Critical complementarism and information systems : a total systems approach to computer-based information systems strategy and development
This thesis is about intervening in organisations to improve both operational and strategic computer-based information systems. It addresses a particular situation, in which human activity is seen to be a key factor in the success of the system. A stance is taken regarding current approaches to such development, supported by historical analysis of both the theory and practice of such approaches: in particular, the failure of traditional information systems development methodologies to address these situations is seen to question their validity. A review of existing theory and practice shows that computer-based information systems development appears to be dominated by functionalist, reductionist, engineering methods, marginally challenged by soft, interpretivist approaches. Analysis of the computer-based information systems development domain shows this to be an impoverished view, and indicates that an approach based on social systems is likely to be more representative of the problem situations faced. As a result, computer-based information systems development is taken beyond the 'hard-soft' debate, into a search for theoretical underpinning and practical approaches informed from social theory. However, whilst the theory is readily available, the application of that theory to computer-based information systems development is seen to be problematic. Potential improvement is achieved by the development of an interventionist framework which is based on a branch of social systems theory, that of critical social theory, and which draws heavily on work already undertaken in the domain of management science under the headings of critical systems thinking and total systems intervention. This framework is applied to two case studies and a major, longitudinal action research based investigation. The findings strongly support computer-based information systems development based on social, and especially critical social, theories. These findings are critiqued within the study, and from this emerge clear conclusions, and recommendations for future development.