Thursday, September 07, 2006

I will be chairing a panel at the International Conference on Information Systems. This is the second year in a row that I have organized a panel. The panel is titled: SOCIAL ACTIVISM IN IS RESEARCH: MAKING THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE. Panel members are Bob Galliers (Bentley College), Rick Watson (Univ of Georgia), Don McCubbrey (Univ of Denver), Michael Myers (University of Auckland), and Phillip Ein-Dor (Tel Aviv University). Here is a description of the panel:

Information Systems (IS) can play a salient role in the transformation of our societies, especially in less-developed (or under-served) communities. IS can be used to benefit citizens in these societies through improvements in education, government, healthcare, social, and entrepreneurial systems. It would be a mistake to think that under-served communities can develop without optimal deployment of IS, after all advanced societies depended on IS to boost their development. The realization that IS offers potential benefit to improve the livelihood of the less-privileged is not new or recent. However, what is not clear is what should be the role of IS researchers in addressing the needs of the under-served communities?

On a philanthropic level, we might all believe that IS researchers should get involved in addressing the needs of the under-served communities. However, this is not the same as being pragmatic and actually taking required steps to act in a tangible and measurable manner. Hence, the question is raised – is addressing the needs of the under-served communities a lofty ideal or an actionable proposal? It would be irresponsible to leave the issue as a lofty ideal. Hence, we should address the question - how can we transform it from a lofty ideal to an actionable proposal?

The answer lies in the taking steps to transform the structure of our academic community by re-examining the fundamentals – teaching, research, and service. Examining these fundamentals, we should ask how our current goals, incentives, and efforts are addressing the needs of the under-served communities. More specifically, we must look at to what degree we are being cognizant of the needs of under-served communities when we chart our goals, plan our efforts, and devise incentives. Moreover, we must also recognize that studying IS issues in under-served communities can inform and deepen our understanding of contemporary research issues. For example, the IT infrastructures in under-served communities will not resemble those of their counterparts in advanced societies. We should look at how these newer designs (e.g. wireless-based networks, digital libraries, etc) can revolutionize traditional practices in advanced societies. Hence, while IS research that has been conducted in advanced societies can contribute to efforts in the under-served communities, we must also appreciate the reality that IS deployments in under-served communities can in fact inform our current research problems, approaches, and even the practice of IS.

Unless we take steps to transform the current structure of academe to make significant impacts on how we conduct and disseminate research (e.g., appreciating the difficulty of solving messy problems in under-served communities), educate our students (e.g., engaging students in the generation of knowledge that can be consumed by under-served communities), and engage in societal efforts (e.g., rewarding efforts that are geared to building bridges between social organizations such as the U.N. UNESCO, World Bank, and the IS scholarly community), we risk being spectators to the impact of IS in under-served communities rather than directing this effort. This position is not only undesirable, but also will be irresponsible as we would be under-utilizing and mis-using the intellectual resources that have taken considerable effort to develop.

The goal of this panel will be to encourage change in the IS research community via the Association of Information Systems by debating methods for addressing the needs of the under-served communities. Some of the questions that will be discussed include:

1. How do we build IS research programs that make an impact on addressing the needs of the under-served communities?
2. Is use of IS a cause of development, or does the use of IS expand when communities are more developed? Or is it an iterative process: more development leads to greater use of IS, which in turn promotes greater development?
3. How do we deploy our current knowledge resources to better address the needs of the under-served communities?
4. How do we learn from the novelties of IS deployments in under-served communities to help inform research and practice in the advanced societies?
5. How do we engage stakeholders outside our research community to develop fruitful alliances to better achieve the goal of addressing the needs of the under-served communities?
6. How do we educate and equip future researchers (e.g. doctoral students) and practitioners (e.g. graduate and undergraduate students) to be sensitive to the needs of the under-served communities?

I look forward to seeing you at ICIS.