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Roger Clarke's 'Future of the IS Discipline'

A Perspective on the Future of the IS Discipline

Version of 6 December 2012

Notes for a Panel Session at the Australasian Conference in Information Systems (ACIS), at Deakin University, Geelong, 5 December 2012

Roger Clarke **

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The Panel: The Future of the IS Discipline

The Panel was organised by Robert Johnston (UCD, Uni Melbourne) and Dubravka Cecez-Kezmanovic (UNSW), and the other panellists were Kai Riemer (Uni Sydney) and Seamas Kelly (UCD).

Here is the overview.

Here are their slide-sets, in the order of presentation:

Speaking Notes

My personal perspective derives from my background as a pragmatist and practitioner, moderated by my role as a dilettante academic who funds his research from consultancy. I'm also now aged rather than aging, and I've done some work on various aspects of the history of the discipline. My starting-point is therefore: 'Let's look back at a definition of the discipline that was in use 20 years ago, and ask whether anything's actually wrong with it now'.

Slide 2 provides my longstanding definition of 'information system' and Slide 3 of the IS discipline. Key elements include system (i.e. 'interacting devices and human activities'); 'functions' (i.e. purposive activities); data and information; multi-disciplinarity; and impacts, implications and management of devices and technologies. Slide 4 shows the cognate disciplines as they were two decades ago, and (with only limited qualificactions) now as well.

We also need to consider the alternative foci for IS research (Slide 5). Our work has been particularly weak in relation to the last of the four - second-order effects.

The discipline has examined various Units of Study (Slide 6), but the Perspective it has adopted has mostly been that of the organisation, with either a 'technology in organisational contexts' flavour, or a management flavour (and most commonly rational management), looking at technology-based interventions into organisational behaviour. It may be appropriate for this to be the dominant Perspective within a Business School, but not where the IS discipline is hosted elsewhere in a university.

Slide 7 identifies other Perspectives that we've been very poor at adopting - those of individual human beings and various levels of agglomeration of people. We've treated people primarily as an object, seldom as a stakeholder. The weakness of the discipline's work in the social dimension exacerbates its failure to look beyond intended effects and unintended impacts to identify and understand implications.

We've been enthusiastic about Pure Research (Slide 8). But too much of our work has been Applied Research, choosing our topic based on the tools that are at our disposal. What the world needs is Instrumentalist Research, which selects topics on the basis of need, and searches for or devises solutions. It also needs Policy Research, but we've deprecated that as 'normative', 'value-loaded' and 'agenda-driven', and almost entirely avoided it.

We're familiar with and enthusiastic about scientific research (Slide 9), but we overlook important corollaries of our commitment to those ideals (Slide 10). Worst of all, we've treated Rigour as though it were paramount, which has been at enormous cost to Relevance. And we've perceived the instability and perturbability of phenomena as an inconvenience to be skulked around, rather than as a fact about the research domains that we have to confront. We're at risk of talking only to ourselves, because we have so little to offer anyone else.

That leads me to some Propositions about the current state of play (Slide 11), and my Prescriptions for a healthy future for the IS Discipline (Slide 12).


Clarke R. (1990) 'Information Systems: The Scope of the Domain' Working Paper, Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd, 1990, at

Clarke R. (1992) 'Fundamentals of 'Information Systems' Working Paper, Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd, September 1992, at

Clarke R. (2006) 'Key Aspects of the History of the Information Systems Discipline in Australia' Australasian Journal of Information Systems 14, 1 (November 2006) 123-140, at, PrePrint at

Clarke R. (2008) 'A Retrospective on the Information Systems Discipline in Australia' Chapter 2 of Gable G.G. et al. (2008) 'The Information Systems Discipline in Australia' ANU e-Press, 2008, pp. 47-107, at, PrePrint at

Clarke R. & Pucihar A. (2012) 'Electronic Interaction Research 1988-2012, through the Lens of the Bled eConference' Working Paper, Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd, 25 August 2012, at

Author Affiliations

Roger Clarke is Principal of Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd, Canberra. He is also a Visiting Professor in the Cyberspace Law & Policy Centre at the University of N.S.W., and a Visiting Professor in the Research School of Computer Science at the Australian National University.

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