"a branch of philosophy concerned with articulating the nature and structure of the world."By ontology is sometimes also meant a set of terms and their associated definitions intended to describe the world in question (e.g., Uschold, 1995:1).
The term epistemology denotes (Hirschheim et al., 1995:20)
"the nature of human knowledge and understanding that can possibly be acquired through different types of inquiry and alternative methods of investigation."Guba and Lincoln (1994:108) categorize alternative inquiry paradigms according to their stance on the following three questions:
When speaking of the phenomena that are of interest in the "world", the term Universe of Discourse (UoD) is used. This term is well established within conceptual modeling (e.g., Sølvberg and Kung, 1993:173).
Ontological and epistemological questions concern what is commonly referred to as a person's Weltanschauung or worldview. Weltanschauung can be described as (Merriam-Webster, 1997)
"a comprehensive conception or apprehension of the world especially from a specific standpoint"Two different worldviews will be considered: An objectivistic (section ) and a constructivistic (section ). As will be argued in proceeding discussions, an actor's worldview has profound influence on the perceived relative importance of aspects of enterprise modeling.
The two strands presented here are intended as stereotyped accounts of possible worldviews. One may find actors enacting one of them or both of them. Weick (1995:35), in his advice to students of sense-making, even advocates what he refers to as ontological oscillation, "changing" view depending on the situation.
Again, as for discussions of alternative research strategies in section 1.3.1, none of the worldviews are considered to be unconditionally superior to the other. Both may be appropriate for some purposes and insufficient or overly complex for other purposes. Boland and Tenkasi (1995) provide a theory of knowledge production and use that allow for incorporation of ideas from both worldviews. Their theory will be presented in section and used for analysis of enterprise modeling in the sequel.
Epistemologically, observers get their knowledge about the world by
experiencing it. It is generally possible for humans to investigate the
world without influencing it (Guba and Lincoln, 1994:110). The ideal approach
to investigation of the UoD is the scientific method of research, and replicable
observations are considered to represent the truth.
|With an objectivistic worldview, a mountain is a mountain for everyone, a product is a product for everyone, and a work process is a work process for everyone. The meaning of a phenomenon is inherent to the phenomenon and can be experienced by interacting with it.|
A widely accepted objectivist view of communication is as sending of messages between actors in accordance with Shannon's conduit model of communication (e.g., Shannon, 1987) or variants thereof. Shannon (ibid.:223) states explicitly that
"Frequently the messages have meaning; that is they refer to or are correlated according to some system with certain physical or conceptual entities. These semantic aspects of communication are irrelevant to the engineering problem."Thus, the model concerns the transfer of a message from point A to point B, and is not developed for semantic aspects of communication.
Firstly, realities are local and specific in the sense that they vary between groups of individuals (Guba and Lincoln, 1994:110). Constructions, being ontological elements of realities, are not absolutely true or correct in any sense, only more or less informed and sophisticated (Schwandt, 1994:129). However, even if all constructions are meaningful, some may rather be termed malconstructions, as they obviously are too simplistic or inconsistent. Whether a construction is malformed depends upon the paradigm the constructor operates within.
Secondly, reality is actively constructed, i.e., not merely discovered. Hence, the distinction between ontology and epistemology is blurred, as what constitutes reality depends on a particular actor and his values (Guba and Lincoln, 1994:111). The objective, value-free actor does not exist.
Thirdly, reality is socially constructed, i.e., the constructions are not personal or technical (Dahlbom, 1992:101). Although perception and thinking necessarily is individual, the construction process involves other social and cultural artifacts and therefore inevitably becomes social.
To formulate a more powerful analytical framework, the work of Gjersvik (1993b) is investigated more closely. Gjersvik has adapted the original ideas of Berger and Luckmann (1967) to better fit organizations. The main elements of his model of social construction of reality in organizations are illustrated in figure 3.1.
The process in can be read as follows, starting with local reality: Actors in an organization have their private local realities, that is, subjective beliefs, views and values. Local realities are systems of meaning that are perceived by the actor to be valid -- they are reality. Groups of actors can also be considered to have local realities (from an analytical point of view). Local realities are not explicated theories of reality, although elements may be reflected upon.
Actors make their local realities more or less accessible to other actors through a process of externalization, i.e., enactment of their local reality. Actors communicate through their actions and act through their communication (speaking is also acting). Gjersvik (1993b:47) considers the most common ways to externalize local realities as through construction of language, objects and artifacts, and institutions.
Externalization implies construction of an organizational reality through objectivation. The organizational reality is inter-subjective and may include elements like institutions, roles, language, knowledge, objects, routines, technology, commitments and history (Gjersvik, 1993b:51). Organizational reality structures and restricts human action and thereby makes actions predictable and to some degree also controllable.
Organizational reality is interpreted by individual actors and made sense of through a process of internalization. Internalization is interpretation of elements of organizational reality (constructions) in terms of the actor's local reality.
Externalization and internalization of realities occur both continuously and simultaneously, despite the neat sequence depicted in . The process is an ongoing part of all human activity.
