Organizations and Society in Information Systems (OASIS)

Volume 33, Issue 2 November 1999

In this Bumper Issue

  • Secrets of IFIP WG8.2
  • Minutes of business meeting, St. Louis, 1999
  • A message to the librarian
  • Communications
  • The St. Louis conference
  • Organising a conference
  • Congratulations to …
    • Richard Welke
    • Richard Baskerville
  • Social theory and Y2K

Secrets of IFIP WG8.2

Sadly, this will be my last column as WG 8.2 chair. I've enjoyed serving as an officer for very nearly the past decade, and it is incredible how quickly the time has flown. Perhaps my last hurrah should be the revelation of all the secrets I've learned in this wonderful series of roles. Ok—don't panic, maybe I won't reveal all the secrets.

There is a secret way to become a member of WG 8.2. We maintain three categories of people on our mailing lists: (1) members (2) friends (associate members) and (3) IFIP officers. The normal path to membership is through service: qualifying for election by participation in two of three sequential business meetings as a friend. The group elects its members from its qualified friends.

The path to membership is then through our parent organisation: IFIP Technical Committee 8 (TC8). This committee has the power to appoint members to its Working Groups. As it happens, TC 8 has traditionally allowed its working groups to initiate and advise the Committee on respective working group membership changes and it has chosen to follow this advice. There are secret ways to become an officer of WG 8.2. There are only three elected officers: chair, vice-chair, and secretary. We have some enduring traditions about these officers that complicate elections. One tradition has been the North American/European exchange of chair. The national affiliation of the chair hops back and forth between these.

Another tradition has been to move our chairs through the three offices. The vice-chair is assumed to be 'chair-elect', and the secretary is assumed to be 'vice-chair-elect'. Although traditional, this process is confirmed every three years through elections such as the one just held on-line this past spring and summer. Therefore, a person accepting a nomination for secretary is making an implicit nine-year commitment to WG 8.2.

Incidentally, we deviated from these traditions in this most recent election. Our new secretary, Michael Myers (NZ), is neither North American nor European. Indeed, a slight change in the 'rules' might be to replace 'North American/European' with 'North American/Rest of the World'. This reflects our membership, as just over 50% of members are from North America but we have many members in the 'Far East', Australia/NZ and South Africa, as well as Europe.

All of this tradition makes elections rather complex to orchestrate. The outgoing chair not only has to assemble an election committee, but also to ensure that the election opens for nominations with at least one slate of willing nominees for these offices who meet the traditional criteria. Typically, the chair will search for willing nominees from among the members who have been successful in organising working conferences and working conference programs. Therein lies another secret way to becoming an officer of WG 8.2 - you need to have been actively involved in a successful WG 8.2 working conference.

Like membership elections, TC 8 has traditionally allowed its working groups to initiate and advise the Committee on respective working group officers; and this advice has been treated as "final" by TC 8 chairs. New officers elected by WG 8.2 are brought to TC 8 meetings by the WG 8.2 chair, recorded and forwarded to IFIP without further action by TC 8.

We also have many ad hoc committees: election committees, internal task groups, working conference organising committees (composed of working conference general, program and organising chairs), and working conference programme committees.

In addition, there is also one standing committee. This is the awards committee, and it is composed of all WG 8.2 members who hold IFIP awards (Distinguished Service Award or Silver Core Award). It meets electronically each year and typically forwards a nomination for one person for an IFIP award to TC 8 which forwards these to the IFIP Assembly. The awards are decided by election of the IFIP General Assembly.

Herein lies the secret about IFIP awards for WG 8.2 members. Nominations can come from elsewhere than technical committees, for example, from the floor of the Assembly. Indeed, last year three WG 8.2 members: myself, David Avison (GB) , and Bernie Glasson (AUS) - who is TC 8 Chair were all three surprised and honoured to be among those elected to Silver Core Awards from the Assembly without nomination from TC 8 or WG 8.2.

Incidentally, another well-kept secret is the source of the abbreviations that are used to identify the national affiliation of delegates to IFIP WG 8.2. IFIP adopts the same ISO standard used to identify the nationality of automobiles, which is different from postal and Internet abbreviations. Thus, we use 'GB' instead of 'UK'. (OK, some of our secrets are really boring.)

