a more interactionist view (Checkland and Scholes 1990). In particular, the multitude of interpretations related to the human activity system, the debate on their relevance and the accommodation of the systemically desirable and culturally feasible changes can be interpreted to imply a largely interactionist view of organizations and social systems. Epistemology and Methodology. The epistemology of SSM is dualistic. For the natural sciences it is positivist while for the social sciences it clearly recognizes the limitations of the positivist epistemology (Checkland 1981, p. 50–71; Checkland and Scholes 1990, p. 2–3), because “at the core of the phenomena studied by social science is the self-consciousness of human beings and the freedom of choice which that consciousness entails” (Checkland 1981, p. 70). The following assessment concentrates on the status of scientific knowledge about social phenomena. Checkland concludes that “at Information Systems Research Vol. 9, No. 2, June 1998

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best social systems will reveal ‘trends’ rather than ‘laws’ and that the social scientist will be reduced to studying not exactly social reality but only the logic of situations, producing findings of the kind ‘In situation A, a likely outcome is B’, without any guarantee that this will hold in any particular situation” (p. 71). Checkland and Scholes suggest “if we cannot aspire to a natural science-like knowledge, perhaps what we seek in human affairs might be described as ‘wisdombased knowledge’ or ‘experience-based knowledge’ ” (p. 3). Consequently, SSM is proposed as an inquiry system for tackling real-world problems in situ, a system that uses systems thinking as an epistemology and “seeks to provide help in articulating and operating the learning cycle from meanings to intentions to purposeful action without imposing the rigidity of a technique” (p. 8). We conclude that the epistemology of SSM is primarily antipositivist as far as social phenomena are concerned, but the role of SSM as a methodology implies a positivist element because it is intended to help organizations with inquiry and learning about natural and technical phenomena as well. In accordance with its epistemology, the development of SSM and its application to IS have heavily relied on action research (cf. Checkland 1981, Wilson 1984, Checkland and Scholes 1990, Wood-Harper et al. 1985, Avison and Wood-Harper 1990). Additionally, SSM as a methodology is the result of constructive conceptual development. Ethics. For the role of IS science, our conclusion is that SSM reflects both means-end and interpretive views. Even though Checkland (1981) mentions that the purpose of SSM is to generate radical thought (p. 170), he emphasizes that the changes must be “arguably desirable and at the same time feasible given prevailing attitudes and power structures” (p. 164), and Wilson (1984) points out that they must be desirable and culturally feasible “given the particular managers in their particular situation” (p. 83). Checkland nevertheless recognizes that the criterion of “cultural feasibility” has led to a rather conservative use of SSM, but he points out that it is a matter of practice rather than of principle (p. 281). Checkland’s criticism of utopian, idealized design provides additional evidence for the skeptical attitude of SSM toward a critical view Information Systems Research Vol. 9, No. 2, June 1998

of science. The interpretive view of SSM can be explained by the value relativism of SSM with regard to alternative W’s (Weltanschaungen) underlying the root definitions for the relevant human activity systems. For the evaluation of each human activity system Checkland and Scholes (1990) propose the five Es (efficacy, efficiency, effectiveness, ethicality, and elegance) as general criteria. An interesting point here is that Checkland (1981) restricts the purpose of human activity systems to serving intended consequences of so called “manifest functions.” He excludes so-called “latent and unintended functions” (p. 236).25 Consistent with the above interpretive view, Checkland and Scholes (1990) express that the underlying values of SSM are to support learning and to structure debate with the aim of achieving an “accommodation” between differing interests, an accommodation with which the parties involved are prepared to “go along.” 4.5. The Trade Unionist Approach Ontology. The trade unionist approach does not explicitly discuss the concepts of information and data. Nevertheless, some references indicate a general philosophical leaning toward the constitutive view. Ehn (1988), for example, says that “in using language we do not describe the world, we create it” and “language as action is more fundamental than language as description” (p. 69). He does not associate this view of language with the information/data as stored and communicated by computer artifacts, partly because he rejects the idea that concepts like information and data should be fundamental to our thinking about the design of computer artifacts (p. 156–157).26 The trade unionist approach strongly advocates a tool view as an ideal of computer artifacts (Bødker et al. 1987, Ehn 1988). The tool should be under complete control of the users. From this we conclude that it has a technical view of an information system. The emphasis on the tool view is partly explained by the specific application area of the UTOPIA project, which is 25

The distinction between manifest and latent functions comes from Merton’s structural-functional school of sociology.


