Academic journal article Informing Science: the International Journal of an Emerging Transdiscipline

The Culture of Information Systems in Knowledge-Creating Contexts: The Role of User-Centred Design

Academic journal article Informing Science: the International Journal of an Emerging Transdiscipline

The Culture of Information Systems in Knowledge-Creating Contexts: The Role of User-Centred Design

Article excerpt


This paper arises from a project whose aim is to explore whether and how cultural institutions, particularly museums and libraries, can engage with their users in a continuous, co-creative design process that addresses both opportunities and problems in the age of digitisation. The project will be based on a series of case studies, one of which will be briefly described. However the purpose of this paper is to explore some of the general system design issues seen to be relevant to the specific project at hand, and perhaps to other similar projects.

Community' is used in this paper in its widest sense, including communities of practice, communities of interest, local and virtual communities (Wellman & Haythornthwaite, 2000; Wenger & Snyder, 2000). It covers not only corporate-based communities, but also the vast variety of communities that make up civil society as defined by the World Summit on the Information Society (Schauder, Johanson, & Taylor, 2006). The essential property of communities, as the term is used in this paper, is that they are sites of discourse where meaning is recursively made and re-made. This paper aims to explore design principles through a focus on communities--a community-based approach where the interpretive dynamics of communities are considered.

The term 'User-Centred Design (UCD)' is much used, but still there appears to be only a basic consensus as to its meanings and implications: the consensus that 'user' needs should inform processes of information systems design. This paper argues for a concept of UCD that draws its procedures, and its explanatory and prescriptive power, from the interpretive study of communities in which people live and work. In this it owes much to the task-based approach to Knowledge Management developed by Burstein and Linger (2003), concepts of Community Informatics as pioneered by Gurstein (2000) and, at a fundamental level, structuration theory as developed by Giddens and others (Giddens, 1984; Orlikowski, 1992; Orlikowski & Robey, 1991), and elaborated in the Information Continuum Model developed by Upward, Schauder and others (Schauder, Johanson, & Stillman, 2005).

The cumulative effect of people's living and working within social frameworks (through a dynamic that Giddens calls structuration) is the production and re-production of culture. The cultural context is generated and re-generated through the interplay of action and structure the 'duality of structure'). Social structure both supports and constrains the endeavours of individuals, communities and, societies. The implications for design arising out of structuration theory is an important one and will be elaborated in a later section.

An interpretive approach to UCD implies a fine-grained study of the relationships and interactions among people in their creation and recreation of community culture manifested in the knowledge and practice of community members. For the purpose of studying this, case studies of cultural institutions are undertaken through procedures of grounded, reflexive analysis.

Cultural institutions are defined in this study as organizations whose charter is to promote and support education, arts, and sciences through creating, preserving, sharing and transmitting knowledge--a definition consistent with UNESCO's Virtual Exhibition on the knowledge society (UNESCO, 2003). For the purpose of this research, case studies from museums and libraries in Australia and Singapore are considered.

Within the broad aim of the project as stated in the first paragraph of this paper, the study has two goals:

a) To assess how far collaboration between cultural institutions and communities can be characterised and explained as ongoing processes of adaptive UCD. In this context cultural institutions are considered as systems for the creation, preservation, sharing and transmission of public knowledge in communities. …

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