IFIP WG 8.2 has a secret central co-ordinator. We have one officer who is appointed by the chair rather than elected by the Working Group. This officer is the Webmaster, Kevin Crowston (USA). As the WG shifts into the style of electronic commerce, Kevin is becoming increasingly central to group function. For example, Kevin arranged for us to use the on-line election software and provided the middleware to connect this software with our membership database. He has to connect each conference, paper call, and paper submission page to the site. He has to co-ordinate on-line member/friend address changes with the WG 8.2 secretary and from there with TC 8 and IFIP. Kevin even made time to register WG 8.2's new web address ( The electronic path from the chair's desktop to Kevin's web page is travelled daily. Effectively, Kevin is the central co-ordinator, and this workload is fast increasing beyond what we have a right to expect from an individual member. He has to connect each conference, paper call, and paper submission page to the site. He has to co-ordinate on-line member/friend address changes with the WG 8.2 secretary and from there with TC 8 and IFIP. Right now, the things that look easy on-line, can precipitate rather messy backroom processes. Kevin's hard work and growing workload is a well-kept secret.

The process by which the conferences and conference officers are chosen is also a well-kept secret. Conference officers usually step forward voluntarily by approaching the WG 8.2 chair with an idea for a working conference programme theme, a working conference venue, or a workshop. The chair and the other WG officers usually help develop these ideas and nurse them into the context of the WG 8.2 aims and scope, and then help link them into a workable network. In other words, we try to connect the people-with-programme-ideas with people-with-venue-ideas. As a conference theme and venue mature into a proposal the organising committee increasingly takes more of the initiative. By the time a proposal is brought to a WG 8.2 business meeting, it may have been under development for as much as a year, and should be well formulated. Not all proposals get as far as the business meeting.

There are also secret rewards. The organisers may have strong individual interests in developing new knowledge in the particular area addressed by the working conference. Perhaps this motive is because of their individual or institutional research programmes, or in gathering a particular set of scholars at the proposed geographical region to permit access by a local community of scholars, practitioners or students.

Along the lines of personal rewards, there are secret money purses in WG 8.2. The secret money purses sit in the institutions and pockets of our individual members. These institutions often sponsor our work by quietly providing meeting facilities, postage, photocopying, office support, etc. But it goes even deeper than this. Being an officer of the group, I have discovered, over the years, just how many times our members reach into their personal purses to further the work of the group.

Secretly, WG 8.2 is an incredibly dedicated and motivated collection of individuals who are interested in advancing our understanding of information systems and organisations, and are willing to dedicate to this effort, their time, their resources, and their connections. I totally admire the collective work of this group.

Richard Baskerville
Chair IFIP WG8.2

A Message to the Librarian……

The mission of IFIP includes dissemination of knowledge. As a working group, we would like to ensure that our books are easily available through the university library systems. Members and friends who are faculty members are asked to clip or copy the form below, fill in their names and institutes, and send it to their university librarian. Room is also provided on the form to conform to other procedures required, such as a statement of justification.


Please add the following book to our collection:

New Information Technologies in Organizational Processes:
Field Studies and Theoretical Reflections on the Future of Work

ISBN 0-7923-8578-0
July 1999, 312 pp.
NLG 310.00 / USD 150.00 / GBP 97.50

For customers in the Americas:

Kluwer Academic Publishers
Order Department
P.O. Box 358, Accord Station
Hingham, MA 02018-0358

Tel : (781) 871-6600
Fax : (781) 681-9045
E-mail : moc.pakw|rewulk#moc.pakw|rewulk

Rest of the World:

Kluwer Academic Publishers
Book Department
P.O. Box 322
3300 AH Dordrecht
The Netherlands

Tel : (+31) 78 639 23 92
Fax : (+31) 78 654 64 74
E-mail : ln.pakw|secivres#ln.pakw|secivres