On the other hand, he recognizes the capacity of symbol manipulation as the distinctive feature of computers (p. 163) without reflecting on the relationship between symbols and information/data.


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text and image processing in the graphic industry. In contrast, the earlier DEMOS project analyzed computer use in planning and control. “In this area the computer serves as a controlling instrument, in contrast with a device such as a lathe which could be categorized more aptly as a working machine” (Carlsson et al. 1978, p. 250). Additionally, the second generation of the trade unionist approach which developed the tool perspective, also recognizes that “the systems design process must be regarded as part of a larger organizational development process” (Ehn and Kyng 1987, p. 33). Ehn (1988) also insists that “in designing artifacts we do not merely design the artifacts themselves: deliberately or not, we also design conditions for their human use” (p. 1) or “a changed or reformed practice” (p. 171). He also emphasizes the social nature of the artifacts in several contexts (p. 39, 100–101, 124, 208). It is noteworthy, however, that Ehn (1988) assumes design to take place through the computer artifacts and their use situations (cf. Greenbaum and Kyng 1991b) without providing any deliberate approach for designing the work practice per se independently of the computer artifacts.27 The trade unionist approach does not discuss human beings very explicitly. One can, nevertheless, recognize both deterministic and voluntaristic elements. Ehn (1988), for example, refers to the famous thesis of Marx that “the philosophers have only interpreted the world in different ways; the point is to change it” and continues “the focus of this transcendence, both in theory and in practice, is on those conditions that constrain humans socially and individually to form a free cooperation of equal men and women” (p. 83). He also refers to the rule-following behavior of language games (p. 106), pointing out that they are socially created and therefore can be changed (p. 107). Though there are numerous references to the limitations of existing technology, which restrict the possibilities to achieve trade union objectives, technology is 27 The likely reason for this is that research into “work-oriented design” faces the following paradox: the essential part of work knowledge is assumed to be tacit (Ehn and Kyng 1987, Ehn 1988, Greenbaum and Kyng 1991). As tacit, it is not describable, it is difficult to communicate, to reflect upon and design deliberately except for “design by doing” using mock-ups, prototypes, and other handson approaches.


primarily viewed as a matter of human choice. This is well expressed by the objectives of the UTOPIA project: “Instead of defending the status quo, an offensive strategy was to be developed for another type of technology and improved products. A type of technology that improves the quality of work and the products, a type of technology that is not inflexible but dynamically changeable at individual workplaces as the employees develop their skill” (Bødker et al. 1987, p. 256– 257). The view of organizations and society is largely structural but also includes interactionist elements. Ehn (1988), for example, explicitly rejects the consensus view of organizations in favor of the conflict view (p. 253). Conflicts are mainly considered to be caused by structural factors. Organizations and society are conceptualized in terms of division of labor (Carlsson et al. 1978, p. 255; Sandberg 1983, p. 60; Ehn and Kyng 1987, p. 34; Ehn 1988, p. 82–102); social classes such as capital owners and workers with their antagonist relationships (Ehn 1988, p. 83); and class struggle (Ehn and Kyng 1987, p. 38; Ehn 1988, p. 98, 100). More concretely, the trade unionist approach recognizes different interests and conflicts between professional groups and trade unions (Bødker et al. 1987, p. 266; Ehn 1988, p. 322–323), between different departments (Bødker et al. 1991, p. 151), and between management and users (Bødker et al. 1991, p. 146). It is an open question to what extent these conflicts are explained as manifestations of the division of labor or class struggle. Epistemology and Methodology. The epistemology of the trade unionist approach is primarily positivistic. The analysis of organizations and society in terms of division of labor, classes and class struggle, as just reviewed, refers to law-like relations of the positivist epistemology. The Heideggerian and Wittgensteinian elements in Ehn (1988) create the expectation of finding an anti-positivistic epistemology. Yet this appears not to be the case. The theses proposed in Ehn and Kyng (1987) can also be interpreted as positivistic generalizations. Ehn (1988) states that he is looking for “theoretical knowledge about everyday understanding in and about design” (p. 42), arguing that theoretical reflective knowledge is important in design, but more a supplement to practical understanding than as a substitute for it (p. 40–41, 87). What is this theoretical Information Systems Research Vol. 9, No. 2, June 1998

