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Doctoral Dissertation

Jonathan Ostwald
[ Introduction | Setting | Problem | Theory | Approach | Case Study | Discussion | Conclusion ]
[ Home | Contents | References | Glossary ]
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Many large, technology-oriented companies either have gone, or will go, through process reengineering as they try to streamline operations and increase efficiency. At the heart of these process reengineering efforts are new information systems. But investments in information technologies have generally produced disappointing results, largely because companies tend to use new technologies to mechanize traditional ways of doing work instead of to transcend the tradition by redesigning work practices.

This thesis is concerned with information system development as an opportunity to redesign traditional work practices by creating new relations between workers, their computational tools and their tasks. The central argument of the thesis is that the knowledge required to redesign work practice cannot be simply acquired through interviews, observations and other types of analysis. Instead, it must be constructed in a social and evolutionary process involving all those with a stake in the development processes.

The Evolving Artifact Approach developed in this research provides computer-based support for system design and development understood as a process of social construction of shared knowledge. To ground this approach, a theoretical framework for Knowledge Construction is developed. A constructionist perspective focuses on the relationship between understandings and artifacts that can be inspected, experimented with and discussed. Knowledge construction is an evolutionary process of constructing artifacts and using them to gain new understandings. These new understandings are then used to further construct or modify artifacts, and the process continues.

The Evolving Artifact Approach operationalizes the idea of knowledge construction for system development. The approach includes (1) key strategies for participatory and evolutionary software development, and (2) computational support for the strategies. Knowledge construction in software development is driven by creating and refining software artifacts, which are accumulated in a single, evolving artifact. The evolving artifact approach was applied in an industrial system development project. A case study of this project illustrates the approach, and reveals opportunities and limitations to be addressed in future work. The results are used to draw implications for knowledge construction in the following contexts: (1) software development environments, (2) sustained software lifecycles, and (3) organizational learning.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction
2. Setting: Redesigning Work
2.1. Service Provisioning
2.2. Redesigning Work
2.3. Summary
3. Problem: Designing Computational Support
3.1. Theoretical Foundations
3.2. An Example: The KID Design Environment
3.3. Why it is Hard to Design Computational Support
3.4. Toward a New Paradigm for Software Development
3.5. Summary
4. Theory: Knowledge Construction
4.1. Knowledge Construction Processes
4.2. Constructionism
4.3. Representations For Mutual Understanding
4.4. A Spectrum of Representations for Mutual Understanding
4.5. Summary
5. Approach: The Evolving Artifact
5.1. Represent for Understanding
5.2. Ground Discussions with Representations
5.3. Formalize
5.4. Accumulate and Structure Representations
5.5. Summary
6. Case Study: The EVAService Project
6.1. Overview of the EVAService Project
6.2. The EVAService Story
6.3. Details from the EVAService Project
6.4. Follow-Ons to the EVAService Project
6.5. Summary
7. Discussion
7.1. Assessing the Evolving Artifact Approach in the EVAService Project
7.2. Knowledge Construction in System Use
7.3. The Role of Knowledge Construction in Organizational Learning
7.4. Summary
8. Conclusion
Glossary of Terms

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Thanks! - Jonathan