«How the use of ICT can contribute to a misleading picture of conditions – A five-step process. Interdisciplinary Journal of Information, Knowledge, ...»
Interdisciplinary Journal of Information, Knowledge, and Management Volume 10, 2015
Cite as: Holgersson, S. (2015). How the use of ICT can contribute to a misleading picture of conditions – A five-step
process. Interdisciplinary Journal of Information, Knowledge, and Management, 10, 193-215. Retrieved from
How the Use of ICT can Contribute to a Misleading
Picture of Conditions – A Five-Step Process Stefan Holgersson Department of Management and Engineering, Division of Information Systems, Linköping University, Linköping, Sweden email@example.com Abstract This paper contributes to the limited research on roles ICT can play in impression-management strategies and is based on case studies done in the Swedish Police. It also gives a theoretical con- tribution by adopting a holistic approach to explain how ICT can contribute to giving a mislead- ing picture of conditions. Output generated by ICT has nowadays a central role in follow-up ac- tivities and decision-making. Even if this type of output, often in colourful, presentable, graphical arrangements, gives the impression of being accurate and reliable there is a risk of defective data quality. The phenomena can be described as a process divided into five steps. The first step is about how the data is generated and/or collected. The second step is linked to how the data is registered. The third step is about the output generated from the ICT-systems. The fourth step is how the output of ICT is selected for presentation. The fifth step concerns how output generated by ICT is interpreted. This paper shows that ICT can easily be used in impression-management strategies. For example, that personnel take shortcuts to affect the statistics rather than applying methods that may give the desired effects.
Keywords: ICT, information quality, output, impression-management, misleading, decision- making Introduction Ackoff (1967) highlighted in his classic article titled “Management Misinformation Systems” that the main problem for managers was not a lack of relevant information, but an abundance of irrel- evant information. This problem has not decreased with the introduction of Information Commu- nication Technology (ICT), which makes it easy to generate outputs and to compile and compare the results of different organisations. A focus on key-figures, often generated by ICT, can easily lead to dysfunctional behaviour. This wide-ranging problem has been described by researchers criticising the use of New Public Man- Material published as part of this publication, either on-line or agemen
ther than the underlying quality. The use of ICT is one important part of this highly topical matter. Quantifying the reality and trusting in numbers has become very common, and information in databases is likely to be seen as a mapping of an “objective reality”. That is because it is easy to use ICT to generate output that gives a good impression and looks accurate and reliable - but there are, however, reported risks that the output can give a misleading picture of conditions (Alvesson, 2013; Eterno & Silverman, 2012).
In the context of the above, a valid question would be what previous research has been done to explain how the use of ICT can contribute to giving a misleading picture of conditions? By studying an extensive number of research articles which address the importance of appropriate systems design in avoiding errors when registering information with ICT, it is possible to find some explanations (see for example Ash, Berg, & Coiera, 2004; Kushniruk, Triola, Borycki, Stein, & Kannry, 2005). A system with an interface that heightens the risk that users make mistakes or that users are unmotivated to register some information will, of course, have a negative impact on the information quality. However, it is not just because of the design of an ICT system that information generated by ICT can be misleading. Knowledge can be divided into tacit and explicit knowledge (Polanyi, 1962), and tacit knowledge is difficult to register using ICT (Hislop, 2002).
There also exists a social-technical gap between what we know we must support socially and what we can support technically (Ackerman, 2000). Furthermore, the use of ICT can be a part of impression-management strategies designed to create legitimacy. Legitimacy-building is a wellknown phenomenon and over the years many researchers have highlighted this situation (see e.g., DiMaggio, 1983; Meyer & Rowan, 1977), but there is however limited research into what kind of different roles ICT can play in such strategies. Limited research has been done in cases where intentional misleading is caused by impression-management strategies; there are also hard-to-find studies that take a holistic approach to how the use of ICT can contribute to misleading pictures of conditions. To study cases where these conditions is manifested can, therefore, have theoretical implications by addressing a research gap, but also practical implications because ICT plays an increasing role in organisations and the whole society.
To be able to answer a research question about how the use of ICT can contribute to giving a misleading picture of conditions requires intimate access to an operation. It must be possible to follow the information process from the source - where data is generated and registered - to the end of the chain, i.e., how output from ICT is interpreted and its effects. The aim of the study is to adopt a holistic approach and to try to consider both intentional and unintentional causes in order to answer the research question. The study is limited to one organisation, the Swedish Police, where extensive field studies have been conducted ( 10,000 hours). The police have a central role in the public sector, where factors such as credibility and trust are important. The consequences of a misleading picture of conditions in such an organisation are, therefore, especially interesting to discuss. The paper begins with a section where previous research connected to the research question is presented, followed by a method section. Thereafter, there is an exemplification of circumstances that can explain what role ICT can play in giving a misleading picture of conditions, followed by an analysis. The paper concludes with a summary and a discussion section.
