Thursday, 26 March 2009

Interpreting information systems

This week someone suggested I look at work by Geoff Walsham on IT systems, an academic at Judge Business School, Cambridge. His name was familiar, and now I realise that I have a book by him on my desk:
Interpreting information systems in organizations
Found by chance when I was looking at the OU library shelves, but the author was one that Anthony Meehan in MCT recommended. Walsham has an interpretive approach so appropriate for what I'm doing. The book has sections on theory, case studies and major issues, so well relevant. I appreciate the recommendation.

Things come together.

Walsham, G. (1993) Interpreting information systems in organizations, Wiley, Chichester. 1118

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

I am writing - structure

I am writing, but it is not easy.

For the case studies, it seems sensible to structure the initial write up around the theory, so each case study will have a chapter laying out:
  • setting
  • actors
  • dimensions of social capital: structural, relational and cognitive with comparison of client and consultant
  • relationships between the dimensions of social capital
  • outcomes - what engagement is there?
The information must come from the analysis so far: documents, role ordered matrices, nets or maps, themes and networks. Those go in appendices.

Now write!

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Emmy Noether

Einstein couldn't have proved the conservation of energy without the work of Emmy Noether. This was a German woman born 1882. Emmy Noether's father taught her maths, and in 1907, she was awarded a doctorate - only the second doctorate awarded to a woman by a German university.

In the same decade, Einstein was working out his theory of general relativity but had problems still to solve. He presented theory and problems in 1915, convincing Hilbert and Klein of the merits of his work. They involved Emmy Noether, who within months produced a brilliant paper that resolved one of the issues of general relativity.

Emmy Noether impacted lives yet she had to beat a way through prejudices against women and Jews in order to use her mathematical talents.

But achievement is not due only to women on their own. Emmy Noether had a skilled father who recognised and nurtured her talents. She had Hilbert and Klein who were ready to work with her and Einstein who appreciated her work. Men and womens' work complement each other. I'm doing what I do because of encouragement from my male staff tutor as well as my female regional manager and my male and female supervisors. I'm glad and grateful that expectations of both genders are now higher and broader. Without those expectations, I'd have no chance of achieving my doctorate.

Source: Derbyshire, J, Unknown Quantity: a real and imaginary history of algebra, 2006

Monday, 23 March 2009

Discussion of research

We are due our PhD students day, when we have discussions around the table with ten minutes for each student to present their work to each other and to academics. Occasionally, academics have little to contribute but are still interested. See last year's discussion here.

Today, with no round table pressure I had the luck to discuss my research with a senior academic in IT, who works in the OU and has researched IT using social capital. He read the paper I'd sent to EURAM, and my OUBS web page, and then he asked me useful questions, like
  • what's the difference between social capital and trust?
  • what is capital?
  • what is engagement?
  • what is quality of engagement?
  • why IT?
  • why the public sector?
  • where's the value arise from engagement?
He suggested relevant literature, including, Habermas. Habermas is not where I would have gone, but apparently he described four forms of communication:
  • instructive
  • strategic
  • discursive
  • co-ordinative (not Habermas's term)
I could use Habermas's forms as ways of analysing engagement along a spectrum. See the theory of communicative action.

Another interesting point he made is that there is an IS Professor Dunleavy at LSE who has researched and written on macro level IT systems in national public sectors. He's found that IT projects are governed by national interest in building capacity of an IT industry in a global market place. If a nation, such as UK or Japan has an IT industry then it is more loath to pull out of failing public IT projects than countries like Holland that doesn't have an IT industry to contribute to the economy.

May the PhD day turn out as useful.

I suspect the Professor Dunleavy is the Patrick Dunleavy who wrote that really useful text on Authoring a Phd : How to plan, draft, write and finish a doctoral thesis or dissertation that I mentioned here.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Can't write

I'm stuck writing with many thoughts but not on paper, starting with getting a structure to write up one case study fully. Supervisors want at least one case written in the next month, if not two and it's hard because I can't get the structure right, though I do have the beginnings of an idea. I'll start with:
  • setting
  • characters
  • structural dimension of social capital
  • relational dimensions of social capital
  • cognitive dimensions of social capital
  • relationships between the dimensions
Still stuck.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Consultants cartoon

The Alex cartoons in the business pages of the Telegraph are topical and apposite. Today's cartoon pokes fun at those who call themselves consultants.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Narrative analysis workshop

AIM ran a workshop on narrative analysis. Since my 3rd party monitor mentioned it, I thought it worth attending. It was more useful than the OUBS lunch time seminars have been for a while because the several professors round the table were so approachable and interested in the work of the students there. They also made narrative analysis seem simpler and easier than I'd thought it.