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knowledge he is looking for? An answer to this question is suggested by his distinction between the “practical skill of professional designers and professional users” and “detached reflection about design.” Detached reflection is propositional, often theoretical and applying scientific knowledge (p. 40–41). This suggests that Ehn interprets scientific knowledge as theoretical propositional knowledge. On the other hand, he criticizes the Cartesian approach for its belief in objective facts which are obtained through observation and detached reflection (p. 52–53). Instead, he insists that in the practice of our everyday practical activity: “we produce the world, both the world of objects and our knowledge about the world” (p. 60). This no doubt refers to the central role of practice in the Marxist epistemology that considers that the practical and theoretical kinds of knowledge form a dialectical unity. The insight gained through theoretical reflection depends on being involved in everyday practice. As reflection is brought to bear on everyday practice, it transforms it because it reaches beyond the limits of a single experience. This, however, does not mean that theoretical knowledge is merely the truth of what was already practically understood, nor is everyday practice and understanding sufficient by itself. Unreflected practice is “pseudo-concrete,” or more simply, we might say “blind to its own limits.” To reach beyond these limits, practical knowledge has to be informed by some critical vantage point. In Marxism this vantage point is “revolutionary-critical practice of humanity”—the reflected sum total of experiences resulting from a political reform program for the betterment of the social conditions of existence for all of humanity. The role of practice in the scientific endeavor described above has methodological implications. It justifies idiographic methods such as action research which, in fact, has been very dominant in the trade unionist approach (cf. Carlsson et al. 1978, p. 253; Sandberg 1985; Ehn and Kyng 1987, p. 26; Ehn 1988, p. 9–11, 135–139, 283–284, 461–462).28 A second major research method has been the conceptual development of strategies for trade union participation (Carlsson et 28

Sandberg (1985) uses the term “praxis research.” This refers to research that implies a clearer separation of the action part and the conceptual, or reflective, part than action research.

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al. 1978, Ehn and Sandberg 1983, Ehn and Kyng 1987), and more recently for “design by doing” approaches. The latter are based on the use of mock-ups, cooperative prototyping, and other forms of direct user involvement (Bødker et al. 1987, Ehn 1988, Ehn and Kyng 1991, Bødker and Grønbæk 1991a and 1991b). There are also references to such nomothetic methods as field experiments (Sandberg 1985, p. 88) and surveys (Carlsson et al. 1978, p. 257), but their role has been relatively minor. Ethics. The most distinctive aspect of the trade unionist approach has been its critical view of the role of IS Science. Nygaard and Bergo (1975), for example, observe that “many research workers within planning, control and data processing seem to be under the impression that they and their work are ‘neutral’ and ‘objective’ in relation to the conflict between workers and employers” (p. 9). Later they state “in our opinion languages, concepts, models and theories relating to organizations, job content and society always reflect the interests and ideologies of those who create these languages, concepts, models and theories” (p. 9). Carlsson et al. (1978) similarly refer to the myth about the “neutrality” of administrative theory and call for developing theory and methods from the workers’ perspective (p. 254). Over time the original Marxist tones in the evolution of the trade unionist approach have gradually softened which is reflected in its underlying values. Originally, Nygaard and Bergo (1975) insisted that the objectives of their work were the promotion of socialism, the protection of liberty, justice, and the continued improvement of the democratic form of government, and the introduction of economic and industrial democracy (p. 9). The major objectives for the “collective resource” stage were the democratization of working life (Carlsson et al. 1978, p. 250; Ehn et al. 1983, p. 445; Sandberg 1985, p. 87; Ehn and Kyng 1987, p. 32; Ehn 1988, p. 4) and the quality of work and products (Ehn et al. 1983, p. 447; Ehn and Kyng 1987, p. 32; Ehn 1988, p. 4). The latest stage of evolution, “cooperative design”, may be criticized in that it is losing sight of the most distinctive aspect of the approach—its radical ethical concern. Even though participation is important, it is often conceived merely as a means for greater efficiency and employee satisfaction (Deetz 1992).


