Information Systems Research that Makes a Difference: A Modest Proposal

I will be speaking at SDA Bocconi School of Management on March 7, 2017. Thanks to Ferdinando Pennarola, Department of Management and Technology, for hosting the visit.

Information Systems Research that Makes a Difference: A Modest Proposal

I believe that research needs to be conducted in a manner that advances the greater public good, especially in fields that are of an applied nature (business, engineering, public policy, etc.). Research done with the sole intention of producing a journal article or conference paper is not good enough. Academia has a special responsibility to generate knowledge that advances society. Studying complex phenomenon requires us to undertake research that (1) draws on multiple disciplines, (2) engages a diverse group of stakeholders, (3) appreciates a plurality of research approaches, and (4) communicates to a diverse set of audiences. Executing inter-disciplinary research is no easy feat to accomplish. Researchers face daunting challenges from the onset, beginning with the inception of ideas, and then continuing to the crafting of problem statements, executing the research process, and communicating the results via publications in academic and practitioner outlets. However, these challenges should not be viewed as an excuse to abandon inter-disciplinary research in favor of narrowly focused research exercises.

In this talk, I will offer personal reflections on how to structure research programs to maximize several goals. First, to ensure the efficiency and effectiveness of the research process. Second, to maximize the potential that research outputs will be accepted by scholarly and practitioner communities. Third, to work with stakeholders to leverage the knowledge that is generated, to advance societal outcomes. I will share examples from a wide range of projects to elaborate on how scholars can build agile, responsive, and responsible research projects that have relevance beyond the ivory tower.

I will present a method (process) for executing inter-disciplinary research that has served me well. Illustrative examples of research projects will be used to exemplify this process and outline strategies for researchers to consider when conducting inter-disciplinary research projects. I will pay particular attention to global research projects that are interdisciplinary in nature. In addition to sharing lessons about what works, I will openly share some of the trials and tribulations that I have encountered along the way.

Science & Civics: Aspen Institute

The Aspen Institute released a report on Science & Civics: A Guide for Collaborative Action.

Today, it is necessary and urgent to defend the vital role of science in a healthy civic life. This report begins with the premise that there is a gap in both civic literacy and scientific literacy in the United States. The Aspen Institute’s Citizenship and American Identity Program (CAI) believes that these two trends are connected – and that addressing them together is vital to cultivating a citizenry capable of informed self-government. Through the Science & Civics Initiative, CAI aims to help scientists become more powerful citizens and enable citizens to make sense of the world and its complex problems more like scientists. The goal of this report is to outline a path of collaborative action for both civic groups and scientists.

I had the pleasure to contribute ideas to this report. Other contributors to the report include:

Shannon Dosemagen, Executive Director of Public Lab New Orleans

Dr. John Falk, Sea Grant Professor of Free Choice Learning at Oregon State University

Leetha Filderman, President and COO of PopTech

Ira Flatow, Host and Executive Producer of Science Friday

Cary Funk, Associate Director of Research on Science and Society at Pew Research Center

Thomas Kalil, Deputy Director for Policy for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

Dr. Leandris Liburd, Associate Director for Minority Health and Health Equity at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention

Dietram Scheufele, John E. Ross Chair in Science Communication in the Department of Life Sciences Communication at the University of Wisconsin–Madison

Brooke Smith, Executive Director of Compass

Realizing the Promise of Cognitive Computing Systems

I am launching a new project in the area of Cognitive Computing Systems. Below is a brief description of the effort. You can read a recent post that I did for Brookings here. If you are interested in collaborating on this project, please contact me.

Project Description

Every major technology player is investing serious financial and human capital into the development of Cognitive Computing Systems (CCSs). CCSs leverage artificial intelligence and machine intelligence techniques to build systems that can 1) learn from interactions, 2) analyze large datasets in an effective and efficient manner, and 3) increase the of precision of outcomes overtime through continuous process of analyzing and learning from data. Put more simply, CCSs are inspired by the potential to mimic how the human brain acquires, analyzes, and employs data to make decisions. Research and development efforts and emerging prototypes point to the fact that CCSs have significant potential to cause major disruptions in all facets of the public sector. In addition, if one considers CCSs along with other emerging technologies (e.g. autonomous vehicles or fully connected machine-to-machine networks), the magnitude of disruption is potentially greater. Public agencies need to take a more proactive approach towards 1) understanding the nature of CCSs, 2) appreciating their potential to enable agencies to increase performance and optimize resource allocations, and 3) charting pathways towards adopting, experimenting with, and implementing these systems. This project will focus on providing public managers with actionable insights on the above-mentioned three issues.

