“Emergent knowledge processes are organizational activity patterns that exhibit three characteristics in combination:

  • ‘deliberations’ with no best structure or sequence;
  • highly unpredictable potential users and work contexts; and
  • information requirements that include general, specific, and tacit knowledge distributed across experts and non-experts.” [180-181]

Walls et al. (1992) is a big deal: said IS design theory must have set of user requirements, system features, and set of principles for guiding development. It’s based on theory and guides practitioners. They are normative, not just descriptive. Walls’s idea is to facilitate development and research by reducing uncertainty, setting out the clear, limited parameters under which the designers will operate.

Scibelli [INFS614 post] is on to something in questioning whether “emergent” is a more useful term for the processes Markus et al discuss. Maintaining a continuum of “structured — semi-structured — unstructured” may speak more immediately and clearly to non-specialists about the difference between processes without establishing a hierarchy. “Unstructured” does not suggest as clearly as Markus et al. would have it that “structuring is possible and desirable” [182]. The word certainly leaves room for that possibility: that which is unstructured might benefit from structure. The discovery and creation of knowledge — “emergent” processes — work better for some researchers (like me!) in an unstructured fashion; however, some emergent processes may be improved with some structure. I thus concur with Scibelli that replacing the term “unstructured” may not be necessary.

The term “emergent” is useful, though, to emphasize the very different nature of such work. The end product is unknown. The nature of the knowledge that emerges may require any number of changes in whatever structure was used to get to that knowledge. That doesn’t necessarily mean that researchers and inventors need to operate completely without structure. They may adopt highly structured investigation and design processes; they simply need to be open to the possibility of changing that structure to accommodate whatever results accumulate as they work.

The “tool glut” — now there’s a useful term! “Knowledge workers are supported today, not with a dearth of tools, but with too many tools and with tools that are not integrated” [185]. To remove uncertainty from developers’ jobs, previous design methodologies may lead to the creation of lots of very specific tools for specific jobs but which cannot be generalized to emergent tasks, goals, and user groups.

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Davenport, T. H., & Markus, M. L. (1999). Rigor vs. relevance revisited: Response to Benbasat and Zmud. MIS Quarterly, 23(1), 19-23.

D&M do B&Z (1999) one better, arguing we need to remake the discipline to more resemble law and medicine, fields where there is much greater academic-practitioner interaction. D&M seem to argue that B&Z advocate too much a path of being all things to all people. D&M would have us pursue a different course, making our discipline over more in the image of practitioners rather than trying to fit the mold of hard-core academics.

Interesting market-based argument: if students are consumers, IS schools need to produce more practical research that those consumers can consume, “thereby increasing the audience of reflective practitioners” [20]. Business translation: produce more practical, relevant research, and we get more customers, more tuition, more funding.

But viewing students as consumers isn’t just about increasing our revenue. Thinking about what future practitioners (are the majority of students future practitioners rather than future academics?) want and need will drive us to produce more relevant research.

Evaluation and policy research — I hope we’ve made progress in accepting such research since D&M wrote in 1999. Otherwise, my dissertation is in trouble!

I would think the Board of Regents would completely support this approach of including practitioner journal publications in a professor’s tenure-review portfolio. The Regents are all about relevance now.