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While this also is important, it misses the structural issues of work place democracy. In order to improve work place democracy, ISD must address structural issues of organizational control and political barriers that inhibit corporate citizenship founded on equality and equity. The earlier stages of the trade unionist approach had a stronger focus on these issues than does the cooperative design stage. The latter seems more to emphasize technological fixes and direct user participation, but appears to lose sight of the larger, contextual issues of the control of ISD and IS use. 4.6.

The Professional Work Practice (PWP) Approach Ontology. The writings of the PWP approach contain clear evidence that its view of information/data is mainly descriptive. Andersen et al. (1990) state that the “objective of most computer systems is—in some way or other—to model a part of the reality surrounding them” and “computer systems contain a description of reality” (p. 212). Later, they point out that “the computer system reflects an interpretation of reality” without any suggestions that IS may affect the process of constructing an interpretation of reality. The view of an information system is clearly that of a technical and social system. Andersen et al. (1990) make a distinction between a computer system and computer-based system (p. 39–40). The former consists of program executions, hardware, software, and data. The latter, in addition to a computer system, includes “those parts of the organization which contribute to or depend upon the same function as the computer system.” On the basis of the available material, it is impossible to conclude which of these two views takes priority. Even though the authors do not make their view of human beings explicit, we infer that it is voluntaristic because it emphasizes creativity (p. 92), reflection, and learning. However, the limited rationality of human beings implies a more deterministic element. Technology is seen as designable and malleable by professional design choices. We conclude from this that technology is precisely a matter of choice. For the PWP approach organizations form the context in which systems development takes place. Its view of the organizational context is primarily interactionist emphasizing both organizational politics (Andersen et al. 1990, p. 31, 39, 59, 126, 182) and organizational culture (p. 241–244).


Epistemology and Methodology. The PWP approach has adopted a pragmatic and eclectic attitude toward epistemological and methodological choices. It puts much emphasis on studying professional practices in concrete situations by action research and interpretivist field studies. This epistemological basis has been partly formulated in Madsen (1989), who suggests that the use of metaphors could inspire and guide creativity of designers. It also explicitly relates to the Heideggerian concepts of what is taken for granted (ready-tohand) as opposed to what is brought to awareness (present-at-hand). This provides an interesting bridge between interpretivist foundations and constructive methods in conceptual and technical development. The universally valid principles of systems development suggested in Andersen et al. (1990) imply a more positivist epistemology, however. In day-to-day research practice, the PWP approach has deployed a wide range of research methods: field experimentation to learn and test new methods and tools, surveys to understand general tendencies in the field, field studies to understand concrete practices in detail, and action research to influence ongoing projects. The majority, however, have involved the latter two methods. The approach has also favored (conceptual) constructive methods in proposing its own methods. In summary, we must conclude that the research methodology is eclectic. The theoretical epistemological basis leans toward interpretivism, but the choice of research methods has been pragmatic. Ethics. The PWP approach diverged from the tradeunionist approach in the beginning of the 1980s. In a personal conversation, Mathiassen referred to the divergence of value positions as one of the reasons he developed the PWP approach separate from the trade unionist approach. It is obvious that the PWP approach sees the role of IS research to enhance the professionality of IS developers, to help them to implement effective systems efficiently. It pays attention neither to the actual consequences of IS nor to a critical analysis of the consequences. Consequently, its view of IS science is means-end-oriented, focusing more on the systems development profession than on the users. This can be interpreted to serve most immediately the interests of IS professionals. However, Andersen et al. (1990, p. 247) claim that increased professionalism not Information Systems Research Vol. 9, No. 2, June 1998

