All entries for December 2008
December 12, 2008
Writing about web page http://www.atlasti.com/
The story of a conference poster.
The academic tradition of poster presentation highlights the differences and challenges of scientific writing and writing for science. On the one hand there is the highly refined genre of communication in the scientific mode, often dense and inpenetrable, difficult to understand or present to a non-academic audience because it is designed to address the requirements of 'science,' or at least that particular community who determine such standards. The scientific mode may be manifest in different ways in different academic communities, but in most cases it serves to satisfy the basic demands for some or all of: standards of evidence, method, logic, and relevance. The scientific standard for evidence requires or data to be actual, factual, empirical and/or repeatable. Method must be explicit, relevant, repeatable and/or reasonably applied where there is a degree of interpretation. Logic, rationale, or argumentation, either rhetorical or formal requires a disciplined approach to exhaustively critique relevant existing knowledge in a balanced manner, its conclusions should be convincing and, in so far as possible, based on evidence. Genres of scientific writing include Abstracts, Extended Abstracts (with or without bibliograph), Research In Progress (8 or more pages), Full Research Papers (10 or more pages), Journal Articles (15 or more pages), Book Chapters and Books.
The poster format is a much different shade of beast. A highy visual, highly focused report on a research topic or particular study, a poster designed to be read (and readable) from a distance of about a meter and, importantly, designed to convey a distillation of that research in anywhere from 40 seconds to at most 4 minutes.
This poster, and the paper on which it is based, arose as a result of an investigation into a puzzling case of IS transformation. The case presents a multinational banking corporation's roll out of a completely new product platform and work system in one country. They choose to use a 'big bang' rollout method, a high risk, uncertain, delivery strategy. Not an approach you'd expect in the risk adverse financial sector, nor one you could recommend to an organisation with an extremely high dependency on software infrastructures to operate.
The success of the bank's approach however cannot merely be put down to simple ‘technical superiority’, ‘strategic’ or ‘success factors’, even though such aspects are important and relevant to the case. There appeared to be something more significant than instrumental rationality in play in this case, and significant in a way that reinforced the organisation's knowledge, capability and capacity to enact radical changes. Our field work has revealed another story interwoven with the organisation's 'success narrative' , a story of behind the scenes work, of: introduction, accommodation, negotiation, taking seriously the idea of learning, language, culture, gifts and exchange.
The problem however with theorising a deeper understanding of these dynamics is that of generalisation. These may be good practises in a specific firm comprised of many people with their unique backgrounds and experience, the situation they found, constructed and worked through over a period in time and in certain places. How are we to really 'get inside' this case and see what it is that made it work, but not just work well, how it might have gone badly too. The problem is that theory must inform the gamut of outcomes, not just success but also failure, not just how to overcome problems, but how to see and make use of opportunities.
In answering these challenges we drew on philosophical concepts originating in Phenomenology. Ciborra proposed the insightful concept of Xenia (i.e. hospitality) to explore the heterogeneous nature of socio-technical interplay (Ciborra 2002; Ciborra 1998). Other researchers have used this already to understand human/technoloy interaction in the workplace (Brigham et al. 2006; Introna et al. 2007; Saccol et al. 2006), arguing that hospitality provides an entirely different ontology, a new language to speak about the ‘problem’ of information technology and our (mis)use of it.
Informed by these readings and the emerging case study, we conclude that what we know and 'how we know' about information systems and software infrastructures more generally truly requires a radical re-orientation for those involved in IS Development and Delivery. As Ciborra (2002) and others (Brigham et al. 2006; Introna et al. 2007; Saccol et al. 2006) suggest, it requires a new language to work in, with and through the many others involved in such innovations. Our concerns shift to include things such as;
- The stranger, guest; technology and the developer (engineer) behind
- Meeting points; stressful, respectful, hostile
- Care and cultivate hospitality
- Reciprocity; in gifts, action, use, dialogue
- Users adapt, change and resist
- Reinvent the ‘things’; reopen black boxes
- Accommodating the unexpected
The challenge of presentation
The philosphical grounding of the paper's concepts, research method and conclusions would appear to mitigate against the feasibility of distilling and presenting its findings and conclusions under the conventional structure the traditional academic poster. The methodology employs grounded analysis of interviews and documentary texts, critique of prevalent theories, rhetorial argumentation for alternate bodies of theory through reading, analysis and synthesis, followed by the application of the alternate theoretical frame to the case situation. Such an approach is prosaic, verbose, and fragile, depending as it does on a reader's acceptance of unconventional arguments applied to familiar settings and subtle remedies for action. Perhaps the most difficult aspect surrounding the conclusions of this kind of interprative research is that the remedies indicated require their adopter to engage in a radical reorientation towards the focus of action and modes of agency. The remedies suggest that actors involved in these kind of innovation initiatives must embrace more or less radical shifts of emphasis in their language and behaviour as they engage more reflectively in processes of social construction through interaction. How then to respond to the challenge of presenting the research?
