Prof. Dr. Henk W. M. Gazendam
University of Groningen
Faculty of Management and Organization Department of Knowledge Management
Abstract: From Subject Databases to Flow of Responsibility
In my career as information system designer, university professor and consultant, I have used many modeling methods. Models can be used as analysis instruments for organizations and as designs for information systems. If models are good, they allow a fruitful and cost-effective path from idea to working information system. The failure to choose an adequate modeling approach, however, can lead to computerization disasters in which many millions of Euros are spent without any result. My career can roughly be divided in three periods: (1) the design of a system of subject databases and application systems for a government agency, (2) the training of students and professional in the use of rapid application development, and (3) the design and implementation of multi-actor simulation models and applications based on social knowledge.
In this work, I gradually shifted away from the design methods of James Martin for subject databases, application systems and decision support systems. Firstly, I became very interested in abstraction methods to standardize and ease modeling. Secondly, I became interested in human cognition as a basis for developing information systems. Thirdly, I became interested in modeling the social world as has been done by organizational semiotics and the language action perspective for several decades now. A social world consisting of actors having some form of cognition, interacting by speech acts, using and putting into life social constructs (social affordances). A social world that can be described as, simulated by, and supported by multi-actor systems. Models of this social world describe, amongst others, actors, agents, their responsibilities, social constructs (and their states), code systems, and patterns of language interaction. Some models show how agreements between actors form new social constructs, and depict a flow of responsibility.
In my work, I have discovered several principles. You have to choose the right information system metaphor (mill, cell or mind) or combination of metaphors (the information system metaphor choice principle). The information system you want to design has to correspond to a specific person or organization unit; information systems that are too large in scope and cross many organizational boundaries tend to be subject of discussion, struggle and failure (the correspondence principle). An adequate abstraction (choice of models, model components and patterns) has to be used to encourage good and consistent modeling (the adequate abstraction principle). Information system designs should be made using current design tools and modeling standards where possible (the modeling tools principle). Implementation of an information system design should be based on a mapping of models to current software standards and development environments (the mapping to current technology principle). In modeling, your focus should be on the social world; the physical world generally is only of interest as the subject of human agreements or in special (technological) domains (the social world focus principle). The failure to use one or more of these principles can lead to costly, often useless information system designs, even to computerization disasters.
About the Speaker
Hendrik Wilhem Martin (Henk) Gazendam was born the 28th September, 1945. He studied chemistry and philosophy at Utrecht University, The Netherlands, and received his drs. (MSc) degree in 1974 based on theses about crystal growth (chemistry) and the statistical-mechanical interpretation of the entropy concept (philosophy). After a career as an information manager at the Dutch Ministry of Education and Science (from 1975 to 1985), he joined Groningen University, The Netherlands, as a lecturer in Information Systems. In 1993 he received his PhD degree in Management and Organization based on his dissertation “Variety Controls Variety: On the Use of Organization Theories in Information Management”. In this thesis, he made a comparative analysis of organization theories as a basis for information systems development, and, as a consequence, recommended the use of information system metaphors as alternative ways of thinking about information systems. In 1997 he was appointed (part time) full professor ‘Information Systems in the Public Sector, especially Financial Information Systems’ at Twente University, The Netherlands. In his inaugural lecture he explained his philosophical stance as semiotic, pluralistic, nonrelativistic with respect to universal moral principles, Peircean realistic, and based on computational mathematics. Computational mathematics rejects the closed world assumption and infinity. Furthermore, he sketched an outline of his multi-actor theory. He was forced to partially retire because of his health condition in 2000. He has supervised 4 PhD theses, and around 80 Masters theses. He has successfully managed and carried out 7 contract research projects in government and business. In 1999, he was a visiting professor at the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina, lecturing about virtual organizations. He has been active in international research groups, amongst others, Decision Support Systems (IFIP 8.3.), Computational and Mathematical Organization Theory, and Organizational Semiotics. His current research interests are the design of multi-actor systems based on social knowledge, and the modeling of social knowledge by organizational semiotics. His aim is to incorporate norms and other social knowledge in information systems in order to make them behave more useful and people-friendly.
Department of Philosophy, History, Culture, and Art Studies
University of Helsinki
Abstract: On the Conceptual Underpinnings of Organizational Semiotics
The research on organizational semiotics deals predominantly with the question of how to bring the notion of information to bear on semiotically conceived accounts of human organizations. In this talk, I take up what I perceive as some of the key theoretical and conceptual elements involved in this endeavour. I will assess their status from the points of view of philosophy of science and Peirce's theory of signs (semeiotic). The following questions are seen to be at the heart of the methodology of organizational semiotics, which I will discuss from the philosophical and semeiotic perspectives: (1) How to build a science of information systems from the theory of signs? (2) How to study what signs do and how they are used to get things done in human organizations? (3) What is the true and what is the false in the kind of social constructivism that is taken to depend on the use of signs? (4) What kinds of successful theories there are to be allied with the notion that signs are necessarily contextual representations?
The answers I seek are along the following lines: (1) The foremost need is to have a pragmatic theory of information. Peirce's methodeutic and semeiotic make a step towards that direction. (2) Peirce’s pragmatism is a theory of the meaning of intellectual signs in use. The meaning of signs that can represent information structures in organizations is thus found in the habits of action (or action routines) of those organisations. (3) Pragmatism is incompatible with the central tenets of social constructivism and actualism. (4) Pragmatism takes all informative signs to be contextual. In institutional as well as organizational contexts, which typically encompass a variety of subcontexts, a promising theory is one that can successfully combine pragmatistic semeiotic and some exact theory about rational behaviour, most notable, the theory of games. Such a merger comes close to what Geoffrey Hodgson has written on concerning the evolutionary economics of institutions, in terms of which organizations may been seen as specific types of institutions.
About the Speaker
Ahti-Veikko Pietarinen (PhD Helsinki, 2002) is Professor of Semiotics at the University of Helsinki, Finland, located in the Department of Philosophy, History, Culture, and Art Studies. After graduating from computer sciences, he wrote a PhD dissertation on game theory in logic and semantics in theoretical philosophy, published papers in logic, history and philosophy of science, theoretical linguistics, semiotics, information and cognitive sciences. Director of the Helsinki Peirce Research Centre, Pietarinen's recent book is Signs of Logic: Peircean Themes on the Philosophy of Language, Games, and Communication (Synthese Library, Springer, 2006). His recent edited collections are Game Theory and Linguistic Meaning (CRiSPI, Elsevier, 2007) and Games: Unifying Logic, Language, and Philosophy (with O. Majer & T. Tulenheimo, LEUS, Springer, 2009). His publications include papers in the Journal of the History of Ideas, History of Philosophy Quarterly, Perspectives on Science, Foundations of Science, Semiotica, Theoretical Linguistics, Linguistic Analysis, Linguistics and the Human Sciences, Axiomathes, Notre Dame Journal of Formal Logic, Studia Logica, Journal of Cognitive Science, Cognitio, Cognitive Systems Research, and Pragmatics & Cognition.