Today, CCSs are being designed to support human decision-makers by providing them evidence-based solutions through analyzing large quantities of data within a domain. In an ideal world, according to technology enthusiasts, these systems should be able to make decisions on their own, thereby removing some of the traditional concerns with human decision-makers (e.g. prejudice, errors, etc.). CCSs will also be networked with other such systems so as to conduct transactions without human intervention. While there is no doubting that the sophistication of these systems will increase over time and their costs will decrease making them affordable, serious public policy and management considerations must be addressed to fully leverage their potential. Our project will focus on studying how public agencies can take a proactive approach to preparing themselves for CCSs. We will not only study the technical and organizational issues associated with CCSs, but take a close look at the social and public policy issues.

Our research methodology will take a multi-prong approach. First, we will document lessons learned from several of our ongoing projects that include elements of CSSs (e.g. machine learning algorithms, data mining, sensor-networks, etc.). Second, we will collect case studies on various CSSs projects in the public sector. We will seek to collect cases beyond the US, and will also look at CSSs projects at various scales. Through the analysis of these cases we will seek to uncover issues and challenges associated with implanting CCSs. In addition, these cases will enable us to tease apart various common themes that various stakeholders within the CCSs face as they conceive of, launch, and manage these projects. Third, we will leverage our vast network of public sector CIOs, technology enthusiasts, futurists, and innovators to conduct in-depth interviews on CCSs in the public sphere. Our interviews will focus on technical, organizational, policy, and social dimensions of CCSs and their role in 1) transforming public agencies, 2) innovating policy design, implantation, and evaluation, and 3) the nature of data, analytics, and systems as a public good.

Funding

The IBM Center for the Business of Government has generously provided support for the first report from this project.

IT Governance in the Public Sector – Journal of Management Information Systems

jmis_30_years_coverAn article I co-authored with Gregory S. Dawson (Arizona State University), James S. Denford (Royal Military College of Canada), Clay K. Williams (Southern Illinois University Edwardsville), and David Preston (Texas Christian University) has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Management Information Systems.

An Examination of Effective IT Governance in the Public Sector Using the Legal View of Agency Theory

Abstract
In the private sector, research on IT governance has frequently applied the classical view of agency theory and focused on the controlling role played by the board of directors in constraining potentially opportunistic manager/agent. However, in the public sector, the board of directors does not exist and there may be less need to focus on the controlling aspect of governance and more need to focus on the politically challenging distribution of state resources. In this U.S. state-based study, we adopt, apply and extend the legal view of agency theory past its sole focus on the board of directors as the solitary mediating hierarch in order to examine the strategic mediating hierarch role played by the state legislature and then conceptualize and test for the existence of a tactical mediating hierarch played by the IT steering committee and the production role of an independent office of the chief information officer (OCIO) in using a fee-for-service funding model. We apply these concepts to extend theory to examine the combination of roles that lead to superior outcomes for the state (the principal) versus those necessary for the IT department (the agent). Our results show that by shifting from the control-oriented view of governance in the private sector to a more mediating view in the public sector, important practices may be portable between the public and private sector, despite their widely differing structures.

Predictive Analytics and Higher Education

SO16ERcoverAn article I co-authored with Kendra Smith appears in the September/October Issue of EDUCASE Review. The article was the cover feature for the issue. You can access the article here.

Predictive Analytics: Nudging, Shoving, and Smacking Behaviors in Higher Education

With predictive analytics, colleges and universities are able to “nudge” individuals toward making better decisions and exercising rational behavior to enhance their probabilities of success.

2016 EGPA Annual Conference, 24-26 August 2016

header I will be presenting a paper at the 2016 EGPA Annual Conference in Utrecht, Netherlands.

Frugal Technology and Innovation to Design Smarter Cities

In this paper, I will explore opportunities for frugal technology and innovation to design smarter cities. I will draw on several case studies of smart city development efforts in North America and Asia. The focus of my remarks will center on why we need to rethink the current state of technology deployment in urban centers, especially when we consider developing countries and fragile cities. A focus on frugal innovation will enable us to meet several objectives: 1) reduce the percentage of failed large-scale technology projects, 2) increase civic engagement through digital technologies, and 3) design data and build platforms that are agile and nimble.

Autonomous Vehicles in Slate and Wired Interview

slateI published a new article in Slate for their Futurography series on the challenges cities might face when self-driving cars share the roads with old school vehicles.

Can Self-Driving Cars Share the Road With Old-School Vehicles?

WiredI was also interviewed for a story in Wired on the US Department of Transportation's Smart City Challenge.

Columbus Just Won $50 Million to Become the City of the Future

#IdeasToRetire – Center for Science, Policy & Outcomes – May 9, 2016

I will be speaking at the Center for Science, Policy & Outcomes in Washington, DC on May 9th.