Ruth Wodak related genre to communities of practice, explained intertextuality (elements of other texts incorporated into a text, such as phrases or quotes) and illustrated analysis with stories. What was particularly helpful was her deconstruction of narrative with drawouts such as
"constructing contrast between expectations and experience".
She also had a helpful table with column headings on elements of oral narrative, function and example. Elements included:
  • abstract
  • orientation
  • complicating action
  • evaluation
  • result or resolution
  • coda
As we discussed someone else's work later she pointed out, "there's the coda!", which made the analysis so much easier.

I'll try to apply some of this as I write up my first case study in detail.

Saturday, 14 March 2009


Arling has some useful work on social networks in distributed teams - not what I was thinking of, but one of my case studies has distributed members, physically located elsewhere, so Arling's work must be worth considering. How can people engage with each other if they've only met electronically?

This paper reports research; it's not just conceptual. they had three hypothesises and surveyed 254 individuals in 18 teams in 9 organizations. So she's measuring for quantitative research.

Arling, P. A. and Subramani, M. 'LEVERAGING SOCIAL NETWORKS AND TEAM CONFIGURATION TO ENHANCE KNOWLEDGE ACCESS IN DISTRIBUTED TEAMS', Academy of Management Proceedings, 2006/08//, Academy of Management, pp. K1-K6

Friday, 13 March 2009


Training courses here include one on networking for researchers, like the one I went on yesterday. But I hate deliberately networking. I love meeting people and finding out about them, but not networking for the sake of networking. I know it works in getting you contacts but it works in unexpected places and times, like when you're sitting next to someone at a Christmas dinner and you discover that they are in just the line of business you're interested in. That's liminality.

Networking is a life skill. If you want to meet a nice man, you might toodle along to a rugby club, but if you don't want to spend the rest of your Saturdays watching in the cold, then don't get involved there for the long term. Now, gliding clubs tend to have a surplus of men, and men who have a good enough earning capacity to be able to afford to glide. And women glide too. But you don't go along to a knitting club to meet men. Join a tennis club because you enjoy tennis, and you'll meet people who also enjoy tennis. You might also meet the man of your dreams.

Similarly in business, there's no point in mixing in areas that don't interest you even if you think you can pick up useful contacts. There's got to be mutual interest. Hence the usefulness of professional associations, like the Management Association, or the British Computer Society. You go along to talk about similar issues, but you might just meet someone whose work complements yours.

What I do find difficult about networking though is following up cold leads. I have one at the moment for a possible case study, but all I have is a name and phone number and I have to ring up out of the blue, which is why I'm blogging and putting off what I have to do.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

IS theory web site

I contacted Professors Petter and Randolph because their work is so interesting. See my earlier blog on their work here. They kindly answered. One resource they reminded me of, I haven't been there for a while, is the IS theory website, which is really useful and comprehensive. There is a page on social capital theory that includes a listing of papers in IS that use this theory:

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Structural holes

Trying to get my head round bridging and structural holes so found a couple of papers by Burt. He writes:
"The outsider proposing an idea that bridges groups has to borrow social capital in the sense that she has to work through a strategic partner, a person who has the social capital of a network that spans structural holes."
This is what consultants have to do - use social capital and bridge holes.

Burt, R., The social capital of structural holes accessed from (page 237)
Burt, R., Structured holes versus network closure accessed from

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Social capital, knowledge integration and IT

Social capital fascinates me because of its potential to transfer, integrate and create knowledge. Newell et al explore social capital and knowledge integration in an IT context, which makes it a fascinating paper. It's also about real research, not just concept development, even if it is just the one case study.