When the actors in an organization are reproducing the same organizational reality, in the sense that the same questions, problems and solutions keep reappearing, one may talk of closure in the organization. Gjersvik (1993a:20) states that
"the term 'closure' may easily be interpreted as negative. However, closure is something that all human societies and organizations need in order to have a common orientation, so that joint actions are possible."The negative aspects of closure arise when it occurs prematurely or is dominated and controlled by a few actors' realities. Premature closure implies that the organizational reality might not be optimal, and closure dominated by a few actors' local realities are candidates for conflict at a later stage (in case of breakdowns).
|Agreement upon a method for enterprise modeling might illustrate the concept of closure. Assume that a project leader have prepared an enterprise modeling method for her project in advance. If the organizational reality enforces that "the boss is always right", the project participants might accept the method and work according to it, reproducing the organizational reality. However, if breakdowns in the process occur due to problems with the method, the premature closure of the method might strike back on the project leader, as her local reality dominated the closure.|
Communication from a constructivist point of view is also a process of social construction, as externalization can be viewed as a generalization of speaking, and internalization is to perceive, interpret and make sense of the externalized constructions.
A community of knowing may be comprised of a single actor or a group of actors, but the main characteristic is that different perspectives in some sense are incommensurable (otherwise, they would not belong to different communities of knowing). As Boland and Tenkasi (ibid.:351) claim,
"Thought worlds with different funds of knowledge and systems of meaning cannot easily share ideas, and may view one another's central issues as esoteric, if not meaningless."The construction of a perspective within a community of knowing is referred to as perspective making, and attempting to understand the perspectives of other communities as perspective taking.
Perspective taking is claimed to be a foundation of coordinated action in organizations, enabling actors to make assumptions about other actors and their behavior. Boland and Tenkasi (ibid.:358) state that
"Much of social behavior is predicated upon assumptions an actor makes about the knowledge, beliefs and motives of others. This is the beginning of perspective taking, and is fundamental to communication."A prerequisite of perspective taking is the ability and willingness of actors to be reflective. Reflectivity is (ibid.:362)
"the ability to periodically suspend our natural attitude and notice the matter-of-course, taken-for-granted ways in which our communities of knowing are constructed and interpreted, which can open possibilities to change them."Without reflection, actors are not able to change their own perspectives. Hence, perspective taking is not simply an act of sharing information -- it is an act of changing one's conviction of what is true and correct and, at the extreme, questioning of one's own worldview.
Another prerequisite for perspective taking to be possible is that the perspectives of other communities are externalized in some way, e.g., in terms of artifacts. These artifacts are referred to as boundary objects, stressing the role they play in the communication of perspectives across the border between communities of knowing. Examples of boundary objects are narratives, cognitive maps and models.
The theories of human cognition discussed by Boland and Tenkasi are a rational information processing mode (Simon, 1977) referred to as the paradigmatic mode, and a narrative mode (Bruner, 1990). For communication, the conduit model (Shannon and Weaver, 1949) is contrasted to a language game model (Wittgenstein, 1974). The details of these theories will not be discussed here (as they do not play a decisive role in the sequel). The essential observation is rather their ontological and epistemological assumptions.
Boland and Tenkasi (ibid.:354) provide an overview of key assumptions underlying on one hand the paradigmatic mode and the conduit model (e.g., reality is given, knowledge about it is universally true and realization of objective knowledge is a rational process) and on the other hand the narrative mode and the language game model (reality is socially constructed and knowledge about it results from narration and playing of language games). The underlying assumptions listed in (ibid.:354) match very well what has been discussed in sections and as objectivistic and constructivistic worldviews, respectively.
Hence, the theory is a promising basis for developing a framework for analyzing enterprise modeling as a means to support human sense-making and communication: Both existing frameworks for enterprise modeling and observations from empirical studies can be analyzed to see whether they fit most comfortably with the assumptions associated with an objectivistic worldview or a constructivistic worldview. In this way, a comparison of alternatives is enabled within the same analytical framework.
|Meaning||Inherent to the phenomenon, can be experienced or defined.||How the phenomenon is related to phenomena already a part of the local reality. Meaning is local to community.|
|Sense-making||Rational information processing (identification of causal relationships).||Never-ending interpretation against changing horizon (hermeneutics), and construction of stories that are plausible and interesting.|
|Communication||Exchanging messages (messages have fixed meaning).||Communication is externalization (action, both creation of artifacts and speech) and internalization (interpretation, sense-making).|
The different qualities of sense-making described in are consistent with Weick's (1995:95) discussion of occasions for sense-making. In case of perceived uncertainty (in the sense lack of interpretations), sense-making involves scanning, discovery and retrieval of information that enables the actors to attribute meaning to the phenomenon in question. In case of ambiguity (in the sense too many interpretations), Weick calls for social construction and invention of coherent wholes (in terms of stories) that make various interpretations meaningful.
Table 3.2 provides an overview of core concepts, each described from
either objectivist or constructivist point of view.
|Community of knowing||Group of more or less knowledgeable actors.||Group of actors with shared vocabulary, values, beliefs, etc.|
|Perspective||Shared, objective knowledge. Focus on causal relationships, formal logic and precise definitions.||Local reality meaningful to a particular community of knowing, manifest as narratives, artifacts with local meaning, etc.|
|Perspective making||Development of more accurate causal laws and more precise definitions. The scientific method is ideal.||Construction of a community's local reality through externalization and internalization.|
|Perspective taking||Scanning, retrieval and processing of information.||Internalization of local reality of other community of knowing.|
|Boundary object||Explicit and more or less accurate representation of an actor's knowledge.||Externalized construction being inherently ambiguous. Meaning depends on interpreting actor.|
Considering the appropriateness of the competing models of sense-making and communication, an objectivistic worldview can be defended when the focus is on distribution of information with a meaning that is reasonably well known to the actors (e.g., within a community that have developed a stable and mature perspective). A constructivistic worldview may be more appropriate for discussion of communication between actors with very different backgrounds (different local realities, e.g., between different perspectives or within perspective that is immature and evolving).