Previous Research – The Role of ICT in Misleading Information In this section the aim is to present answers to the research question of how the use of ICT can contribute to a misleading picture of conditions using previous research. Even though it was not possible to find research with a holistic approach, trying to answer the question of how the use of ICT can contribute to giving a misleading picture of conditions; it was possible to find a wide range of single explanations that can be used to understand the phenomenon. For example, the
extensive research field of Human–Computer Interaction (HCI) provides a number of explanations connected to the design of systems. Perceived usefulness and perceived ease-of-use are fundamental determinants of user acceptance, but usefulness had a significantly greater correlation with usage behaviour than how easy a system is to use (Davis, 1989). How well an IT system suits different user groups varies and the amount of effort required to learn and use an IT system may also vary (Grudin, 1988). Computer program design is essential to the actual use of computers in the workplace (see for example, Davis, Bagozzi, & Warshaw, 2006) and will affect how information is registered and used. The use of ICT can cause errors (see Ash et al. 2004; Kushniruk et al; 2005). Ash et al. (2004) found that implementing patient care information systems seems to foster errors rather than reduce them. They describe that the errors fall into two main categories. The first is connected to the process of entering and retrieving information. The other is in the communication and coordination process. They pointed at the fact that physicians and nurses – just like people in general – tend to rely on information from computers being objective, and this can have damaging effect if the information gives a misleading picture of a patient’s condition. They refer to a classic example (see Leveson & Turner, 1993) with a computercontrolled radiation machine. The operators put so much faith in the information from the machine that everything was normal that they disregarded disturbing clinical signs from the patients.
This caused radiation overdose in six patients. Ash et al. (2004) believe that it is possible that informaticians can design and implement systems, educate, and conduct research in such a way that it might be possible to avoid the unintended consequence of the type of silent errors they describe in their article. DeLone and McLean’s (1992) widely referenced model in the information systems (IS) research area emphasised the importance of taking information quality into consideration when measuring the success or effectiveness of information systems. The risk of lack of information quality when using ICT, connected to how the system is designed, is thus a well-known factor and there are researchers that have pointed out that it is important to take system design into account when using data from IT systems (Nicolau & McKnigth, 2011). The BI (Business Intelligence) research field emphasises the importance of using accurate information to be able to make appropriate operational judgements (see for example Ashrafi, Kelleher & Kuilboer, 2014; Popovič & Habjan, 2012). This indicates that there is an insight that an unreflective use of output generated by ICT can contribute to misleading pictures of conditions.
Besides the research areas mentioned above, there are also other types of research that might create an understanding of how ICT can contribute to giving a misleading picture of conditions. One factor is the identification of a social-technical gap, meaning that ICT cannot fully support the social world (Ackerman, 2000). Human activity is highly flexible, nuanced and contextualised, and knowledge includes both tacit and explicit elements (e.g., Nonaka, 1994). Knowledge recorded in an IT system is however “exposed knowledge” and “facts” (see, for example Hassel, 2005;
Walsham, 2004). Hislop (2002) questions the perspective that ICT plays a central role in knowledge sharing processes, as it is difficult to share tacit knowledge through ICT and because all knowledge includes both tacit and explicit elements. Furthermore, different types of previous knowledge can negatively influence knowledge transfer, especially when some parts of the information are lacking. When one person’s knowledge differs from another person’s knowledge, the contents of the same information can be interpreted differently by two individuals (see for example, Lin, Geng, & Whinston, 2005). Also social influence and different perspectives can affect the prerequisites for interpreting information about the organisation, its goals, and problems (see for example, Bolman & Deal, 2003). That ICT nowadays plays a key role within organisations in persuasion, information exchange, and documentation (see for example, Novac-Ududec, 2015; Stephens, Sørnes, Rice, Browning, & Sætre, 2008), together with the probability that some information is missing when using ICT – as is touched on in the research references above – give some explanation as to how the use of ICT might contribute to giving a misleading picture of
conditions. So far, though, the references have only been used in a way that can explain uninten
195How the use of ICT can contribute to a misleading picture of conditions
tional misleading – such things as mistakes when registering information; important tacit information being difficult to catch; and the absence of important awareness of a context, which could cause inadequate interpreting of information generated by ICT. There is also the possibility that ICT might be used as a tool for legitimacy-building. It is important to consider whether any previous research can explain this matter.
Modern organisations, especially the public sector, have to respond to a high level of often contradictory demands, and it is an important strategy to promote a good image of the activities that they are involved in (Alvesson, 2013; see also Brunsson, 2003). There is a lot of research indicating that it is common for organisations to use different types of legitimacy-building activities (see for example, Alvesson, 2013; DiMaggio, 1983; Meyer & Rowan, 1977), but research into the different roles ICT can play in such strategies is limited. There are, though, studies in the use of social media like Facebook, Twitter, or websites (see for example, Jackson & Lilleker, 2011;
Shin, Augustine, & Hyo Jung, 2015). Even if they do not focus on how ICT can be used with the intention of giving a misleading picture of conditions, they describe how ICT can be an important part in impression-management strategies. If some facts are suppressed and other information is highlighted then this can, of course, create a too-positive image of a condition. There are also other types of IS research studies that describe how ICT can be a part of legitimacy-building activities. Melin, Sarkar, and Young (2014) show that cost savings and performance improvements are not the only motivators behind adoption of new ICT solutions in organisations. The decision to use new technologies can promote an innovative image of an organisation to stakeholders (Melin et al., 2014). In general, IS research that describes intentional misleading using ICT is hard to find. However there are studies in other research areas that substantially highlight impression-management strategies where ICT plays a key role.