Sunday, June 08, 2008

The Gartner Challenges Again...

Ok, I got a very good comment from Phoebe Sengers on my post about the seven grand challenges for IT research and development. I claimed that the Gartner report was based on some obvious assumptions that was not spelled out. She wrote and asked if I could say what these assumptions are. Good question, but difficult :-) I gave a bad answer, so it has since then been on my mind. So, here are some new ideas.

In the Gartner report I believe there is an underlying assumption about "direction". It seems as it is obvious where we are going, and the challenges are only about how to get there. This means that some other implicit assumptions (that I saw), such as "ease of use" and "development process performance", can be seen as "measure of success" for the whole enterprise. When challenges are stated in this way, they become well defined problems that has to be solved, all within the overall assumption of the given but not discussed "direction".

I would like "grand challenges" not to be about problem solving. I think the IT field is still in a position where other forms of Challenges would be more interesting. I would like to see Grand Challenges that are more explorative, focused on new innovative use, with an ambition of finding new directions. To me this also means that developing Grand Challenges is all about critical thinking, which has to do with breaking the onedimensional thinking as described by Marcuse in his wonderful book "The One-dimensional Man".

I am not sure I am making any progress here :-) If anyone else want to join this discussion, please do so.

3 comments:

Martin said...

I think we should make a distinction between forecasting and making visions. It seems to me that the Gartner list is a forecast of important problems to be solved if our current rate of development should continue. Like a linear progression, where the challenges they see means to solve what we can see today as major issues.

The challenges you (and I) want to focus on are the visions of the future: Grand potentials of our technologies. What kind of interaction, social space etc. would we prefer to live in and with, in the future.

So, I guess I just agree with you.

Evolution seems to work in accelerating curves and in order to forecast the part of the future that lies between the linear and the exponential curves, I think we need visions that proposes bolder than the Gartner list.

Erik Stolterman said...

Hi Martin

Thanks for your insightful comment. I agree with you and there is clearly a difference between forecasting and visioning, it is similar to the difference between problem-solving and design (at least in my mind).

Thanks
Erik

sengers said...

Better late than never, I hope...

Erik, thank you for this post. The directions "we all know" that technology is going in, if only we could just hurry it along some more, is something I agree we should spend more time thinking about and less time hurtling towards. The assumption that it will be good if we all work faster and more productively, make more friends, get more information, give up more privacy, etc., or that if it won't be good it at least will be inevitable so we may as well learn to live with it somehow - well, this assumption makes me sad. The grand challenge you outline is so much more interesting, and also difficult, which is exactly what a grand challenge should be.