A critical approach to the development of a framework to support the evaluation of information strategies in UK Higher Education Institutions
The objective of this thesis has been to develop a framework to support the evaluation of information strategies of UK higher education institutions (REIs). For this study the theoretical and empirical literature was extensively reviewed and four substantial pieces of empirical research were conducted. These included action research CAR), two pieces of ethnographic research, and a case study. The AR analysed problems encountered with a Student Records System at a UK university and identified both immediate and deeper causes for these problems. Ethnography I involved the researcher's participation in the information strategy development process at the same university: This included consideration of the development processes adopted and also the way that decisions were taken. Ethnography II consisted of participant observation at a range of workshops and conferences organised by the Joint Information Systems Committee on information strategy development at UK REIs. These provided a broad picture of information strategy development procedures being adopted across these HEls. The case study investigated in detail the implementation of an information strategy at a university different from that examined in AR and Ethnography I. These empirical investigations all included in-depth interviews. In total 117 people of various levels and backgrounds involved in information strategies and associated information systems within UK HEIs were interviewed. Key findings from the empirical research were: Many HEIs in the process of developing an information strategy, or about to do so, were not fully sure how this should be achieved nor the extent of the likely benefits. Most HEIs implementing information strategies were using top-down directed system approaches, leaving little room for more inclusive bottom-up emergent planning. Information strategies need to be developed and evaluated using strongly human-centred methods, primarily because it became apparent that the successful functioning of such a strategy is dependent on the motivation and competencies of the people who create and use the information. Investigations into aspects of information strategy development and implementation need to focus on people's perceptions of the situation rather than seeking an objective truth independent of the participants. This reflects a Kantian perspective of knowledge. Overall, the empirical findings supported the use of a Critical Systems Thinking approach in the evaluation of information strategies at higher education institutions. The development of the evaluative framework, the main objective of the thesis, took place in two phases: developing the framework based on the literature review and revising the framework from the empirical research investigations involving a process of critical iteration. The first phase identified a range of elements associated with an HErs information strategy, and for each element highlighted the relevant theoretical andlor empirical literature that bears on the issues being addressed. In particular, the framework is strongly influenced by insights drawn from the work of three key social theorists: Kant, Habermas and Foucault. In addition, the framework includes 'guidelines for evaluation', where these are more practical questions to ask and areas to investigate when evaluating a given element ofthe strategy. The second phase took the framework through a series of reflections and revisions based on the findings from the empirical investigations. In each case, insights were gained that related to the use or applicability ofthe framework. By combining the findings from the theoretical and empirical literature with those from the empirical research, the final framework, which is believed to have filled a gap in the theoretical literature, aims to encompass the complexity of information strategy development and implementation within HEIs. The framework reflects a human-centred and Critical Systems Thinking approach, and is designed to allow potential evaluators to identify underlying causes for the success or failure of an information strategy that is implemented at an HEI.