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IMS5048: Information Continuum -- Lecture 3

Week 3: The Information Continuum Model

1.Theories and Models in Information.

2.Main features of the Information Continuum Model (ICM).

3.Information Theories and the Information Continuum Model.

Digitised reading.

Kaufer, D.S. & Carley, K.M. (1996). The influence of print on sociocultural organization and change. Annual Review of applied linguistics , 16, 14-25.

1.Theories and Models in Information Management.

In Topics 1 and 2 we suggested that the practical mission or ‘disciplinary aim' of information and knowledge management is to help the development of organisations, communities, organisations, and individuals by improving information flows and recorded memory. To provide support the Information Continuum theory and model have been developed. Before proceeding to the specifics of Information Continuum theory it seems appropriate to consider in greater generality the relationship between theories (and theorising), the building of conceptual models, research and professional practice.

In this subject we are putting forward the proposition that professional information and knowledge managers need a conceptual basis for their practice. They need theories and models to help them understand the role of information in the world and to develop and adapt information practice to meet the demands of the third millennium. We all use theories and models whenever we take action. We often do so subconsciously.

Professional people need to be particularly good at mapping knowledge. How well we integrate thinking and doing at the point of action will determine whether or not we achieve our purpose. In times of radical and rapid change it is particularly important to bring to the surface the theories and models that inform our practice. We are living through a time of major transition -- this means that the old routines and standardised ways of managing information need to be reworked. We cannot operate on autopilot in these circumstances -- we need a new program of practice. Theories and models help us to do this.

Models of one sort or another have been used for centuries. They all contain information elements, and they all help to explain a ‘known' universe to committed members and sceptics alike.

The diagram below shows two maps, one of the earth according to Ptolemy (second century A.D.), as a heavy line stretching from the west to the northeast of the Pacific Ocean, the other a projection of the land on the planet based on Mercator's calculations (in 1538), still adopted in popular atlases. Neither is actually how the planet is shaped. They used agreed principles for representing it. The most remarkable point is the rough correspondence between Ptolemy's version, and Mercator's later.

This diagram is by Yoneji Masuda, and depicts the transformation of an industrial society into an information society by means of information and communications technologies. This model was built in 1979 ( The information society as post-industrial society . Tokyo: Institute for the Information Society, 1980) . The parts of this model to critique lie along the right-hand side and the bottom. They are meant to represent the times in which we now live.

This model is taken from a policy developed by Barry Jones, ex-minister for Science, for the Australian Labour Party in 2001, and it represents the features of a ‘Knowledge Nation' ( http://www.chifley.org.au/publications/kntf.php) . Look closely at the suggested interactions; the model was quickly dubbed ‘spaghetti and meatballs' by the Liberal Party, which saw it as a useless hotchpotch. In your view, is there virtue in it?

This is the first Continuum Model that was developed, back in 1994-5. It has much less detail than later versions:

The model below is titled ‘The juridical dimensions of Upward's Records Continuum Model', by Livia Iacovino, who took the RCM and applied it to her study of the ethical and legal dimensions of the Model. She has replaced each of the labels from the Records Continuum Model with her own ethical and legal terms. It is a useful example of how features of generic models can be transposed to relate to more specific subjects.

Other additions to the basic Model have been made, if you read Frank Upward's recent work. Here is an Information Systems Continuum Model:

The key point to derive from the discussion of the models above is that information managers, like people in many other professions, need the ability to deal with complex, sometimes unique, problems, and simulate reality. They also need the ability to innovate -- to be inventive and show enterprise --- both in their personal careers and on behalf of their organisations or groups. Solving of complex problems, and invention of solutions, are processes very similar in nature to the activities called ‘research' or ‘scholarship'.

