A New Look at the Social Aspects of
Information Systems Development
Professor of Human Factors and Philosophy in Information Systems,
University of Salford.
1. WHY NEED A NEW LOOK?
1.1 Problems of ICT in Society
ICT and its use is changing society. It seems to offer opportunities. Yet it changes the way people do things, and not always for the better. It has changed the way we work. It has removed certain jobs. Nowadays it is changing the nature of relationships we have, perhaps making them more shallow, but perhaps making them more numerous. It offers convenience and yet seems to demand extra time from us. Email and social-media-checking account for large amounts to time. It absorbs much time via procrastination.
- Positive: unquestioning acceptance, perhaps advocating adaptation; technological determinism
- Negative: unquestioning rejection, or focusing on all the downside
- Schuurman's 'liberating vision for technology': technology should be governed not by its own norms, but by the norms of all other aspects of life.
With the 'liberating vision', ICT can become a blessing more than a curse. It can make the world better, not worse.
1.2 The Responsibility of IS Developers
Most IS developers assume their responsibility stops at mere delivery of software, perhaps on time and to budget. Some recognise their responsibility to support of users learning to use the software they produce. A few consider how they can make the world a better place, but only at the local level of individual 'benefits' to users. Very few IS developers consider the wider implications.
Wider implications are considered by sociolgically-oriented academics, but these do not consider the realities of IS development.
It is preferable if IS developers themselves take on a responsibility to fulfil the 'liberating vision' - to bring blessing rather than curse - by considering the wider implications, in conjunction with the more local ones.
1.3 Problems in ISD
- Problems in practice of ISD
- Problems in results of ISD in society
- Problems in theory and methodology
- Problems in attitude and responsibility
- Problems in perspective ('worldview')
Perspective ---> theory and methodology ---> rules of practice.
Perspective ------> everyday practice.
Hence 'a new look' should be a new perspective.
1.4 What is ISD?
Information system: "ICT artefact with its human context of use"
Context of use: e.g. rules of use, documentation
Emphasis in ISD is on use of ICT artefact(s), not on their internal structure
Scope of my talk:
- Not algorithm development as in computer science
- Not development of APIs, software libraries, etc.
- But development of applications for use by those not familiar with computers
Elements of ISD:
- Creating the ICT artefact and its human context; programmers, designers, testers
- Knowledge elicitation: good understanding of domain of application; knowledge engineers, domain experts
- Anticipating use: 'user requirements analysis', and more; analysts, potential users
- Orchestrating the overall project: 'project management', and more; all above, with managers, administrators, etc.
1.5 Perspectives in ISD
A perspective: Defining what it is meaningful to consider
Hirschheim, Klein & Lyytinen's  list:
- Ad-hoc programming: good programming
- Formal life-cycle approaches: control of life-cycle
- Structured approaches: productivity
- Prototyping, evolutionary approaches: flexibility
- Socio-technical participatory approaches: user participation
- Sense-making, problem-formulation approaches: disclosing and harmonizing multiple perspectives
- Trades-Union-led approaches: rights of workers
- Emancipatory approaches: rights of users
Some they miss:
- Developing KBS: reality and complexity of domain
- Agile Development: removing burocracy
- User interface development: look and feel, ease of use
- Website development: expressiveness and aesthetics
- 'App' development: multi-platform flexibility; innovative ideas; programming supported by Integrated Development Environments etc.; versioning.
2. OPPORTUNITY FOR NEW PERSPECTIVES
Philosophy, the discipline of disciplines: enables us to look at perspectives.
A Philosopher of Meaningfulness: Herman Dooyeweerd
Diversity of meaningfulness:
- 1 quantitative aspect: discrete amount.
- 2 spatial aspect: continuous extension.
- 3 kinematic aspect: flowing movement.
- 4 physical aspect: energy and mass.
- 5 biotic aspect: life functions and the integrity of organisms.
- 6 sensitive or psychic aspect: sensing, feeling and emotion.
- 7 analytical aspect: distinction, abstraction, and logic.
- 8 formative aspect: deliberate shaping and achieving; history, culture, technology, expertise.
