Thursday, April 18, 2013

Why information architecture needs systems thinking

If a factory is torn down but the rationality which produced it is left standing, then that rationality will simply produce another factory. If a revolution destroys a government, but the systematic patterns of thought that produced that government are left intact, then those patterns will repeat themselves ... There’s so much talk about the system. And so little understanding.

Source: Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, 1974

We who labor at the crossroads of structure and behavior have learned the hard way that content management is far messier than garbage collection and “the system always kicks back.”

Source: Peter Morville, Editorial: The System of Information Architecture (Journal of Information Architecture. Vol. 3, No. 2., 2012) 

Churchman’s interest in computing reaches extensively beyond the metaphor of inquiring systems. He addresses many issues with the state of MIS research of his time, including the tendency of IS researchers to focus on “safe” issues such as “structure of files, retrieval techniques, automatic abstracting, and the like” (Churchman 1968, p.111). He indicates that the majority of such research is not consistent with the systems approach as it focuses on transactions rather than the true goals or benefit of the system. Churchman is also quite visionary as he predicts the ubiquitous role of computers in everyday life. With the ability to “find facts” readily, Churchman predicted that information systems will actually work to reinforce a user’s Weltanschauung (world-view), as the user would screen information based on his Weltanschauung. In order to expand use MIS to expand the user’s view to one that is more holistic, Churchman envisioned a “deadly enemy” proposal for the design of an information system. The main role of this deadly enemy is for the system to propose information results based on assumptions that are opposite of the user’s information request, thereby revealing to the user his fundamental assumptions and at the same time questioning them (Churchman 1968, p. 122-123).

Source: Nicholas Berente, C West Churchman: Champion of the Systems Approach quoting Churchman, C.W. (1968) The Systems Approach, Dell Publishing Co.

See also Kristo Ivanov, The systems approach to design, and inquiring information systems (2001)

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