While not every information management generalist or specialist (e.g., librarians, recordkeepers, IT managers, CIOs, web developers, publishers) will be involved in formal research during their career, a ‘research mentality' is arguably one of the greatest assets that they bring to their work. Certainly an appreciation of research is necessary. That mentality largely consists of a capacity to know why they act in the ways that they do, to stand back and consciously reflect on their own thinking and actions, and to make positive changes if necessary to information in all of their forms, if possible. Additionally, formal research, performed individually or as part of a team, might actually constitute a major part of an information manager's work role. For information managers whose careers move in this direction, an understanding of theorising, models, and alternative research approaches is absolutely vital.

Consider Giddens' review of how people have theorised about the relationship between media and the structuring of society, and consider how such theories might inform and influence information management practice:

Giddens, A. (1997). Sociology . (3rd ed.). Cambridge: Polity Press (pp 377-382).

2.Main features of Information Continuum Model.

As we explored in Topics 1 and 2, information can be conceptualised in several ways, but one important way is to focus on the content and context of communication. Communicative actions, large and small (e.g., face-to-face conversation, a television broadcast, viewing a video tape, buying a meal, signing a contract), which pervade every aspect of life and take place in a complex ‘information ecology'. The use of ecology as an analogy (see: http://www.firstmonday.dk/issues/issue4_5/nardi_chapter4.html ) is itself suggestive of a natural model.

In 1 above, we put forward the view that professional information managers need a conceptual basis for their practice. They need theories and models to help them understand the role of information in the world and to develop and adapt information management practice to meet modern demands. As explored already here, models are particularly useful in helping us to focus on which factors are most relevant to us in any given situation.

The Information Continuum Model is designed to focus our attention on the factors that we think are most relevant to the role of information in our world and to explain how these factors interrelate. It therefore highlights features of the information ecology of particular interest to information managers. The Model does not aim to explain all relationships, but rather tries to describe interconnections, and their relative significance when applied. That is, the Model is descriptive, not prescriptive.

In Topics 1 and 2, we have explored how information management professionals need to be able to interpret information-related situations and issues in terms of the factors and relationships listed below:

We also said that information professionals need to analyse what is happening in terms of:

In looking at any phenomenon or situation, it is possible to identify factors which characterise that phenomenon or situation, and relationships which link those factors. A model is a device which explains

how the factors under consideration inter-relate ... Models may be represented verbally, mathematically, or graphically (Keeves, J.P. (1985), Models and model building. In International encyclopaedia of education . Oxford: Pergamon, pp 3382-3389).

The factors considered by a model are always restricted, and this restriction defines the boundaries of a model. The Information Continuum Model provides a framework for understanding and interpreting information related situations and issues, which highlight the factors listed above and their interrelationships.

Key parts of the Information Continuum Model.


The model brings together Attributes relating to: our acts of communication, the structures in which they take place, and the interaction between communicative actions and structures (Action/Structure Attributes), the way in which communicative actions draw on and contribute to stored memory, the nature and quality of stored memory, and the role that it plays in future communicative actions (Memory/Storage Attributes), the value-added data (metadata) which we use to categorise and manage information (Categorisation/Metadata Attributes), and the technology or tools we use to communicate (Technology Attributes).

The model considers how these factors operate and interrelate within and across four Dimensions: the Create, Capture, Organise and Pluralise dimensions.

It also makes reference to a typology of Information Purposes concerned with Accountability, Knowledge (awareness), and Infotainment. We have already begun to explore this typology in Topic 2. As noted there, different specializations within the information management professions have historically managed different genres of information in terms of their primary purpose.

Other key factors which the model draws to our attention include the following Modalities : how participants interpret the meaning of the information situations in which they are involved (the Interpretive modality) how power is exercised and resources deployed in information situations (the Facilitative modality) the rules and protocols that participants consider should govern their behaviour in any given information situation (the Normative modality).

Over the last few years the ICM has been presented in a number of ways, as you will realise if you have the article which uses it to analyse Vicnet (see: Donald Schauder, Graeme Johanson, Larry Stillman (2005), ‘Sustaining and transforming a community network: The information continuum model and the case of VICNET', in

Journal of community informatics , v 1, no 2, at:

http://ci-journal.net/viewarticle.php?id=82&layout=abstract , in pdf or html ). In whichever form it is presented, the main aim is to show relationships between the parts.

