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IMS5048: Information Continuum -- Lecture 3

Topic 10:

The relationship of research and theory to

the information continuum model.

19 October 2005.


This topic seeks to assess the relevance of research to the ICM, and vice versa. It uses examples of recent research to illustrate significant links to parts of the ICM. It provides insights into some types of research occurring in the School.

2.What is the value of research to practitioners?

This is a very common question which an academic is frequently asked. Supplementary questions are: Why bother with research? What use is it? Who ever reads it? What difference does it make? Don't researchers just talk to each other? Some answers to these questions include that research aims

  1. To understand issues from the workplace.
  2. To provide long-term solutions to problems.
  3. To monitor dynamic, relevant services.
  4. To meet accountability requirements.
  5. To assist in policy development.
  6. To improve professional status.
  7. To provide a body of useful, tested knowledge to practitioners.
  8. To help to assess the hiring of consultants with reliable methodologies.

3.Relevance of the ICM to theory and practice:

3.1.an aim of the ICM is encompass all information practice in one system.

One of the important aims of the initial creation of the ICM, in its several versions, was to encompass all information professions. Maybe this ideal was too ambitious. One version of the model which we have not introduced before if that for publishing. Now that you have a detailed knowledge of the ICM yourself, think for yourself whether it is effective. Frank Upward has labelled it as follows:

Maybe you think that there are too many versions of the model?

Another way of depicting the desire to encompass all information activities is to list the research approaches which lie behind information analysis. Information management and information systems comprise a multidisciplinary coalition of methods for the study of the practice and theory of the creation, publication, distribution, storage, management and use of all forms of information and knowledge, in all organisations and groups, whether in business, government, education, research, or other area. Information and communications technologies are at the heart of it. The complex composition of the amalgam is not easy to explain quickly.

Information and its systems include servicing and monitoring, analysis and evaluation of effective delivery structures, technical and conceptual solutions, tracking knowledge in formal and informal ways, competitive and co-operative intelligence, information as a primary product as well as a by-product of mainstream activity, assisting well-informed decision-making, and multifarious patterns of relationships between the human intellect and systems.

In trying to connect modern information theory to broad traditional disciplines, we can name the following as relevant: sociology, computer science, informatics, management science, organisational theory, decision science, cognitive science, psychology, philosophy, linguistics, politics, anthropology, communications theory, cultural studies, economics, and others. This diversity tends to detract from the unity which the ICM strives to create. Ultimately, in research approach, we are forced to assert that IM and IS fit on a research continuum somewhere between each of these polar positions, involving method and technique:

Basic ---------- applied research.

Theory ---------- practice.

Positivism ---------- interpretivism.

Determinism ---------- constructivism/relativism.

Science ---------- humanism.

Experiment ---------- hermeneutics, experience.

Laboratory ---------- natural setting.

The position of a given research project in IM and IS along these continua will depend on many decisions, including the required rigor of the research design, the perceived need for demonstrable validity, and the strength of desire for reliability, and the purposes for which the research is applied. In spite of the complexity, it is still possible to take a single research project and map it against the ICM, taking the above list into account. Some examples are given below.

3.2.The ICM can help analyse practice.

Remember that you were asked to read the article by Don Schauder, Larry Stillman, Graeme Johanson, titled ‘Sustaining a community network: the information continuum, e-democracy and the case of Vicnet', in The Journal of Community Informatics , Vol. 1, No. 2 (2005). Part of that article deals with the practical usefulness of the modalities of the ICM, as follows:

Reading these developments against the ICM, it can be discerned that VICNET's crisis is one of incongruence between its actions, and aspects of the structure in which it operates …

However in those aspects of structure demarcated by the modalities, fault lines have been widening with increasing urgency as time has passed. In terms of the VICNET systems-state, there has been an accelerating bifurcation between ‘dynamic-democratic' and ‘static-democratic' modality settings, resulting in conflict among stakeholders. Features of this polarisation are outlined below.

