Knowledge transfer patterns

Title and research questions

Specific purpose of this research is the investigation of knowledge transfer patterns between “sciences” and “humanities”, using the population of management information systems (MIS) professionals as a test group.

I would like to investigate how specific sociological categories, in particular „field“ and „habitus“ (cp. Bourdieu, Clifford) might be used to position the science of „management information systems“ (MIS) in Germany (German: „Wirtschaftsinformatik“ = ‘computer science in business’). I am especially curious whether one can draw conclusions regarding a (necessary) re-positioning of MIS in Germany, which is considered a „Realwissenschaft“ (cp. Carnap), thereby living a shadow-life compared to the position of MIS internationally. In particular, German MIS is not taken entirely serious as a science by either the social nor by the natural sciences. This would do no harm were it not for the fact that it inhibits the knowledge transfer between these sciences and MIS. When, as is frequently the case in business, the application of information systems has a political or aesthetic dimension, this dimension is not perceived as such by German MIS experts. My assumption and experience is that a successful transfer of concepts and cases from both the social sciences and the natural sciences into MIS would actually improve the business application and implementation processes. Different management decisions would be made, and management decisions would appear in a different light.

A specific example is the predominant role of SAP as a developer of ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) systems in medium- to large-sized businesses. In order to make an informed and optimised decision about the purchase, implementation and support of such an ERP system, non-technical categories such as motivation, cultural values, competences and organisational suitability, might determine the success of the deployment of these systems. However, in practice, advice and theoretical underpinnings provided by German MIS are extremely single-minded and focused on technical categories. My inference is that this is in part due to a lack of knowledge transfer from other disciplines. This slows down innovation processes in firms.

2. Proposed course of research

The proposed research project will take place in four different phases: (1)Qualitative investigation of a suitable target group consisting of both academic MIS researchers at German universities, and MIS practitioners in German companies, (2)Identification of an appropriate theoretical foundation: what are ‘field’ and ‘habitus’ in German MIS, creation of a framework (3)Qualitative extraction of criteria for MIS as a science from the data using the identified theoretical framework, and creation of suitable scenarios (4)Drawing initial conclusions from the limited data set and the limited framework to establish whether or not this line of research yields useful results. This includes criteria that could be used both in the academic environment (teaching and training) and in business practice.

3. View points

This research is epistemological by nature, in the sense of ‘epistemology’ as defined by George Canguilhem (1964): the critical study of principles, methods and results of a science, including an evaluation of the results in relation to the methods, and of the methods in relation to the underlying principles. Epistemology in this sense can, according to Canguilhem, develop into a theory of knowledge regarding the investigated science, but it need not do that. The choice of MIS as a target group is the result of practical rather than principal considerations: it should be possible to generalise the theoretical framework so that other sciences of similar character as MIS, with similar tensions and issues, can be investigated – e.g. economics.

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