V.A.T. Code: NL 00319932B48


At the business meeting in Philadelphia in June 1997, the membership agreed to set up a task group to investigate the communications strategy for IFIP WG 8.2, that is, to discuss how communication was occurring within the group and to identify possible improvements by using information technologies more effectively. The task force included Chrisanthi Avgerou, David Avison, Kevin Crowston, Elizabeth Davidson, Michael Myers and Burt Swanson. For several months in 1997, the group discussed via e-mail the possibilities and limitations for enhancing existing channels of communication or fostering new channels. Topics ranged from specific issues, such as publishing the Oasis newsletter on the web site to save mailing costs, to general ideas about using the web site as the electronic centre for interactive communications among group members. The groups' discussion was presented in lightly summarized form to the membership via the LISTSERV in late 1997, in the hopes of eliciting comments and feedback. Alas, only a few members responded. The topic of communication was on the agenda for the business meeting in Atlanta in December 1997, but no decisions were made to change existing communication practices.

My motive for volunteering for the communications task force was a desire to see the intellectually stimulating interactions that occur at each working conferences continue between, and also outside of, these face-to-face events. I am unable to attend all 8.2 conferences and I seldom encounter fellow 8.2'ers except at our own conferences or at ICIS. Using electronic media to stay "in the loop" appealed to me. In addition, IFIP WG 8.2 has grown over the years into a virtual community of practice focused on the "the generation and dissemination of descriptive and normative knowledge about the development and use of information technologies in organizational contexts" (IFIP WG82 homepage).

From a theoretical and practical perspective, it seemed interesting to consider whether and how use of information technologies might facilitate this virtual community of practice. Given members' interest in organizational uses of information technology and their appreciation of field work and action research, it appeared that WG 8.2 could provide a test case for experimenting with IT use in a volunteeristic, knowledge-based community.

I realize that my interests may not be shared by all 8.2 members. However, at the risk of beating a dead issue, I would like to raise the question of communications within the IFIP WG8.2 community once more. Has interest in enhancing communications within the WG 8.2 community evaporated or are there others who believe as I do, that we might strengthen our community if we could strengthen communications through IT use?

One possibility is that communication practices and channels, as they exist today, are more than adequate for the functioning of the organization. As one task force member commented, "we mustn't under-rate our success story. IFIP8.2 is the largest of the working groups and growing. The newsletter is widely distributed and seems to get positive feedback. Our conferences are well attended and again get very positive feedback in terms of quality on the one hand and friendliness on the other." Another possibility is that few members have the time and the motivation to increase their participation in the community's discourse. As another task force member commented, "I suspect that most members are overloaded with communications opportunities rather than lacking outlets." If members are already participating in WG8.2 at the level they desire, there is no constituency for enhanced information-sharing channels.

While I believe both situations are true to a great extent, it's possible that the distributed nature of the community, as well as the task force itself, contributed to the dissipation of interest in thinking about, and possibly expanding, channels of communication within WG 8.2. With this thought in mind, I agreed to write an article for Oasis. First, let's consider existing channels of communication.

  • The IFIP8.2 listserv is used for e-mailing brief announcements, calls for papers, and so on. Administrative tasks such as nominating officers are also conducted via the listserv. Occasionally (though not recently), flurries of discussion occur. The 8.2 listserv generates fewer e-mails than broader lists like ISWORLD, and quite a few of the announcement-type messages originate outside the 8.2 community. While I can appreciate having fewer e-mails in my inbox, my impression is that, in recent months, communication within the 8.2 community has dropped off. Do we have nothing to say to one another, or are we overly cautious about bothering others with e-mail?
  • The web site, which is maintained by webmaster Kevin Crowston, serves as a source of public information for and about the IFIP WG8.2 community. For example, it contains a statement the organization's scope and objectives, membership criteria, and a member list with links to members' homepages, among other items. It also functions as a partial archive of information generated by the group's activities, such as business meeting minutes, links to former and upcoming conference web sites, and recently, links to proceedings of the Joint WG 8.2 and WG 8.6 conference. While the existing site is quite nice as a passive source for distributing information, it provides no forum for interaction and exchange among members.
  • The working conferences provide two major channels of communication: face-to-face interactions at conference events and the published conference proceedings. On a smaller scale, day-long WG8.2 workshops furnish similar opportunities. These are perhaps the communication channels that 8.2'ers value most highly. However, I'm often left with the feeling that interesting and valuable discussions begun in panels, in paper discussions, or even over lunch, are left unfinished when the time allocated runs out or the conference ends. We've begun to publish some of the discussants' comments with the proceedings, but we've yet (to my knowledge) to publish the essence of discussions that occur spontaneously at the meetings, though this has been talked about for several years.
  • Business meetings are another face-to-face setting in which the administrative activities of the group are discussed and voted upon. Communication in meetings is supplemented by use of the listserv (e.g., soliciting nominations). Communication regarding administration and planning for IFIP WG 8.2 and its conferences undoubtedly occurs in one-to-one (or few-to-few) communications among the organization's officers, conference organizers, and subsets of the membership (such as the communications task force) using whatever media are available and appropriate (e.g., e-mail, phone, meetings).

