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

A Reflexive Model of ICT Practices in Organizations

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

A Reflexive Model of ICT Practices in Organizations

Article excerpt


Traditionally, empirical studies that have looked at information and communication technologies (ICTs) in organizations such as email, fax, voicemail, and the telephone have adopted both a deterministic focus and a quantitative methodology. As illuminating as these studies have proved with respect to identifying when particular communication channels are most apt to be chosen, they have tended to produce inconsistent findings. Why? Because, as later studies showed, more than just technology itself shapes ICT use (Contractor & Eisenberg, 1990; Fulk, Schmitz, & Steinfield, 1990; Markus, 1990; Poole & DeSanctis, 1990; Sitkin, Sutcliffe, & Barrios-Choplin, 1992). So in the past decade scholars have moved away from controlled studies and consequently produced a wealth of qualitative research and recursive theorizing. In the process, many different theories have emerged to explain how the various elements work together to explain ICT use (Hollingshead & Contractor, 2002; Kling, 1996; Markus & Robey, 1988; Spear & Lea, 1994; Webster & Trevino, 2000). However, it is rare to find studies looking at multiple ICTs in combination, and those that exist have thus far used predominantly college students as their survey respondents (e.g., Flanagin & Metzger, 2001; Savolainen, 1999). We intend to capitalize on the need to study many ICTs in context. Sitkin et al. (1992) claim that much of the ICT literature facilely assumes that users employ a single ICT for a given task. They argue--rightly, we believe--that studies of multiple channels and communicators offer a solid place for future researchers to tread.

Our approach follows this recent trend and uses an inductive process to empirically extend these recent theoretical models. We extend existing empirical research by collecting diverse data that involves the use of multiple ICTs in 10 industries, 30 organizations, multiple levels of management, and different job roles.

The qualitative approach we use--a grounded theory methodology (Charmaz, 2000; Glaser & Strauss, 1967)--compels us to actually go into the field and gather our data first before hypothesizing about the relationships. We interview the agents, we allow them to put forth the ICTs they themselves use, we listen to them explain their interactions with what or whom, and then we move from details to abstractions in the production of theory. There is some previous work using grounded theory to examine ICTs (Orlikowski, 1993; Scott, 1998). Scott (1998), for instance, analyzed ICT use by assessing secondary sources. She searched the Internet for case studies of Internet use, examined websites provided by vendors such as Netscape and Sun, and she reviewed articles by consultants and academics. Her work with secondary sources foreshadows this research, since we extend her analysis and rely on primary sources by conducting interviews with active ICT users.

While grounded theory provides us our methodological framework to generate our theory, we rely on existing theory to help us make sense of our data and add reliability to our findings. We use Giddens' structuration theory (1979, 1984, 1987, 1990), and in particular one of his primary tenets, the duality of structure, to explain the relationship between action and structure in a complex information environment. In particular, we build on Adaptive Structuration Theory (AST) (Poole & DeSanctis, 1990) to show how individuals appropriate ICTs for their own use, which is at the heart of the grounded model presented later in this paper.

Because the literature on ICT use and its sister terms is substantial (for reviews, see Fulk & Boyd, 1991; Flanagin & Metzger, 2001; Garton & Wellman, 1995; Hollingshead & Contractor, 2002), we will restrict our review of it to those studies that have shaped our guiding research question and that situate our reflexive model. We will then explain in greater detail the methods we've employed. …

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