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Abstract for Keynote Speech

Tittle: On Developing Organisational Semiotics as An Empirical Science: The Need for Scientific Method and Rigorous Debate

Keynote Speaker: Professor Ronald Stamper

Organisational Semiotics must have a clear paradigm to help define its tasks as a "normal science" (Kuhn, 1962). It studies information systems as patterns of organised human behaviour, emphasising information as a social instrument employing technologies of all kinds. The OS community can appropriately adopt Popper's Refutationism as its research method, which entails formulating hypotheses capable of unequivocal falsification by empirical evidence. These hypotheses, according to Popper, should be "bold" and court falsification, they should explain more than earlier theory explained but at least do so more elegantly. The community should aim to refute the new hypotheses by presenting counter examples, making crucial observations and engaging in rigorous debate. This speech illustrates the style of debate by critically examining a paper from an earlier OS Workshop that contrasted one of our methods and tools – ontology charting – with several flow oriented methods. Some significant errors in the comparative study are exposed, hopefully the right spirit of scientific inquiry. At the same time, this illustrates a) the openness of information field theory to empirical falsification, unlike the flow-oriented methods, b) the understanding it casts on the social norms that underlie information systems, c) the greater explanatory power of information field theory over the flow-oriented orthodox theories and d) its treatment of real world semantics as opposed to inter-machine semantics. The speech concludes by asking how to facilitate our debates through good working relationships and improved institutions.

Keynote Speaker

Professor Stamper is born in Nottingham, England, 1934 and studied mathematics and statistics at Oxford University. He worked in Hospital administration where he was a pioneer in the use of computing and operational research methods. Then, in the steel industry, he led a management service team, and became deeply involved in information systems work. To remedy the industry's desperate shortage of specialists, he created the first UK courses in systems analysis geared to improving user performance rather than computer sales. This course became the basis of the national programme of Systems Analysis training.

He left a career as an industrial manager to join a team creating a research and teaching programme in information systems at the London School of Economics. Concerned about the emphasis on information technology without a corresponding concern for the information resources it manipulates, he has aimed to establish a better balance in both teaching and research in the new discipline. He approached these problems in entirely new way for the field, via semiotics or the theory of signs which was the basis of his 1973 book "Information" (2nd edition to be published by Blackwell). He has written extensively about the nature of information resources, methodology of analysis and design, the semantics of data, and computers and law.

His MEASUR methodology places the control of information technology firmly in the hands of management. As a by-product, this research created one of the first expert system shells for legal norms. In practice MEASUR has been shown to reduce the costs of development, support and maintenance by about a factor of ten. He was a Professor of Information Management and Chair of that Department at University of Twente, The Netherlands. He is now the Chairman at Measur Ltd where the company offers methods of semantic analysis that applied to information systems.