Abstract - The Information Society 31(2)

Getting Information Systems to Interact: The Social Fact Character of ‘Object’ Clarity as a Factor in Designing Information Systems

Anne Warfield Rawls and David Mann

This paper considers challenges to getting information systems to recognize “objects” in other information systems. We explore a tension between commitment to standardization and the constitutive and situated social fact requirements of human comprehension and work through an ethnographic study of an information system design team meeting. Facilitating interoperability between systems is an important challenge currently facing design teams. Our study elucidates – in the design team’s own words – problems they confront with “object” and “concept” certainty, practical “use” and “language”; with defining what they call a “What” when data objects must cross boundaries. The refrain “What is the ‘What’?” punctuates the meeting. Although human use and comprehension frame their concerns, they treat meaning, practical use, and language as “technical” and “philosophical” issues. The social issues they acknowledge are confined to “governance”. Given their reliance on performed social objects, including “Role” and “Identity”, at key points in their discussion, however, and the importance of “language” and “concepts” to their concerns, we point out social dimensions of their task, suggesting that a broader understanding of the importance of constitutive practices and their situated character in achieving information objects – and social objects more generally – could change the team’s perception of their options.


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