Academic journal article Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology

Information Systems Development Methodologies and All That Jazz

Academic journal article Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology

Information Systems Development Methodologies and All That Jazz

Article excerpt


This paper started life as an individual student assignment for an information systems development methodologies (ISDM) Masters course. In this course a number of approaches are adopted to help students explore different aspects of systems development 'methodology', this term being interpreted as the underlying philosophy that influences the development process. The role of worldviews is taken as a central theme for exploring the underlying philosophies that drive the application of methods or lead to their development. The course is presented from an interpretive perspective and the learning vehicles utilised include debate sessions based around role-played expert witnesses, mapping of methodologies, repertory grids, group discussion sessions and individual conference-style papers (Banks, 2001, 2002). The individual conference-style paper is used to encourage students to develop novel perspectives on the subject matter. This represents a perceived risk for some students but support and considerable encouragement is given in both the selection of the topic and in the initial direction of the paper.

The theme for this paper arose from informal conversations between the second author and Kevin Johnson (University of Cape Town) at the 2003 Informing Science conference. The conversation was triggered by Kevin's ideas of 'music as an information system' and seemed sufficiently intriguing to for the second author to suggest to the ISDM students that this would offer a novel approach to thinking about the philosophical aspects of systems development. This line of thought appealed to one student (the first author of this paper) and the paper presented here is a modified and extended version of that assignment.


WordNet Dictionary defines 'methodology' as:

* the system of methods followed in a particular discipline,

* the branch of philosophy that analyses the principles and procedures of inquiry in a particular discipline.

These definitions are complementary; the first is concerned with tangible aspects of the concept, ie a series of steps, procedures, techniques, tools, and documentation that help to achieve particular goal. The second is about intangible side of methodology, with emphasis upon the underlying philosophy, which makes it different from a method. Jayaratna (1994) defines a methodology as "an explicit way of structuring one's thinking and actions ... A methodology should tell you 'what' steps to take and 'how' to perform those steps but most importantly the reasons 'why' those steps should be taken, in that particular order." Avison and Fitzgerald (1995) note that a significant aspect of a methodology will be based upon "... the 'philosophy', 'viewpoint'--'bias' if you like--of the people who developed it, for no-one is completely objective". The 'why' will thus represent the personal reasoning of a specific individual methodology developer, derived from their values, beliefs, experience and views of the world. It is this focus on the 'why,' rather than the 'how' that underpins the design and implementation of the ISDM course.

In the IS field a development methodology is typically seen as a guideline, or framework, for systems developers to follow during the development process, usually through clearly defined steps or phases. Currently there are a huge number of information systems development methodologies available, ranging from those that have an engineering derivation through to those that have a socio-technical basis. Several methodologies are combinations or draw inspiration from existing ones creating new composite approaches. All of these methodologies are originally built on their creators' experiences, knowledge and feelings, problem environments and so on, that is, upon their unique worldviews. However, published methodologies are used in practice by people who may only have access to the 'what' and 'how' aspects, without any clear insight to the 'why'. …

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