All in all, it's not a bad situation. But could it be better? Here are some suggestions discussed among the communications task force with my own embellishments added.

The Oasis newsletter, with announcements about the activities of the group, summaries of events, and perhaps short articles is quite successful and should be continued for now in paper format. However, we could also publish the newsletter on the web site. An e-mail "postcard" via the listserv would alert members when the new edition is posted and might increase traffic to the web site, since the on-line version would arrive more quickly than the paper version. Members could elect not to hardcopy, saving some printing and mailing costs. Those who prefer paper copies would still be accommodated.

More urgent news, ephemeral views, and limited discussions should continue to utilize the listserve, perhaps with less fear of annoying others with excessive e-mail. More extensive discussions, polemics, or exchange of ideas would need another channel, such as a discussion bulletin board attached to the web page (or a public discussion server). For example, discussion topics could be set up after a conference to continue interesting discourse or to generate discussion of topics for upcoming conferences.

We could use the web site to disseminate more information, and more types of information. For example, we could publish seminal papers from past conferences and abstracts from earlier proceedings and upcoming proceedings (given copyright restrictions). We could invite members to post pointers to working papers on the web site, with the goal of stimulating others in the community to read and comment on the paper. If we do make the web site more central to WG 8.2 communications, we should commit to keeping it up-to-date and vital. Posting items on the web site also raises editorial policy issues. The editor of OASIS has content control over what gets published. Would we be willing to allow members to publish on the Web without editorial review, or would someone need to assume editorial responsibility?

We could begin to use the web site more interactively. We should plan to use electronic submission and reviewing for conference submissions, but we might also use the web site to facilitate participation in (and sharing of responsibilities for) conference planning activities. Virtual sessions might be scheduled and operated for discussion of particular papers or targeted topics using real-time chat features. We might even open conferences and business meetings to real-time, virtual participation, for members who lack the financial resources to attend all meetings and conferences.

In offering these suggestions, I recognize there are critical questions about who will shoulder the burden of setting up and administering these channels of communication. If such ideas are appealing, individuals will likely volunteer. However, to persist and grow, these additional channels of communication must offer real value to the WG 8.2 community to catch the attention of and inspire participation by members. There must be a willing and interested constituency for such activities. Thus, I will end this article with an appeal to other 8.2'ers who may share my interests and perspectives to make themselves known so that we can determine if there is sufficient interest to institute any of these enhancements. I invite you to contact me at||nosdivad and to talk to me at the next business meeting in Charlotte, NC.

Elisabeth Davidson

The St. Louis Conference

The August IFIP Working Group 8.2 Conference in St Louis was a great success. There were approximately 60 participants, and the "smallness" of the conference (compared to many other conferences in IS) meant that there was plenty of opportunity for discussion and debate. In commenting on the conference, Eleanor Wynn said "With this conference, 8.2 has reached a new high and a new level of sophistication. The level of discussion has finally surpassed that of a social science conference."

The keynote speakers were Mark Poster and Heinz Klein. Mark Poster is Professor of History and Director of Film and Media Studies at the University of California, Irvine. He spoke on the subject of "Nations, Identities, and Global Technologies." He discussed how the Internet affects two features of the nation: sovereign borders and national identity. He contrasted the role of print in the formation of national identity with that of communication in cyberspace. He argued that, in addition to a global economy, we may be seeing the emergence of a global culture with severely diminished prominence of the nation. He also raised the question of a new global political unit and its possible relations to older forms of political community. Is the Internet a vehicle of U.S. domination or the basis of new political forms that combine the global and the local in new, possibly less hierarchical ways than in the past? What are the possibilities and challenges to the flow of information in this context? These were some of the question raised in his address.