- 9 lingual aspect: symbolic signification.
- 10 social aspect: social interaction, relationships, roles and institutions.
- 11 economic aspect: frugality, skilled use of limited resources.
- 12 aesthetic aspect: harmony, surprise, fun.
- 13 juridical aspect: 'to each, their due': rights, responsibilities, restitution.
- 14 ethical aspect: self-giving love, generosity.
- 15 pistic aspect: faith, commitment and vision of who we are.
ISD involves functioning in all these aspects simultaneously.
3. A NEW PERSPECTIVE ON INFORMATION SYSTEMS DEVELOPMENT
3.1 Towards a new perspective
Every aspect involved - but in different ways.
Each aspect yields a 'key issue' in ISD.
Example: Some Social aspects of ISD:
- Orchestrating overall project:
- relationships in ISD team
- roles in team
- Anticipating use:
- relationship with potential users
- understanding users' cultural assumptions etc.
- Knowledge elicitation:
- relationship with domain experts
- understanding domain culture
- Creating the IS:
- programmers, designers, testers working together
- adherence to standards
Other aspects will be considered during the talk.
3.2 A New Perspective on ISD
Complexity of ISD:
- four human activities
- fifteen aspects of each
- Consider every aspect of each human activity
- Recognise contributions and insights from theories, methodologies on each activity
- Emphasise 'key issues' as an overall picture
- Get IS developers to internalise the aspects and recognise the validity of other activities
3.3 MSc module in 'Key Issues in Information Systems Development'
Masters course in Salford Business School.
Taught ten times from October 2007 to May 2012.
Mainly international students.
Students loved it:
"Introduction to the idea of aspects and gaining a relatively better understanding of these has helped me to 'humanize' ISD activities recognizing this as comparably more important than the processes or the artefacts." - W.P.U., 2011
"I have found that the Dooyeweerd's aspects have helped me greatly as I am able to relate these aspects to everyday life not just to ISD. I intend to use the aspects in the future when I create the resource to be used in my lessons to aid the delivery of my lectures such as a powerpoint presentation." - M.A., 2011
"Getting to know about aspects has been the highlight for me because it has made me look at everything I do in a different angle. Before aspects, yes I did the right thing and in the right way but with a missing element." - M.B., 2010
"The importance of aspects as a tool in ISD projects cannot be over emphasized. ... application of aspects to my personal life currently has impacted the way I view things and make decisions" - S.O., 2010
"This module has really fulfilled my expectations. The best thing I have learned from this module is about implementation of Aspects in daily life. As it was defined in one phrase in the first lecture was the aspects in one phrase, to understanding complexity." - R.K.Y.
"I found many topics in this module but all the topics were not so important as aspects. I think aspects are one of the good and most important topic during my Master's. I will remember it for the rest of my life." - S.S., 2009
Dooyeweerd's aspects, with recognition of four human activities of ISD, have provided a new perspective on ISD, which students like:
- Aspects relate to the everyday nature of ISD. (I used my own experiences.)
- The four human activities help integrate what occurs in everyday life of ISD.
- Its holistic view affirms aspects of life that most ISD approaches ignore ...
- ... Especially the faith aspect - so Muslims and Hindus especially like Dooyeweerd's aspects
Note: This steered me to seeing Dooyeweerd's aspects not as 'a philosophy for Christians' but as a philosophy that makes sense of the way God designed the whole of reality.
5. TOWARDS A BETTER WORLD
The latest three aspects are those of the structure of society, and related to Giddens' three elements of structuration:
- Juridical aspect: justice and sense of appropriateness throughout society (Giddens' 'norms')
- Ethical aspect: attitude that pervades society: competitive or generous, cynical or goodwill, self-protective or self-giving (Giddens' 'power')
- Pistic aspect: belief (often unspoken) about what is ultimately meaningful (Giddens' 'meaning').
So this approach integrates an awareness of societal aspects along with technical and social ones.
This approach, if internatlized by IS developers, ensures they take all aspects of all activities into account, whatever actual activity they are engaged in.
Compiled for Talk as Baeksoek University, S. Korea, on 3rd June 2014.