3.Information Theories and the Information Continuum Model.

Kaufer and Carley: Constructuralism.

The ‘communicative transaction' is the key concept in the ‘constructural' theory of David Kaufer and Kathleen Carley ( http://www.casos.cs.cmu.edu/bios/carley/carley.html) . In communicative transactions, information is transferred among people (‘actors'), either directly or via an intervening physical entity or ‘agent' (e.g. a written or electronic record; an object that one person has made, and others have learned from). The readings suggested below give an excellent idea of the scope and intentions of Kaufer and Carley's work. Recently Carley has focused on knowledge management and organisational sociology (see: http://www.heinz.cmu.edu/bio/faculty/carley.html ).


Carefully study the concept of the communicative transaction by reading:

Kaufer, D.S. & Carley, K.M. (1993). Communication at a distance: The influence of print on sociocultural organization and change . Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates (pp.143-149).

Widen your grasp of Kaufer & Carley's constructural theory by reading: Kaufer, D.S. & Carley, K.M. (1996). ‘The influence of print on sociocultural organization and change'. Annual Review of applied linguistics , 16, 14-25.

More recently, an Australian researcher has followed up Kaufer and Carley's work -- see Andrew Treloar (1998) at http://andrew.treloar.net/Research/Publications/IFIP98/.

Anthony Giddens: Structuration, and its core ideas.

Merton (1957) advocated that social theorists confine themselves to developing theories of ‘the middle range', in contrast to ‘grand theories', such as those propounded by past big thinkers such as Kant, Hegel and Marx -- or Merton's contemporary, Talcott Parsons. See: http://www.hewett.norfolk.sch.uk/curric/soc/PARSONS/Parsons.htm . Giddens, however, is a grand theorist: a present-day sociologist with the self-imposed task -- the scholarly project -- of reconciling and integrating the varied approaches to social thought in a way that is relevant to life and events today.

The starting points for Giddens are the theoretical approaches of:

and Emile Durkheim (1858-1917).


Herbert Mead (1863-1931), and similar to the approach of


Giddens' attention is not confined to these classical theorists, but takes account of the numerous scholars who have worked within and across these broad approaches. Unlike most influential sociological theorists of recent decades, Giddens is British, not American. For much of his career he was at Cambridge University, and then was Director of the London School of Economics. He advised Tony Blair and the British Labour Party on ‘The Third Way'. Read his brilliant Reith lectures, ‘Runaway World', at:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/static/events/reith_99/default.htm . He retired recently in London.

His theoretical writings are dense, varied and difficult -- but cumulatively a scholarly tour de force. In contrast, his textbook, Sociology , currently in its third edition, is a work designed to welcome and enthrall the new reader, while sacrificing nothing of erudition. Unfortunately, however, it gives little insight into Giddens' own unique theorising, but rather presents a conscientiously balanced introductory picture of sociology as a field.

To use the analogy of aerial mapping, the Information Continuum Model views the world from an altitude of say 20,000 metres, rather than 10,000, 5000, or 500 metres. While the ‘altitude' of Giddens theorising is much higher, his work nevertheless offers much to theorising in relation to the Information Continuum, which may also be described as high-range theory.

At http://www.sims.monash.edu.au/research/rcrg/publications/#recau you can see how Frank Upward applies it to recordkeeping specifically (find Upward's two articles on the records continuum in the list).

The issue of action and structure.

Both the complexity and the power of Giddens' ideas are conveyed by the following quotation, in which he summarises his theory of structuration:

The concept of structuration involves that of the duality of structure, which relates to the fundamentally recursive character of social life, and expresses the mutual dependence of structure and agency. By the duality I mean that the structural properties of social systems are both the medium and the outcome of the practices that constitute those systems. (Giddens, Reader, p.122).