First the authors review the literature on
  1. knowledge integration in large IT design and implementation projects ,
  2. role of social capital in facilitating knowledge integration (Coleman, Granovetter). This includes mention of
  • communities of practice (Lave & Wenger),
  • interpretivist research (Berger & Luckmann)
I'm glad to realise that I am familiar with most of this literature.

Newell et al quote Napahiet & Ghoshal's argument that individual project members need to draw on their social capital to access dispersed knowledge (Nonaka) and problems arise if members don't use social capital or cannot integrate knowledge in the project team.

The researchers included a participant observer visiting over 18 months - more time than I've got. I've got something more like six months left to collect data. They recorded hour long interviews with all nine team members as well as ten owners, which something like what I'm doing. But they also had forty informal unrecorded interviews. The write-up seems to me to be a narrative and perhaps I can write something similar for my half dozen case studies.

Newell et al's case study shows more negative use of social capital than my case studies so far. For example, there was "little attempt to share", whereas I know a project where members emphasised team work and sharing right from the start. Newell et al's case study also used two IT consultants but they "did not see any need for involvement with potential users", so there's a different attitude to engaging with clients, and certainly not an attitude that uses social capital. Another contrast is the observation "that there was very little interaction and dialogue during meetings" (p50). I found a developer who'd been described as shy and who saw herself as quiet, but admitted that she now spoke up much more at meetings. Something about sharing in the team helped her to learn and to share.

Newell et al commented on meetings that team members often missed. I've had the impression in one case that when a more junior member stood in at a meeting, that some senior managers paid less attention.

Newell et al assess the bonding and bridging in their case study .
Bonding is about social cohesion within the team (similar to De Marco's module cohesion) - the more the better).
Bridging is reaching out to other communities (similar to De Marco's coupling) - it should be weak as in Granovetter's weak links

The above indicated that the bonding was poor, but unfortunately the bridging in Newell et al's case was also poor. They refer to "structural holes".

In conclusion the authors argue that "bridging and bonding aspects of social capital must be distinguished". I can use that in analysis of the case studies I find. The antecedent condition is to develop team bonds first, and I know evidence that supports this, where sociability was encouraged and trust existed.

It also shows the value of engagement. People need to share, be involved, interact and have dialogue.

Newell, S., Tansley, C. and Huang, J. (2004) 'Social Capital and Knowledge Integration in an ERP Project Team: The Importance of Bridging AND Bonding', British Journal of Management, 15, pp. 43-S57. 1109

Friday, 6 March 2009

Silly progress

Silly March hares run now. Academic writing can be verbose, but as a fellow PG tweeted, you can't write the concluding paragraph as "C'mon, give us a PhD" - just doesn't feel right.

And it's time for the progress reports. Some of us have acquired new skills in using each other's complicated new coffee maker. That's not on the list at the PhD skills web site.

Yesterday we students met with our research director.
Agenda: accommodation and possible training needs.

issue is gaining a life of its own so we needed to talk about it openly. There are around 28 of us but desks for only 21, and we need to plan for new students in October and the department next to us is poised to nab our space if we don't use it efficiently.

Solutions include:
  • Hot desking: (see definitions here & here) with 2 or 3 desks available for people who come in only occasionally and who are willing to lose their permanent space. Research director wouldn't have suggested it and thought it could be an insult, but is now happy to consider it. There are technological and health issues to implementing hot desking. See this for example.
  • Different shaped desks: these use the space in a different way & might be more efficient
  • Another floor: encroaching on what we already have on another floor, getting desks to keep all the writing up students together. The advantage of a possible recruitment freeze is that we can get the empty desks! Someone commented that he'd like the fertilisation that you can get from sitting near each other. He isn't a native English speaker, but he liked the sniggers and even when corrected to 'cross-fertilization' he offered his green thumbs.
  • MRes: none of these students came. We voted that they have smaller desks, share cupboard space, that they sit in the cupboard, or even perhaps outside.
We identified two needs, both concerned with writing:
  1. writing long documents using Word and Endnote
  2. writing at all
It was a satisfactory discussion that cleared the air on the rumours about space. Now we have some plans ready to implement either in October or earlier if we have to. Director is already looking into what writing help we can get.