· Interpretive. In the earlier years, the meaning of VICNET was clearer to its key stakeholders, and moreover there was a greater consensus as to that meaning. Before the proliferation of ISPs and mass participation in Web, the need for a special agency to build community engagement with the potentialities of the Internet was more self-evident, even though the Internet was less understood by many people. In the exploratory decade in which VICNET has operated, limited term project-based funding made a degree of sense. Everyone was on a steep learning curve. Project funding was welcome and meaningful, even though the path to sustainability was unclear.

However, it appears to be the case that the significance of VICNET needs to be articulated anew. In this new stage the interdependence between local and global has risen in importance: community networking has become a world movement as signified by the UN's World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) process. Also, action- learning, reflexive practice and research have risen in importance as the complexity of the community networking enterprise has grown.

· Facilitative. With experience, the need is recognised for reliable and in-depth support of communities for both innovative and routine use of ICTs. Project funding, even if available, only partly meets this need. Support needs to be grounded in a consistently funded institutional framework, whose objectives are affirmed by, and aligned to, government policy. So far in Victoria, experience has shown that libraries have been able to provide only part of this institutional framework, and they generally appear uncomfortable with taking a leading role in the wider endeavours of community practice. The required institutional framework needs to embody as core those aspects of community networking that have proved troublesome for libraries but where successive cohorts of VICNET staff have done well, namely consistent, close and creative engagement with community building in all its aspects. Only in this way could VICNET's special role in the informational aspects of communities be realised in depth. In summary, new institutional arrangements are needed, encompassing both the authoritative and allocative resources appropriate to the sustained development of community networking. Can such an institutional framework still evolve from libraries or must it be created anew?

· Normative. In the ten years of VICNET's operation, contingent regulatory and legal issues have become ever more complex. Obvious examples are privacy, intellectual property, and security. VICNET has coped well with issues arising in these areas, but in future the interface between community networking and regulatory arrangements will need ever increasing expertise and capacity. This too needs to be a feature of future institutional arrangements. Setting aside the perhaps inevitable clash of norms between the values of the young network (VICNET) and the older host (SLV) is necessary in order to realize the requirement for independent maturation in the newer organisation. VICNET has coped well with issues arising in these areas, but in future the interface between community networking and regulatory arrangements will need ever-increasing expertise and capacity. This too needs to be a feature of future institutional arrangements.

What this lengthy quotation shows is that research using the ICM can help to resolve really difficult practical problems, by identifying them in this case, that is, the nature of Vicnet as an organization in a new world of millions of community networks, management issues about whether libraries are the best sort of organization to attach Vicnet to, and how to cope with new regulatory pressures.

3.3.the ICM contextualises individual practice, is a guide to reality.

The ICM aims to provide a guide to practising information professionals, to help them to connect into a wider world of knowledge and practice, to feel part of a committed professional group which draws on established knowledge.

A recent example of research which takes the ‘enjoyment' purpose of the ICM as its beginning, and connects it to practitioners, is ‘When I'm 64: The Public Library after the Retirement of the Baby Boomers', a conference paper by Williamson, Kirsty; Bannister, Marion; Makin, Lynne; Johanson, Graeme; Schauder, Don and Jen Sullivan, which was delivered in Canberra on 16 September 2005. Public library collections are commonly depicted as satisfying leisure interests.

The abstract of the paper explains the objectives:

Across the world, governments are aware that the retirement of the baby boomers will have a big impact on developed societies. This large group of the population is better educated, more technologically literate, and are generally wealthier than any previous generation. They are also renowned for their voracious consumption of information in all media.

The pilot project reported in this paper has investigated the likely impact of the retirement of the baby boomers on the public library. The study was exploratory, in interpretivist mode, with the emphasis being placed on questions to encourage participants to think creatively about the library of the future, unfettered by present realities or even possibilities. The sample includes 16 baby boomers representing two major cohorts: leading edge boomers (born between 1946 and 1955) and the trailing edge boomers (born between 1956 and 1965), who were interviewed in two focus groups – one in Newcastle, NSW, and one in Melbourne. We also interviewed four gatekeepers, defined as visionary leaders in the baby boomers age range who have a broad knowledge of the needs of their communities.