Heinz Klein is Associate Professor at the State University of New York at Binghamton. He has been a member of IFIP Working Group 8.2 since 1982 and recently received an IFIP Distinguished Service Award. He spoke on the subject of "Knowledge and Methods in IS Research: From Beginnings to the Future." The main purpose of his paper was to identify some of the key challenges that the Information Systems research community needs to address in order to improve interpretive and critical research approaches in the next decade.

Dick Boland also contributed an interesting paper which was part biographical and part theoretical. In his critical paper Dick took issue with the way in which the notion of 'space' has dominated, and still dominates, our field of research. He did a very interesting walkthrough of his own research to show how he attempted to make sense of images of 'space'. He showed how the work of Jerome Bruner and Heri Bergson helped him to reconceive the typical problems he confronted in his earlier work through the temporalisation of narrative. He concluded in a very frank way by stating: "[s]o at this point I can only ask for giving more attention to the narrative mode without knowing exactly how to do so."

There were many other interesting papers and panels, however one of the highlights was a heated debate on "The Uses and Abuses of Evaluative Criteria for Qualitative Research Methods." This panel session was chaired by Richard Baskerville. While some of the panelists argued that evaluation principles or standards for qualitative research were helpful, Duane Truex warned against the use of criteria as a checklist. He said "The discourse needs to remain open." In the ensuing discussion many people supported the idea that principles or criteria for qualitative research were useful, as long as they were not used in mechanistic way.

We would like to record our appreciation to Marius Jansen for being the Organising Chair. For those of you who were not there, the proceedings of the conference have been published by Kluwer. See page 4 of Oasis for details.

Lucas Introna and Michael Myers

Organising a Conference

Organizing the St. Louis IFIP WG 8.2 in August 1999 has led me to make several observations that may be of help to future Organizing Chairs.

A successful conference requires a friendly and ongoing working relationship between Oganizing Chair and Program Committee Chair. The Program Chair is responsible for the conference theme, call for conference papers, and conference schedule; but for this to work, he or she needs input from the Organizing Chair.

The success of any conference depends on the number of participants. To bring about large numbers of conference participants requires advertising the conference to the scholarly community. The Organizing Chair can handle this task effectively and efficiently by establishing a web site several years in advance of conference dates. However, this again requires close coordination between the two Chairs because both chairs have many other responsibilities in addition to planning the conference, scheduling and other problems are bound to arise. These and other mishaps are sources of irritation that tax the patience of both chairs and, hence, a working relationship based on mutual respect between the chairs is essential to weather the frustrations entailed in organizing a conference.

Despite the aforementioned potential difficulties, being Organizing Chair is a very rewarding experience. My greatest surprise was how ready many IFIP WG 8.2 members were in helping out when needed. In the case of more detailed conference organizing suggestions visit my web site.

Marius Janson

Marius' website will surely be a marvellous source of inspiration for future WG8.2 conference organisers. We can all draw on this know-how following the success of St. Louis. Knowledge management in action!

Congratulations to …

  • Marius Janson who has been promoted to full professor at the University of St. Louis-Missouri (US) following his sterling work as organising chair for our 8.2 conference this year (is this just a coincidence? - ed.)
  • John Mingers who is now Chair at the University of Warwick (GB)
  • Steve Sawyer who has moved from Syracuse to Penn State (US) as Associate Professor
  • Philip Powell who has moved from Goldsmiths College, London to the University of Bath (GB) as Professor of Information Systems
  • Mike Chiasson who has joined the University of Calgary (CA) as Assistant Professor
  • and welcome and congratulations to Chris Hemingway (GB) and Ivan Aaen (DK), new members who joined the IFIP 8.2 family at St. Louis.

