Thursday, December 15, 2005

Information Systems research...and happiness

The International Conference of Information Systems is a conference I have attended for quite some years now. I have never really liked the conference, since the research presented is not what excites me. It is usually heavily oriented towards business interests. I have no problem with that, instead it is the kind of research that bothers me. The research is often conducted as studies where someone tries to find out what factors influence a certain phenomenon. The studies are usually done in a rigorous and detailed way. However, to me they are seldom well formulated from the beginning, use methods not suitable for the issues at hand, and almost never end up in results that are at any level of abstraction that would make it interesting for practitioners or the layman.

This year I actually found some interesting sessions and that made me happy, and a little bit more optimistic about the future of the field. Maybe there is hope. Maybe we will see a new kind of research that is interesting, that surprises us, and makes us see the world of information systems in a new way. Maybe we will also see results that will be useful.

One observation is that the views presented are generally on the level of systems, networks or structures and processes. Almost never is a real human being present unless as a statistic outcome, describing the "users". As someone who sees information systems as an interaction between humans and the digital material through "windows" made possible by technology, the existing theories are too focused on a level of abstraction that makes the views almost like engineering models of a huge machine. Especially when theories like structuration theory and Actor-Network Theory are used. They seem to "force" the researcher into a perspective that becomes almost completely detached from any experiential aspects. Even though this is not the "fault" of the theories, it seems as if researchers use them that way.

What I am looking for is a different approach in IS research. An approach where interaction is at the core of the studies. People live with these systems. They interact with them. Some of this is of course possible to describe on a systems level, by the use of statistics and mechanisms. But some of it has to do with the individual experience of the interaction. If all research is kept on the very abstract systems level, we can end up with knowledge that really helps us design effective and efficient systems that serves the organizations purpose, but that created interactions and work places that make people unhappy, stressed, tired, and fully interchangeable. And of course, that is not what we want. We need IS research that also takes as its purpose to critically examine the existing systems, opens up for new ways to interact and act, that creates experiences for "users" that makes them happy as well and feeling needed and rewarded for their skills and knowledge. Well, I just want to see more of that in future IS research.

Hmm, anothor long text, maybe this is not what a blog should be like....

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