A key finding was that there were some differences in the perspectives of those who believed that they would be financially comfortable in the future and those who thought they would have minimal resources. Major issues include: the particular characteristics of the baby boomer cohort, e.g., the perception of them as a demanding generation who will want to travel when still active, who will have a range of interests, and will require services which are flexible and of high quality; needs in the transition period (when some of the baby boomers will be only semi-retired); the popularity of the notion of the public library as a social/cultural hub and a key networking and linking organisation; and the contributions that baby boomers might make to the public library.

The conclusion of the paper discusses further research, including the way in which research findings can be used to assist future public library planning. The paper also shows how the creation of research knowledge by means of interview relates to the ‘dimensions' of the ICM, how it can capture knowledge in an organised way, to assist in the pluralisation of understanding. By being part of the research process – in this case several librarians as ‘gatekeepers' – information professional contribute to a useful body of knowledge. The research is also partly funded by libraries themselves.

For the conference program, see: http://www.nla.gov.au/initiatives/meetings/railsabs.html#Williamson . The full paper is yet to be published.

3.4. the ICM focuses on practice at several points.

Last week Joanne Evans presented about her research into better means of co-ordinating different metadata schema. Metadata is an important part of the ICM, as we have noted. Unless time and resources are devoted to in-depth analysis of this sort of research problem, there would be no useful metadata standards, no guidelines for international practice.

Another research project that focused on ‘technology' in an ICM manner, was titled ‘The Monash Community Information and Communications Technology Index', which investigated the uses of information and communications technologies (ICTs) by community and third sector organisations within Australia. The project involved research into information practices. It provided quantitative and qualitative indicators of use of ICTs by the participants in community organisations and their networks including, on a state-by-state basis, patterns of use and barriers to use.

The phone survey of 923 organisations asked:

What proportion use computers? (Answer: 97%).
Is computer usage adequate to their needs? (Answer: 78%).
What proportion had access to the Internet? (Answer: 90%).
What proportion have a website? (Answer: 61%).

How will their situation vary over the next year?

The creation of ‘The Index' by organising the information had potential benefit for planning, policy development and national co-ordination. See: http://www.ccnr.net/?q=taxonomy/term/3&PHPSESSID=46f310bc6bb27718f3fd68a4023d13d4 . For instance, it has enabled a comparison with other countries.

Within Australia, it showed significant differences between urban and regional organizations, and between large and small organizations. For example, if an organization is located within the capital city of a state or territory, it is much more likely to have a Web site – 73% -- as compared to only 46% of organisations located in other areas. They are also more likely to be satisfied with the performance of that Web site – 60% of city-based organisations are satisfied, as opposed to 49% of those in other areas. There were other interesting differences in the capacity of organisations to adopt the technology when size of the organization is taken into account. For instance, when using revenue base as an indicator, the rate of Internet access is lowest for those organisations with revenue of less than $25,000 p.a., increasing steadily with size, with those organisations with over $1 million in revenue having almost universal access (99%).

4.Relevance of research to the ICM:

4.1.Research uses models, which in one sense are a series of linked hypotheses. Models primarily describe relationships.

A large-scale research project that has benefited from the ICM approach has been preparation for two World Summits on the Information Society. In this case, the needs of civil society have been related to requirements of the global information society. The Centre for Community Networking Research has been commissioned by the federal Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, to designate a Roundtable of Australian Civil Society (RACS), and elicit its views on the information society. The Australian government and the UN want to know whether there are special needs of Australian civil society, and Australian civil society wants to know how it can benefit by linking up with other national representatives from civil society.

