Introduction

Introduction

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5986-5.ch001
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Abstract

This chapter introduces the fundamental assumption of IVO that informing agents are central to understanding organizations. Informing agents are cognitive and technological in character. Cognitive informing agents are data, knowledge, meaning, and wisdom. The term technological informing agents refers to information technologies (IT) in different states of complexity and with various functionality. Theoretically, IVO brings together the fields of information systems (IS) and of organization theory, along with elements of cognitive psychology and other relevant disciplines. The foundational assumption of IVO is new in organization theory, which typically takes an abstract approach to technology. Although the foundational assumption of IVO resonates with the mainstream thinking in the IS field, the holistic approach is rather new. In contrast, research streams within the field typically take partial approaches, emphasizing either the technological or cognitive (“information”) perspective. In this time of global uncertainty, a balanced approach to both informing agents is necessary. They constitute a nervous system of intelligent organization that is capable of coping with the uncertainty. The chapter defines and discusses the core concepts of IVO—informing agents and organization. While these concepts and relationships build on rich theoretical foundations, the IVO perspective advances theorizing. The chapter also introduces the concept of spiral of uncertainty, which suggests that new data and knowledge play more complex roles than mere reduction of uncertainty. The discussion furthermore addresses the scope of IVO and each of the particular IVO aspects (topics). These are homo informaticus, groupomatics, infostructure, infoprocesses, infoculture, infopolitics, and infoeconomics. The chapter closes by elaborating on theoretical and practical goals of IVO.
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Bridging Theoretical Gulfs

The foundational assumption of IVO is that cognitive informing agents (data, meaning/information, knowledge, and wisdom) and technological informing agents (information and communication technologies—IT) are at the nexus of organization. From the perspective of organization theory, this assumption is new. Phenomena of individual and group behavior, organizations’ relationship with environment, work organization, economics, politics, emblematic beliefs and practices categorized as organizational culture or climate and other aspects have traditionally consumed energy of organization scholars, while rendering marginal attention to relatively new phenomena of informing. Exceptionally, some areas of organizational research areas (e.g., decision making and knowledge management) have come close to the core phenomena of IVO. However, they interest in IT at best is tangent. This has been so despite the fact that organizational members and groups spend most of their time in processing and interpreting data with help of IT.

Although technology in a general sense has played a role in organization inquiry for a considerable period, it has been treated in a highly abstract way. Organizational technology has typically been conceived as a technical component that blends together cognitive and material artifacts and transforms organizational inputs into outputs. Therefore, IT as a particular kind of technology has usually been treated as just one of technologies, if acknowledged at all. This is so despite the pervasiveness of IT in every industry today and the huge investments IT has drawn in the past fifty years.

In contrast to organization/management theory, the disciplines focused on information systems (IS) taken together have made informing agents the central phenomena of research. However, this field of study is unbalanced if not literally fractured. As mentioned in Introduction, some disciplines focus on the cognitive phenomena (“information”), such as library and information science, nowadays usually called study of information. Select kinds of IT are part of inquiry (e.g., those for data retrieval). Few MIS scholars share the focus on the cognitive aside (“information”). However, a majority is preoccupied with the technological side, and many authors do not differentiate it from the cognitive side (IT “contains” “information”). This in spite of the fact that cognition cannot be understood fully without understanding IT that interacts with it, while IT cannot be understood fully without understanding its informing effects.

The consequences of the orientation split are that the cognitive camp often fails to see differences that different types of IT imprint on data, meaning, and knowledge. As for the technological camp, it fails to see cognitive aspects that intervene between IT and organizational tasks and processes, such as the fact that the same data are interpreted in different ways depending on knowledge intervening in understanding the data. Bringing together the cognitive and technical approaches provides a more complete, theoretically sound approach, benefitting from contributions of cognate disciplines. But it can also help in positioning toward organization theory. The MIS discipline has usually barrowed from organization theory without clear selection criteria. Without a firm grounding in both cognitive and technological concepts, which are defined in an academically scrutinized manner, MIS cannot but remain driven by random technological fed and fashion.

IVO intends to rectify this situation by bridging the orientation gulfs and providing lenses for viewing organization theory. These theoretical goals have a practical counterpart: the IVO framework should help practicing managers, professionals and other organization members to understand the workplace in a new way and to act consequently. The importance of these goals is amplified by challenges of our time.

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