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only will make developers more satisfied, but ultimately will lead to better service for the users and management. The research of the PWP approach primarily aims at advancing the major interests of the data processing and system professionals in the organization. These interests are to increase productivity in terms of the quality of products and services and to decrease consumption of resources and unpleasant surprises in the projects (p. 247). However, these fruits of enhanced professionalism can be interpreted to serve the interests of management and the organization as well. The PWP approach has paid relatively little attention to the interest of workers or other resource-weak groups. Andersen et al. (1990, p. 31–34) do, however, discuss user participation including possible technology regulations and agreements concerning user participation. They also propose some measures for the systems developers wishing to contribute to democratization of systems development. Even though they do not clearly express their value positions in this context, it is nevertheless obvious that they believe systems developers should contribute to these broader social goals as well. Unfortunately, this is not supported with research on how it could be done. 4.7. Summary of the Paradigmatic Analysis Table 4 summarizes the principal results of our analysis. There is one row in the table for each of the five ISDAs. The column headings correspond to the elements of the paradigmatic framework as outlined in figure 1, i.e., ontology, epistemology, research methodology, and ethics. The question marks in Table 4 indicate that we could not identify the assumptions for that particular part of the framework from the literature available to us. In a number of cases we found that the five ISDAs do not sufficiently discuss their most fundamental terms for making definite conclusions about their epistemology and ontology. This, we believe, is a worthwhile insight in itself, because it encourages the further development of these ISDAs to make them more thorough and systematic.

5. Conclusions and Directions for Further Research As suggested in the introduction, this paper adds another building block to a larger research program concerned with clarifying the implicit assumptions of Information Systems Research Vol. 9, No. 2, June 1998

ISDMs. This section provides an opportunity to reflect on the results achieved, the limiting conditions on which their acceptance rests, and the avenues for further research. 5.1. Results There are two fundamental contributions of this paper: first, the conceptual distinction between ISD approach and ISD methodology; and second, a detailed paradigmatic analysis of five contrasting ISDAs. The first contribution is important because it affords a broader view of the domain of IS research which directly contributes to guiding systems development. Without the ISDA concept, it is difficult to see how the empirical studies and theoretical ideas of, for example, interactionism relate to improving systems development. Typically, they have been appreciated merely from the point of view of impact studies. By extending this argument, additional ISDAs could be identified from the discussion of structuration or critical social theory in IS. The ISDA concept also helps us to see the contributions to systems development of the other ISDAs discussed in this paper in a much clearer light, especially those drawing on speech act theory and trade unionism. Finally, the distinction between ISDMs and ISDAs could help to effectively systematize the current “methodology jungle” (Avison and Fitzgerald 1995). Jayaratna (1994), for example, estimates that there are more than 1000 ISDMs whose potential contributions are lost in the literature. We suspect that the key insights and features of most ISDMs can be condensed into perhaps 20 to 30 major ISDAs. (But exploring this is another research project.) The second contribution of this paper is that the proposed fruitfulness of our paradigmatic framework has been further corroborated, producing at least three further benefits. The most obvious of these is that Table 4 confirms our expectation that the five ISDAs do, indeed, significantly differ in several respects from the assumptions of the dominant “orthodoxy.” Whereas several prior research publications (cf. § 1) reached the conclusion that IS research is dominated by the functionalist tradition, we have shown that as far as ISDMs are concerned, the dominant orthodoxy has not completely stifled deviating work. The five contrasting ISDAs provide fairly radical alternatives to the functionalist mainstream schools of systems development which were analyzed in Iivari (1991).


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Table 4

Summary of the Analysis

View of data/ Information

View of Information Systems

View of Human Beings

View of Technology

Primarily a social system


Primarily a matter of human choice; determinism increasingly recognized

Speech ActPrimarily Based Approach constitutive but includes descriptive elements

Social systems technically implemented

Dominantly voluntaristic but includes deterministic elements

Soft Systems Methodology Approach

Descriptive but somewhat ambiguous

Social system

Explicitly voluntaristic

Trade Unionist Approach

Ambiguous but constitutive leanings

Primarily a Socially technical system constrained (a tool); social voluntarism aspects as conditions of IS use

