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

Critical Examination of Information: A Discursive Approach and Its Implementations

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

Critical Examination of Information: A Discursive Approach and Its Implementations

Article excerpt

Introduction

Informing science is concerned with the provision of information in a form, format, and schedule that maximizes its effectiveness (Cohen, 1999). The "real world" informing systems involve many complexities as neither senders and receivers nor the communications pathways are homogeneous (Gill & Bhattacherjee, 2007; Te'eni, 2001). Heterogeneities can be observed at different levels of communication (Yetim, 2004, 2007), such as the physical or media level (e.g., differences in technological standards), the syntactical level (e.g., differences in formats, language structures), the semantic level (e.g., differences in meanings of terms or ontology), and the pragmatic level (e.g., differences in expectations, norms, values, and information needs of actors). These differences may not only affect the organization and transmission of messages, but may also have an impact on the receiver's perception and interpretation of the messages (Te'eni, 2001). Moreover, in the case of groups, differences in perceptions and interpretations may trigger discussions and negotiations among the group members: for example, among information receivers (or seekers) when they evaluate received information for acting in a context, or among information senders (or providers) when they communicate information to others for supporting their actions. Consequently, different aspects of information may become an issue of negotiation.

Consider, for example, the issue of relevance (Greisdorf, 2000; Schutz, 1970). Teams often need to make a collective decision on what information or knowledge is needed and, thus, should be created, managed, and transferred (Karamuftuoglu, 1998). Different expectations, interests, and values may lead to conflicts, which need to be articulated, negotiated and resolved. Another issue is the validity of information, whose evaluation may become controversial due to differences in conditions of the creation and transmission of the information. The assessment of the validity of information can concern the authenticity of the person or the institution with which one is communicating as well as the authenticity of the information itself. The quality features of information have an impact on the trustworthiness of information and also involve ethical-moral issues (Capurro, 2000; Gackowski, 2006; Knight & Burn, 2005; Kuhlen, 1999). Finally, rationality issues may arise as people do or prefer to do things in different ways (Habermas, 1984). They concern the rationality of activities or processes related to the creation of information as well as to the interaction with information (e.g., the rationality of search activities or navigation options offered by online books or user interfaces).

This paper takes these kinds of challenges with the information at its disposal. It starts from the premise that, while constructing information for others and/or interpreting information from others, diversities at multiple levels entail complexities and uncertainties as well as conflicts. This paper suggests a discursive approach to deal with the forms, contents, and norms of information in a reflective way. Inspired mainly from Habermas' (1984) discourse theory, previous research has already theoretically argued for taking a critical or discursive perspective on information (e.g., Stahl, 2006; Ulrich, 2001; Yetim, 2006). In addition, some works have demonstrated the practical relevance and usefulness of discourse-oriented approaches and tools for supporting sense-making activities, i.e., capturing, comprehending and managing competing interpretations and arguments (e.g., Buckingham Shum, 2006; Klamma, Spaniol, & Jarke, 2005; Uren, Buckingham Shum, Bachler, & Li, 2006). Finally, it has also been empirically confirmed that adding structures to online discussion environments improves a group's ability to reach consensus and make higher-quality decisions (Farnham, Chesley, McGhee, Kawal, & Landau, 2000), and that a structured dialogue approach is the more thoughtful approach to learning and reasoning when compared with a less structured dialogue approach addressing the same task (Ravenscroft & McAlister, 2006). …

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