At the centre of Giddens' vision is the Actor , i.e., the individual, you or me, or any other historical or contemporary individual, famous or obscure. Each of us acts -- does things -- in the world. We are able to act because we are knowledgeable about ‘social practices ordered across space and time' (p.89). However those practices are not just a ‘given'. As we act, we reproduce -- but not necessarily identically -- the pre-existing social conditions which make action possible. It is this reproduction with modification that Giddens calls recursion .

The modifications we make through our actions to inherited social conditions may not be deliberate -- they can result from unintended consequences of our actions. Whether consequences are intended or unintended, agency

concerns events in of which the individual is the perpetrator, in the sense that the individual could, at any phase in a given sequence of conduct, have acted differently.

The key point of Giddens's theory of action and structure is that social context -- the ‘ norms ' of society -- both enable and constrain what can be done by each individual (p.106). Each person, in however small a way, changes the social structure or context through their day-to-day actions -- by their ‘lived-through experience' (p.90). The new conditions thus created form the pre-conditions of future action by themselves or by others. Thus, through our actions, we ‘ produce' or ‘reproduce' social life -- Giddens regards the two terms as equivalent for purposes of the theory.

How does all this connect with information? The knowledgeability which forms the basis of our actions is derived from communicative encounters or episodes in everyday life:

what above all distinguishes humans from the animals is that the former are able reflexively [i.e. through reflection or thought] to 'programme' their environment, thereby monitoring their own place in it; this is made possible only by language, which is first and foremost the medium of human practical activities (p 101).

Through such interaction

the generalized 'competence' of actors is evaluated by others'; ‘mutual knowledge' is accumulated; and the actor engages in a ‘duree, a continuous flow of conduct' characterised by ‘monitoring, rationalization and motivation of action as embedded sets of processes (pp 90-91).

It is through the transfer of information that reflexive knowledgeability is achieved. A recent analysis of this process between parts of a dispersed organisation is described at: http://opensource.mit.edu/papers/orlikowski.pdf.

The issue of time, space and power.

Giddens argues that

social systems bind time and space … Distanciation [means] the processes whereby societies are stretched over … spans of time and space. (Giddens, A contemporary critique of historical materialism , London, Macmillan, 1995, p.90).

Control of time and space yields a fundamental source of power.

Power , in Giddens' terms, is

the transformative capacity of human agency ... the capacity of the actor to intervene in a series of events so as to alter their course, ... a property of interaction ... defined as the capability to ensure outcomes where the realisation of these outcomes depends upon the agency of others. It is in this sense that men have power 'over' others: this is power as domination (p.110).

According to the theory of structuration, power is generated in and through the reproduction of structures of domination , which includes the dominion of human beings over the material world (allocative resources) and over the social world (authoritative resources). These two types of resource may be connected in different ways in different forms of society (p 185).

Co-presence -- being in the same place at the same time (i.e., in the same ‘situation') -- is seen by Giddens as ‘the main anchoring feature of social integration' based on the communicative encounters and reflexive monitoring described above in the section on ‘Action and Structure'. However

both the conditions and outcomes of situated interaction stretch far beyond those situations as such. The mechanisms of 'stretching' are variable (p.132).

This stretching -- which Giddens also calls ‘the binding of time and space', and ‘ time-space distanciation, ' is a necessary condition for the development of large societies, and is even required for the operation of small societies where a greater degree of ‘co-presence' is normally possible. For example, the smallest of human societies such as hunter-gatherer, stretch their space by establishing domain over a territory of nomadic operations; and stretch their time through language (as seen in the example of cuneiform in topic 2) traditions, kinship systems, and religion. Thus are authoritative resources developed (p.186). For the development of large societies, communication technologies such as writing become essential for the stretching of power in time and space.

The means by which such ‘stretching' or distanciation is achieved is storage, whether of food, weapons or -- crucially to the focus if information professionals -- information. If you want to check on your understanding of some of Gidden's key ideas, try the quiz at: http://www.sociologyonline.co.uk/quizzes/QuizGiddens.htm.

Graeme Johanson, 3 August 2005.