The first Summit was held in Geneva in December 2003, and a RACS ‘Statement' was prepared for it. The second Summit is due for Tunis in November 2005. For this, a ‘Strategy' has been prepared. Both of these documents can be found on the CCNR website ( http://www.ccnr.net/?q=taxonomy/term/16 , and http://www.ccnr.net/?q=taxonomy/term/19 ). A wide range of civil society concerns have been aired in both documents. They have been formally presented to the Summits.

The major research themes that CCNR has identified for RACS at the moment are identified in Schauder, Don, Johanson, Graeme, Taylor, Wal, ‘A diversity of voices: framing ICY policy for civil society', in Proceedings of CIRN2005; the second annual conference of the Community Informatics Research Network, Building partnerships for the Information Society, 23-26 August 2005 , pp 279-297. They relate to:

  1. The significance of national information flows. Who uses government and other websites for information-gathering in Australia? Are these websites effective and easy to use? How does civil society afford to download and print large documents when needed? (e.g., the government publishers, and the Australian Bureau of Statistics, should not charge fees to all groups). To what extent are the formats of online information suitable to all users (e.g. in multiple languages, to disabled people)?
  1. ICT enabled information as a democratising force for good. What is known about the actual power of ICT for the purpose of structured democratic consultations? What and where are the digital convergence initiatives in Australia? What is the use and consumption of ICT by different groups?
  1. Role of local government. Local government can be used to audit local needs and a national body can collate the findings. There is much hidden ICT activity that can only be uncovered by a systematic search and analysis. Many communities undertake informal, innovative low-technology projects on a shoestring with little fanfare. While maintaining their traditional roles in providing physical services to their ratepayer, local government is becoming ever-more knowledge intensive in what they do and how they do it. What are the optimal models for local government engagement in the knowledge economy?
  1. Understanding ICT-related social innovation. More broadly, innovation is not well understood in terms of what drives it and what produces ‘success', be it short-term market acceptance or long-term transformations. Not all innovations are ‘good'. The lesson of many technological changes is that there can be deep social and cultural consequences – negative as well as positive – that are unimagined by the innovators. If civil society participates perhaps it can shape the changes from a wider discernment of possible consequences. Research is required to determine how best to engage civil society in innovation processes.
  1. The role of volunteers. There are also broad questions relating to the work of volunteers in ICT areas and their need for training, professional development, managing and rewarding them adequately. Volunteers are not just an add-on in most civil society organisations – they are a key part of the workforce. Their contribution on a national scale is not understood. They also have individual workplace needs and motivations – these need to be investigated and properly resourced. A conceptual distinction can be drawn between the concept of ‘volunteers' and ‘voluntary labour'. The notion of volunteers and voluntarism emphasizes the individual's decision about whether to participate without normal pay in a task for the public good. ‘Voluntary labour' emphasises the fundamental dependence of the economic and social fabric on a predictable level of non-remunerated work, in settings such as families, sporting organizations, amateur music and theatre, the lifesaving movement, environmental groups, emergency services and many others.
  1. The role of cultural institutions. Many of society's cultural institutions (e.g. libraries, archives, museums) are inheritances from the 19 th and 20 th centuries. How are they best transformed to benefit from ICT, and to help drive knowledge creation, access and preservation in support of civil society? Are additional, new institutional forms required to support community networking?

You will note that the relationships between various civil society concerns link to parts of the ICM directly. All of the modalities are involved (how should researchers interpret civil society information flows? Do volunteers facilitate the effective distribution of information? Is local government catering to local community needs or trying to control them?). The agency of technology is connected to civil society in many ways. An important consideration is whether ICTs are empowering civil society equitably. Categorisation of knowledge (metadata) is occurring by means of the intervention of cultural institutions. One purpose of information is to encourage awareness and accountability; civil society is concerned that the needs of minority groups are being met by ICTs, including speakers on many languages.

4.2.Research modifies models, often after they are applied in practice. The ICM itself is the product of research and reflection on practice.