#IdeasToRetire: Information Systems in Public Management, Public Policy, and Governance
Death of ideas are painful. In his classic 1962 book, Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn traces how “normal science” precedes.  In normal science, a field evolves based on prior scientific achievements and is built, brick by brick, from an existing paradigm. The current paradigm grows and evolves and gradually an entire community coalesces around this set of beliefs. Scientific practitioners take great pains to defend the set of beliefs and, over time, the scientific community acts to suppress innovations that conflict with the existing paradigm. Further, the community makes no efforts to discover new ways of doing things, performance anomalies are covered up, discarded or ignored and there is no effort to invent new theory. Even worse, there is an active effort to suppress new theories and those who espouse them. It is only when an existing paradigm is utter bereft of value that the community starts to examine the existing paradigm and challenge it.

IdeasToRetireInformation systems are fundamentally transforming how we manage public institutions and conduct public policy. Yet, even a causal glance at the mainstream public management and public policy research outlets reflects a glaring omission of serious research into information systems when it comes to their design, management, governance, and evaluation. This state of affairs is not acceptable given the critical nature of information systems and their potential to impact how we govern. For all of the investments that the public sector has made in technology, we still see dismal failures in IT usage, management and implementation in government. A critical issue that stands in our way to realizing the full potential of IT when it comes to transforming our public agencies, delivery of public services, and the crafting and execution of public policies – antiquated ideas that hold us back. Adherence to these ideas is causing two undesirable outcomes: (1) an unacceptable gap between the promise of technology and its current failure rate and (2) a failure to fully realize the benefits of technology. In this talk, I will share findings from the #IdeasToRetire project. Our conclusion from this project of this is simple: government is stymied by outmoded ideas and can do better. Fixing this requires both thoughtful insight and courage.

2016 Technology Forum – Ottawa County, Michigan

OC_Tech_Forum_LogoWill be heading to Michigan later this month to keynote the 2016 Technology Forum.

Realizing the Promise of (Open, Mobile, and Big) Data and Technologies for Local Governments

How can we harness data towards innovative local governance that advances our communities? Today, we have all heard about open data, mobile data, and even big (and very big) data. We have also seen a rise in civic hackathons, competitions, and challenges that engage innovators to solve complex problems and promote the use of data analytics for global development. In this presentation, I will use a wide assortment of cases to illustrate a key point, i.e., while we have made great strides in leveraging technology and data, we have undermined its potential due to an under-appreciation of governance and policy nuances. Do not despair! I will outline a series of actionable steps that can be undertaken to rectify this deficiency. Specifically, I will focus on how can we create data-driven development labs to tackle some of our most vexing social and policy challenges.

WHEN: Friday, April 29, 2016, 8:30am-4:00pm
WHERE: Ottawa County Fillmore Complex, West Olive, MI (Map). Enter parking lot B, forum is in main conference room of the County Administration building, second floor, west wing.

IÉSEG School of Management – March 5-13

IESEGLooking forward to returning to IÉSEG School of Management in March to collaborate with colleagues and deliver two research presentations. Thanks to Isabelle Fagnot for organizing the visit.

Governing Mega-Scale IT Projects: The Global Public Sector Experience 

Information Technology (IT) projects are commonplace in the public sector. National, regional, and local governments continue to invest substantial resources into designing, developing, and maintaining information systems. The scale, scope, and potential impacts of IT projects continue to increase. Today, it is typical to find mega-scale IT projects in the public sector. Unfortunately, these projects seldom play out as planned. Mega-scale IT projects often fail to meet expectations, and when they fail, they do so magnificently. In this presentation, I will share lessons learned from a study of six mega-scale IT projects in the public sector. I will specifically call out governance issues associated with contracting, consultants, financing, human resources, leadership, and project management. [Flyer]

Designing Research Programs: Processes, Outputs, and Outcomes

I believe that research needs to be conducted in a manner that advances the greater public good, especially in fields that are of an applied nature (business, engineering, public policy, etc.). Research done with the sole intention of producing a journal article or conference paper is not good enough. Academia has a special responsibility to generate knowledge that advances society. In this talk, I will offer personal reflections on how to structure research programs to maximize several goals. First, to ensure the efficiency and effectiveness of the research process. Second, to maximize the potential that research outputs will be accepted by scholarly and practitioner communities. Third, to work with stakeholders to leverage the knowledge that is generated, to advance societal outcomes. I will share examples from a wide assortment of projects to elaborate on how scholars can build agile, responsive, and responsible research projects that have relevance beyond the ivory tower. I will pay particular attention to global research projects that are interdisciplinary in nature. In addition to sharing lessons about what works, I will openly share some of the trials and tribulations that I have encountered along the way. [Flyer]