Information Systems Journals: Knowledge Castles or Knowledge Gardens? Brian Whitworth




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Information Systems Journals:
Knowledge Castles or Knowledge Gardens?




Brian Whitworth

Institute of Information and Mathematical Sciences,

Massey University, bwhitworth@acm.org


Elizabeth Whitworth

Psychology Department

Carleton University


Karen Patten

School of Management,

New Jersey Institute Of Technology

DRAFT June 7, 2006 Do not quote. This paper is available to invite discussion. Please contact main author for latest version

ABSTRACT



Current flagship academic journals are struggling to be relevant while practical information system innovations abound, e.g. online auctions, blogs, wikis, chat, instant messages, user spaces, multi-player games, tagging and reputation ratings, to mention a few. To the practitioners who create these advances, journals often seem out-dated, over-rigorous and irrelevant - providing too much about too little, too late. While IS practice has innovated, IS journals have, if anything, become more risk averse. We suggest they are becoming knowledge castles instead of what they should be: knowledge gardens. If IS practice abandons IS theory for this reason, it would be a great loss, as new theories can unlock new fields of progress. Computer mediated interaction could open the gates of our knowledge castles and improve their education, selection and innovation roles. The successful Los Alamos physics archive illustrates the approach is feasible, but its potential has yet to be tapped. IS academia has an opportunity to lead the way in electronic knowledge exchange systems and thus grow our entire field.


KEYWORDS: electronic publication, citation, knowledge, innovation, research, electronic archive, IS future

I.INTRODUCTION


For the purposes of this discussion paper, an academic journal is defined as knowledge exchange system (KES) with three core roles:

  1. A Research Growth Role: To help create and develop new knowledge:
    Does the knowledge source foster tomorrow’s important ideas today? Is it at the cutting edge of research? Does it grow new knowledge?

  2. A Selection Role: To present only valid knowledge of high academic quality:
    Is the knowledge of the highest scientific quality, i.e. academically sound? Are its arguments logical and its claims supported by valid data?

  3. An Educational Role: To disseminate useful and valued knowledge in a timely fashion: Is the knowledge presented clearly and well? Does the reader gain valued knowledge, and after reading it know something they did not know before? Does the knowledge arrive in time to be useful?

We expect good journals to encourage new research, to report scientifically valid knowledge, and to disseminate that knowledge well (Paul, 2005). Each goal is different, so a journal could be innovative but not rigorous, or rigorous but not well read, etc.

We suggest that knowledge exchange systems should work like gardens to produce the fruit of scientific progress. In this analogy, the research role is like planting new seeds, as new ideas are put into the academic world. Such new ideas are often initially small, fragile and take time to grow, and one may not know the outcome until they do. The educational role is like watering or fertilizing seeds so they form into plants. Disseminating ideas grows them in the minds of readers, and as people interpret them, their form clarifies. Finally, the selection role is like culling the weeds of a garden or cutting a diseased branch from a tree. If knowledge is illogical or invalid journals can reject or deny it, reducing its growth in the field of public knowledge. As every gardener knows, for maximum results one must plant, fertilize and prune, i.e. good gardens need all three roles in a balance.

We now suggest that IS journals today are losing this balance, as the selection role is being over-emphasized, turning them into castles to protect knowledge instead of gardens to grow it. This opinion paper has three parts:

  1. Current situation – where are we now?

  2. Current trends – where is it going?

  3. Future options – where could we be with electronic support?
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