Richard Welke

Many congratulations to Dick Welke who has been presented with the IFIP Outstanding Service Award. Dick has contributed to IFIP 8.2 (and other IFIP groups) over many years and this award is well deserved. In his piece 'Secrets', Richard Baskerville talks about the many 'hidden' ways our members support the group. Perhaps it is an opportune moment to recognise one previously hidden contribution from Dick. As head of the IS group at Georgia State, Dick has agreed to cover the photocopying and mailing costs of Oasis for the past two years!

Richard Baskerville

This edition of OASIS marks the end of Dick Baskerville's period as chair of IFIP8.2.

In 1990 he was elected secretary of the group, then followed a three-year period as vice-chair and these last three years as chair. No one has worked harder than Dick over the past three years and more.

This has been a very successful three years for the group, with a growing membership, superb working conferences, workshops, and so on. Dick has been the inspiration behind so much of this success.

Dick has progressed the group greatly and he has been a very popular chair. I am sure that all members and friends of the working group would like to join me in saying a big 'thank you'.

Social theory and Y2K

At the recent meeting in St Louis, we went out to dinner with a North American colleague who told us about the preparations he was making for the consequences of the Y2K problem. Neither of us had made anything like the same preparations and so we began to reflect on whether this was simply a function of lack of organisational skills on our part, or whether it resulted from a rather different set of views about the ways in which society and technology were interrelated. In this short piece we will outline our different responses to this problem and show how they reflect different views of the ways in which technology and society interact.

Our preparations were relatively simple: in the days before the New Year's celebrations we were both planning to make a major trip to the local supermarket and withdraw a reasonable amount of cash. In many ways, we would be acting as though we were preparing to go for a fortnight's holiday in a small village that was unlikely to have a cash machine or a supermarket available nearby. In contrast, our colleague's plans included the stockpiling of large amounts of tinned food and water, the purchase of an emergency generator and means to defend his property.

Given our experiences with the computer industry, we are not so naïve as to believe that there will not be any problems arising as the year changes from 1999 to 2000. We do, however, believe that most organisations (especially large ones) have taken some steps to prepare for this event. It is unlikely that all systems have been tested, or that all potential problem areas have been fixed, but many of the obvious and fixable problems will have been addressed. One can also reasonably assume that any mission critical systems would have been checked, even if only to limit legal liability. Thus, total and complete collapse of society's infrastructure we believe is unlikely.

The role of consultants and activists in this matter must therefore be acknowledged. To a large extent, the awareness that has been raised about this issue means that organisations have been forced to take steps to address these problems and, as the recent relatively uneventful roll-over for global positioning systems shows, public awareness and active interventions can minimise likely disruption.

Despite these activities, however, there are likely to be some areas which have been not been tested or fixed and it is very possible that the failure of a single, minor component in one area could have knock-on ('second order') effects in a much larger system. We all know that the real devil in testing is in the integration and not only in the individual units. For example, the failure of a small electronically controlled valve in a power station could have major implications for the supply of electricity to a large area. However this assumes that these systems are tightly coupled. We do not believe this to be the case. Into this technologically interrelated system you have to add the human element. The tacit element in every form of work is large and under-appreciated. Very few systems are truly automatic. Most rely on human intervention to keep them going, even during 'normal operations'. There is nothing to suggest that workers who are continuously monitoring and fixing systems during normal operations will suddenly stop performing this role simply because the numerical value of the year has changed. It is far more likely that they will have an increased incentive to override any problems that arise in the system as quickly as possible. Thus we believe the 'meltdown' scenario is just not realistic.

Not only do we believe systems are not as automatic as generally assumed we also believe that humans are more inventive than we assume. There seems to be an assumption that systems failures would need to be addressed at a systems level and therefore become unmanageable. However, we would propose that many of the problems-caused by systems failure-need not be solved at a global level but can be solved on a local level. Such local bricolage attempts to keep systems running is more common than generally acknowledged.

Such efforts will substantially reduce the sort of cumulative effect argument that is often put forward by the commentators.

Given the above, we are generally more optimistic about the Y2K problem. We do believe there will be disruptions and inconveniences but that a wholesale 'meltdown' will not occur. Let us hope we are right.

Edgar A Whitley and Lucas D Introna

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