Professional Work Practices Approach


Includes both technical and social aspects

Interactionist Approach


Primarily voluntaristic

Role of IS Science

Value of IS Research

Primarily Positivist interactionist but orientation increasingly structuralist

Case studies

Highly interpretive

No clear value position


Includes both structuralist and interactionist elements

Antipositivist orientation but some positivist tendencies

Mainly conceptual development; technical development; formalmathematical analysis

Means-end oriented

Rational and successful communication; intersubjectivity; organizational effectiveness


Primarily interactionist but includes structuralist elements

Dualistic but clearly antipositivist in the case of social systems

Conceptual Means-end development; oriented; action research interpretive as preferred empirical research method

Consensual debate and learning; organizational/ managerial oriented

Primarily a Primarily Primarily matter of human structuralist but positivist choice includes interactionist tendencies

Conceptual development; case studies and action research as preferred empirical research method

Workers interests: (1) industrial democracy; (2) quality of work

Primarily a Primarily matter of human interactionist choice

Conceptual Means-end development; oriented case studies and action research as preferred empirical research method

The present paper, together with Iivari (1991), covers a broad spectrum of research in ISD. Even though limited in the number of ISDAs analyzed, these two papers provide a concise compass and intelligible map to both North American and European work on ISDMs that may not be widely appreciated as a combined body of knowledge. This is the second benefit that was achieved and is due to the framework’s representational power. We might say that the common paradigmatic categorization scheme underlying the documentation of these 12 ISDAs provides not only orientation


View of Research Organizations Epistemology Methodology

Antipositivist tendencies

Distinctively critical but losing its critical edge

Special focus on IS professionals (increased professionalism); organization/ management oriented

(e.g., to find one’s way around the increasingly dense and confusing methodology jungle), but also a concise analytical scheme of representation. This scheme of representation provides a “language” with which it is possible to high-light the specific contribution of any new ISDM or ISDA. In effect, we have provided a comprehensive body of exemplars on how to identify and summarize the key features and concepts of ISDMs that should help to focus any future discussion on their “essentials” rather than their “accidental” or surface features. Of course, as any language evolves, so the Information Systems Research Vol. 9, No. 2, June 1998

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representation scheme will be extended in future work; in fact we would expect that “truly” new ISDMs would be characterized by refinements, modifications, and extensions to the classification proposed here. The third benefit that has accrued from applying the framework in this paper is that the five contrasting ISDAs, taken together with Iivari’s (1991) seven ISDAs, illustrate the fragmentation of IS as an academic discipline. Our analysis is thus consistent with Banville and Landry’s (1989) diagnosis of the community structure of IS as an academic discipline being a “fragmented adhocracy.” Table 4 is a cognitive map to some of the loosely coupled schools of thought that Banville and Landry saw as typical of an adhocracy. This diagnosis puts IS in the company of other related academic disciplines. For example, the trend toward increased fragmentation has taken place in management and organizational theory, as is discussed in Whitley (1984) and Astley (1985). 5.2. Limitations The credibility of this paper’s results depends largely on the acceptability of the paradigmatic categories that make up the framework in Figure 1. As explained in § 3, the framework is derived from a modification of the Burrell and Morgan (1979) paradigm classification for the social sciences that itself is not uncontroversial. If one took issue with our framework’s basic distinctions, the results of the subsequent analysis would carry far

Figure 1

less weight. This leads to the interesting question of how sensitive the results are to the particular paradigm classification that was chosen. It is quite conceivable that a different framework could be devised using another type of paradigm classification, but perhaps it would lead to essentially similar results. Further discussion of this question will have to wait until alternative paradigmatic frameworks are proposed and tested. A second limitation of this paper is that its analysis was performed solely on the basis of the published literature and not by studying actual practices of systems developed, i.e., what practitioners actually do. This leads to an interesting research question, because there is increasing evidence that organizations apply inhouse developed ISDMs, adapting them on a projectby-project basis (Wynekoop and Russo 1993). The question then is to what extent the adaptation concerns just techniques, and to what extent it affects the basic assumptions and other essences (goals, guiding principles, fundamental concepts, and principles of the ISD process). In order to better understand the nature of adaptation in practice one would have to study whether practitioners make changes only at the more concrete level of tools, methods, and ISDMs, or if they also affect the more abstract levels of ISDAs. Two limitations arise from the specific choices we made in selecting the ISDAs and the interpretation of the literature used to analyze them. The ISDAs chosen

