Socio-Instrumental Pragmatism in Action

Socio-Instrumental Pragmatism in Action

Jonas Sjöström (Uppsala University, Sweden) and Göran Goldkuhl (Linköping University, Sweden)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-264-0.ch017
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This chapter introduces the theoretical framework of Socio-Instrumental Pragmatism (SIP) and illustrates how it has been used as an analytic instrument in the process of diagnosing a work practice and co-designing business processes and IT artefacts. A practical inquiry process has been conducted in a project group consisting of a group of Swedish municipalities, currently experiencing a number of administrative problems. SIP has informed the design process, and aided the designers in shaping the design product (a new workflow and a new IT system). Conclusions are drawn regarding SIP as an analytical tool, stating that it has guided the inquirers to focus on actors, actions and relations between actors, and supported the designers in finding design solutions to the major problems experienced in the organization.
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I have come to recognize that industry faces numerous problems that are outside of the scope of the traditional analyses of design. In particular, there are management and organizational issues, business concerns, and even corporate culture.

Donald Norman (1996), Design as Practiced, p 1, in Winograd, T (Ed, 1996) Bringing Design to Software. Addison-Wesley.



The social dimensions of information technology are obvious in certain types of IT systems, like chat, email and other groupware applications. For IT systems used for management and operations in organizations, the social dimensions may not be as apparent. We claim that all IT systems need to be designed as socio-technical systems, comprising features to promote social interaction. For this we need approaches to IT development which make the social dimensions visible.

This chapter deals with design as a process and design as a product, with an emphasis on how to make IT artefacts empower human and organizational communication. The focus is a stakeholder-centric design process, and the norms governing those stakeholders. IT system design (both process and product) needs to be informed by a proper understanding of both social and technical aspects of IT systems. One theoretical framework aiming at encompassing the interplay between the social and the technical domains is socio-instrumental pragmatism (SIP); see e.g. Goldkuhl (2005) and Goldkuhl & Ågerfalk (2005). SIP is a synthesis of different action-theoretic frameworks, including American pragmatism, symbolic interactionism, language action theories, social phenomenology, ethnomethodology, affordance theory, and activity theory. The SIP framework explains IT artefacts as instruments for human communication in some action context. SIP is however not to be seen as just a theoretical framework. As a pragmatic framework, it should also be put into action. It should be used as a conceptual instrument for designing and evaluating socio-technical systems. The aim of this chapter is to present one such application of the SIP framework, including its consequences both for the design process and the design product, and some theoretical reflections which were made as part of the study.

The chapter is structured as follows: We provide an outline of socio-instrumental pragmatism and some additional action theoretical concepts, and the application of these theories in an action research study. The study has been carried out in the Swedish public sector, where local governments experience administrative problems connected to providing personal assistance to persons with certain functional impairments. The SIP framework has been used as an analytic instrument both for conceptualization and diagnosis of the work practice, and for co-design of business processes and IT artefacts. We present the design product in one section, followed by a section describing the design process. The chapter is concluded with a discussion about the application of SIP, and reflections about the usefulness of the framework. We also discuss some theoretical findings regarding social transparency as a means for business process accountability, which are likely to be valid in a broader public sector context.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Accountability: From a social action perspective, accountability may be conceived as the feasibility for a person to make sense of the social grounds and purposes of their actions, thus act in a well-informed, responsible, and auditable manner.

Stakeholder-Centered Design: A design process which aims at engaging various stakeholders in order to improve the design product, and increase acceptance for new IT artefacts in the social setting where they are about to be embedded.

Socio-Instrumental Pragmatism (SIP): A framework of theories serving as a practical and progenetive theory for Information Systems Research. Mainly sprung from American Pragmatism.

IT artefact: A man-made piece of technology with some information-processing and mediating capabilities.

Design process: a set of interrelated activities with the purpose of inducing change in some social setting. In an information systems context, this is typically done through the development and implementation of an IT artefact into its social context, accompanied by other changes such as new roles and tasks.

Actability: An action-theoretical framework focusing design and evaluation of IT artefacts in their social context. Based on the SIP framework.

Design product: The result of a design process, i.e. new artefacts and the induction of change in some social setting.

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