Concept maps, tag clouds and relational geographies have been employed to distill dense, complex and complicated relational data sets to simplify analysis and presentation...
Aims for the poster
We (Frank, Simeon and I) felt the conventional panel based format did not lend itself to communicating the theoretical subtlety and complexity of Xenia, the cultural Hospitality metaphor.
The arrangement allows for both a structured flow, and also for a serendipitous contrast, e.g. the lit (Derrida, Ciborra, Kant, Introna) top left. The key concepts are biggest and easily read; Xenia, hospitality, technology, Culture.
Some of the possibilities for synthesis can be picked up in the spaces, e.g. surrounding Culture, public and enemy - surrounded again by difference, values. Its really a thought generator and intended to illustrate how a 'radically different ontology and orientation' might be learnt and enacted.
A weakness posed by this style of presentation is it is not readily understood without an interpreter present, me in this case, or without having read the paper to which it refers. Much is implied or needs to be explained rather than simply being stated axiomatically. This problem is closely related to the assumptions of phenomenological analysis, that experience, even our experience in/of the process of communicating knowledge, cannot be wholly expressed in axiomatic statements or assertions.
How should the poster be read? Is the positioning of the words significant?
The literature drawn on in the paper is indicated top left (Derrida, Ciborra, Kant, Introna). The key concepts are biggest and easily read; Xenia, hospitality, technology, Culture. Some of the possibilities for synthesis can be picked up in the spaces, e.g. surrounding Culture, public and enemy - surrounded again by difference, values. Its really a thought generator and intended to illustrate how a 'radically different ontology and orientation' might be learnt and enacted.
The poster itself is designed to act as a interesting boundary object between the presenter and the passer by. It resonates with its subject matter, hospitality, by appearing interesting and 'polite', and yet politely assertive. The colours are subdued but also provide complementary contrasts, the font is readable, distinctive and conveys certainty without shouting at the reader.Word arrangement allows for the poster to be read in both a structured flow, but also for serendipitous contrasts. Word/concept size is a function of their frequency of use in the paper itself, position is relatively random, colour is also relatively random.
The poster was produced using four software tools: the atlas.ti Knowledge Workbench 5.2, Wordle.net by Jonathan Feinberg, MS Powerpoint, and Adobe PhotoShop 7.0. The following method was used to create the content.
1. Using the text of our research in progress paper "Hospitality Analysis of IS Innovation" which was accepted for ICIS 2008 in the Ethics, Design and Consequences track, I performed an atlas.ti 'word crunch' to tabulate the high frequency words/concepts in the paper. The resulting spreadsheet was reviewed and limited to 74 key words/concepts.
2. Using the Wordle.net a 'wordle' graphic in PDF was generated which satisfied my requirement as follows. A consistent and easy on the eye colour mix should be readable on white background. Colour mix should allow for variety without being chaotic, choose two complementary colours (blue/yellow) and allow a relatively degree of analogous colour variation around each of the complementary colours. These ideas infused in colour selection are discussed at colourmatters.com. Font used should be authoritative, preferably a serif or edged sans-serif.
3. Layout should maximise the available poster space without being too crowed. In Adobe Photoshop a new canvas was created in A0 size (width 84.1cm height 118.9cm) and the various graphic and textual elements added, coloured and sized as dictated by artistic judgement. The 'wordle' graphic was tweaked; image adjustment, contrast increased as the wordle generated colours were too washed out and needed greater definition so that they could be easily read from a distance. The title and university acknowledgements were positioned discretely.
4. Additional text boxes were written in MS Powerpoint and then copy pasted directly into Photoshop as new layers where they were positioned and resized 'en group'.
The final graphic was saved in PDF format and A0 printed/laminated at a local reproduction house.
- Brigham, M., and Introna, L.D. "Hospitality, improvisation and Gestell: a phenomenology of mobile information," Journal of Information Technology (21:3) 2006, pp. 140-153.
- Ciborra, C. The Labyrinths of Information: Challenging the Wisdom of Systems Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK., 2002.
- Ciborra, C.U. "Crisis and foundations: an inquiry into the nature and limits of models and methods in the information systems discipline," Journal of Strategic Information Systems (7) 1998, pp. 5-16.
- Introna, L.D., and Brigham, M. "Reconsidering community and the stranger in the age of virtuality," Society and Business Review (2:2) 2007, pp. 166-178.
- Kant, I. Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Essay by Immanuel Kant Garland Publishing Inc., New York, New York, 1972 .
- Saccol, A.Z., and Reinhard, N. "The Hostpitality Metaphor as a theoretical lens for understanding the ICT adoption process," Journal of Information Technology (21:3) 2006, pp. 154-164.
December 10, 2008
Ideas inspired by Derrida, Ciborra, Introna and others.
The notion of hospitality as a nascent cultural metaphor, drawn on by people in situations of encounter, in particular when we encounter 'things' made by another and that the other alters, adapts and refines.