|Gove Nathaniel Allen, Ph.D.||Assistant Professor of Information Systems, Brigham Young University|
Statement of Research Interests
Humans have significant strengths and weaknesses with respect to information processing. Some of the weaknesses are particularly evident in everyday life. They forget birthdays and anniversaries, they have great difficulty dealing with more than seven (plus or minus two) units of information at a time, they have difficulty making other than linear projections, virtually all of their memory is subject to decay, they remember things that never happened, and they ignore new information which contradicts previously obtained information. Computer-based information systems have been developed to help deal with many of these weaknesses.
Another human information processing competency is seen in our ability to deal with information when it is presented in the format of a story—or as current research calls it, a narrative. Brunner (1990) has identified that information is shared effectively through the use of narrative. Robinsin and Hawpe (1991) further identified that humans use narrative for sensemaking. Orr (1990) demonstrated that narrative is an effective tool for communicating tacit knowledge. Boland and Tenkasi (1995) discuss that narrative and "perspective taking" can be effective at spanning the boundaries between communities of knowing. They further discuss ways of analyzing narrative and identify that narratives can be broken into a sequence of events of varying impact to the overall story. Further Tulving (cited by Stien and Zwass 1995) discusses that human memory is organized into event and skill memory. The work of Shenk (1991) supports the notion that events are fundamental to the way that humans organize information about their environment.
The human information processing competencies associated with narrative structure as well as the evidence that human memory has specific structures for dealing with event information lead me to pursue the area of narrative/event structure as tool for improving the development of information systems. I do not intend to develop new methods for implementing information systems; rather, I intend to use the theories that underlie the narrative competency in the comparison of existing methodologies that make use of the ideas of event-organization and narrative in varying degrees.
Data modeling is a specific area of information system development in which event-organization and narrative are particularly significant. A data model is intended to represent the "semantics" or "natural structure" of "things" in the domain serviced by the information system. An analyst must determine these semantics through interaction with the community of users. Methodologies proposed to accomplish this vary in their emphasis on events and narrative.
Companies spend vast amounts of money on the development of information systems. All too often, the systems developed do not meet companies’ needs. There are theoretical reasons to believe that event-organization and narrative aid human understanding of complex phenomena. Business phenomena for which information systems are developed can be extremely complex. Analysts and users must both understand them. Event-organization and narrative should facilitate this process. If it does, then this type of methodology should result in more effective system development efforts and more effective information system utilization.