There have been a number of changes to the ICM over the past few years. There are two reasons for this. One is that the categories, the labels, have proved inadequate; thus the ‘knowledge' purpose has been changed to ‘awareness' after it was realised that ‘knowledge' was too narrow when applied to research projects. Another reason for change has been that new developments need to be incorporated; thus agency and technology became hard to separate from each other, and need to be integrated in many situations.

To note these changes, compare this 1998 version of the ICM with the one that we use today:

4.3.Models can help to identify under-researched activities.

A Masters' student in 2003 (who was studying IMS5048) made the observation that there seemed to be little understanding of the role of e-donations to community-based organizations. He was involved in a campaign in an outer Melbourne suburb to prevent the residential development of a creek reserve. He had set up a campaign website and wanted to be able to collect support donations online. Software to achieve this could be downloaded from the WWW, but he wondered about the effectiveness of such a process. So, we formulated a research project to try to determine whether online donations are effective. There was no published literature about it at all.

A questionnaire was used to ask managers of 14 third sector organizations in Melbourne and Sydney about their e-donation facility. They were very uncertain about the value and viability of online donations.

The findings showed ambivalence. Reasons given by interviewees for supporting online donation facilities were that donors expect online donation facilities, more and more; a website provides donors with the opportunity for richer communication; there is always potential to extend the donor base; not-for-profits are increasing use of electronic delivery of services over the Web; and the use of the Web for all commercial transactions (e.g., online banking) is on the rise, so online donations may be also. Trust, security and confidentiality were major worries. Secure servers cost a lot of money, and my not be affordable for some organizations.

We discovered a lack of integration of online donations into other forms of marketing. The importance of the complementarity of all donor channels (direct mail appeals, street corner collections, or door-to-door collections) was stressed by all interviewees. Although some of participants questioned the value in returns of the online facility, in relation to the costs of providing it, all were adamant that they would maintain the service. The project has been published as Ken Johnson, Graeme Johanson (2005), ‘Donations over the Web: collecting for Australian non-profit organisations', in Third Sector Review , v 11, no 1, pp 19-36.

4.4.The ICM incorporates and encourages research ways of thinking.

If one becomes accustomed to thinking ‘in the ICM way', then information situations which lend themselves to analysis crop up all the time. One students this year has commented that the ICM has ‘changed her way of thinking about the world'.

Once one has a model in mind, then researchable situations become easier to identify and analyse. Such was the case with the emergence of the idea of investigating how indigenous communities in Australia are managing to capture their oral memory for long-term preservation. The main challenge was that there were few written records about the people, and most of them were created for government control and surveillance in the past. A group of Monash researchers (Lynette Russell, Centre for Australian Indigenous Studies, Sue McKemmish, Don Schauder, and Graeme Johanson, SIMS) developed a research project around this theme titled ‘Trust and Technology'. The hope is to create a system that allows indigenous people to create and control their own knowledge with professional assistance. The project is described at:http://www.sims.monash.edu.au/research/eirg/trust/.

It has three phases: identifying what indigenous people would like to have to capture their heritage; developing archival guidelines and standards that help to satisfy those needs; and creating a prototype information architecture to accommodate the first two phases.

4.5.The ICM facilitates analysis of relevant research.

Throughout this semester, you have been asked to read published research findings for different topics. Every time that you read a research article or chapter, you are consuming research output, and becoming integrated yourself into a research continuum. One aim of researchers is to encourage others to make use of their research, to build on it, to improve it. Thus it is common practice for every research project to begin with an analysis of the research literature that has been published before. Sometimes there is not very much. Thus my Honours student, researching the adequacy of online counselling websites for assisting people with mental health, is such a new area, that there are about 40 articles indirectly related to it only. She as researcher needs to create new data, capture it, organise it, and pluralise it by publishing, after her thesis is written. She has a guide for ‘how to do it', based partly on the ICM patterns.


Kirsty Williamson, ed. (2002), Research methods for students, academics and professionals : information management and systems , Wagga Wagga, N.S.W.: Centre for Information Studies, Charles Sturt University.

Graeme Johanson, 17 October 2005.