Framework for Paradigmatic Analysis

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could be a biased sample and not necessarily representative of the population of contrasting ISDAs (but as noted in § 2.2, our selection was based on the notion of theoretical sampling, and the authors carefully discussed among themselves which ISDAs to include and which to leave out; hence this decision was not made simply on the basis of what the authors happened to know; of course, there is a certain amount of arbitrariness in this choice). Additionally, one might disagree with our interpretation and classification of the contrasting ISDAs. It is simply an interpretation and as such subjective: different readers might well have their own interpretations. We cannot guarantee our interpretation is the “right or true” one. Our view is that while it is possible to have multiple interpretations, some are more cogent and well argued, and hence more believable, than others. In order to guard against misinterpretations, we carefully articulated how we came to our interpretation (through the use of quotations and detailed literature analysis), which the reader can judge for him/himself. 5.3.

Directions for Future Research: Methodology Engineering Because the paradigmatic assumption analysis leads to interpreting ISDMs at a much deeper level than mere description of their surface structure, an important implication of this paper is that one should move beyond strict ISDMs to focus on more general ISDAs. This lends theoretical support to methodological engineering, because it suggests that instead of analyzing specific ISDAs, it may be more fruitful to focus on broader ISDAs (comprising a number of more specific ISDMs). The notion of methodology engineering is conceived as a systematic discipline of designing, constructing, and adapting ISDMs (Kumar and Welke 1992). Research on methodology engineering has been very much syntax driven, focusing on how to formally combine ISDMs and methodology fragments (Harmsen et al. 1994). This idea of methodology engineering can be argued as referring to the finding that large parts (techniques) of new object-oriented ISDMs are taken from other ISDMs (Hong et al. 1993). This paper implies two contributions from the viewpoint of methodology engineering. First, ISDAs as classes imply the idea of methodology engineering as instantiations of ISDAs, each ISDM


inheriting the essential features of its class. These general ISDAs may be conceived of as prototypical classes which share a number of common features and components with their member (instance) ISDMs. The idea of methodology engineering as instantiation differ from the prevalent idea of methodology engineering as combinations of methodology fragments. Second, this paper underlines the significance of the implicit assumptions of ISDAs and ISDMs in methodology engineering. The assumptions would not only give guidance for identifying the features to be inherited, but would also suggest which methodology fragments could be combined in more or less coherent ways.29 Conducting methodology engineering based on instantiations of ISDAs requires the determination of the essential features of each ISDA. Concrete ISDMs as instances of ISDAs have various “sediments” in terms of methods and tools that are not necessarily essential for the ISDA. After purifying them of such inessential sediments, and abstracting them to the level of ISDAs, the generation of an integrated ISDM could take place in a much more structured and elegant way. Of course, such speculation is just that: speculation. Further research is needed in the area of methodology engineering to see if such an integrated methodology is feasible.30


We wish to point out, that when combining “methodology fragments” in methodology engineering, it is important to understand their underlying perspectives and assumptions, allowing their combination with an awareness of their compatibility and to what extent they can form a system of methodological checks balances. When combining “method fragments”, one may nevertheless question whether all “method fragments” which in a conceptual-formal sense can be combined with each other, fit equally well together with each other in practice. Some combinations involving inconsistencies in the philosophical underpinnings of the fragments may lead to dysfunctional effects and ultimately failed systems. The paper does not aim at making normative statements about what method fragments can be combined with which others, but instead has a more modest goal: pointing out the need to be sensitive to the underlying assumptions when combining tools, techniques, methods and principles from a variety of methodologies in methodology engineering. 30 This paper has benefited exceedingly from the constructive comments of the associate editor and three anonymous reviewers. The authors are extremely grateful for the amount of effort they put into their reviews and for their very helpful suggestions.

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Accepted by Kalle Lyytinen, Associate Editor. This paper was received on August 30, 1995 and has been with the authors 12 months for 4 revisions.

Information Systems Research Vol. 9, No. 2, June 1998



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