Introduction: Information Systems as Constrained Variety-Issues and Scope

Introduction: Information Systems as Constrained Variety-Issues and Scope

Steve Clarke, Brian Lehaney
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-878289-64-3.ch001
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This chapter seeks to cast light on the commonly encountered ‘human-centred’ versus ‘technology’ debate in information systems (IS: Clarke and Lehaney, 1998; Clarke and Lehaney, 1999; Lehaney, Clarke et al., 1999). It takes as its starting point a view which sees information systems as complex, adaptive, human activity systems, enabled by information technology (IT). Two approaches dominate in trying to understand such systems. The first redefines them as purely technical systems, for which a fixed and definable objective can be determined: from this point, the problem becomes one of design. The second approach sees the whole system through the views of the human participants: here, the problem initially is one of debate, aimed at determining a consensus view of the system of concern before moving on to designing relevant solutions. The technical view outlined above might be seen as an attempt to reduce the system’s complexity, by removing the voluntaristic, probabilistic behaviour which the human actors bring to the system. Once this is done, more technologically focused IS managers are on comfortable ground, having redefined the system as one which is highly deterministic, and for which a solution can be achieved through the design of a new or improved system. Similarly, the human-centred view may be seen as excluding technical considerations in order to reach agreement on the part of participants before proceeding further.

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