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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

Big Data and Planning: PAS Report Published by American Planning Association

The American Planning Association has released a report that I co-authored with Kendra L. Smith.

Big Data and Planning

Data sets are growing so large and complex that using them is like drinking from a fire hose. Feeling overwhelmed? Help is on the way.

Big data isn’t the problem; it’s the solution — and this PAS Report shows how to use it. Arizona State University researchers Kevin C. Desouza and Kendra L. Smith have teamed up on a practical guide to channeling the power of big data. Together they look at how planners around the world are turning big data into real answers for smart cities.

Learn how Dublin is gearing up geospatial data to steer traffic. See how Singapore is collecting citizens’ selfies to track smog. Discover how Detroit is crowdsourcing creative ideas for its 50-year plan. And find out how the U.S. government is planning to use Yelp to improve its services.

What’s the big idea for your community? Read Big Data and Planning for a look at trends and tools you can tap into today.

Page Count: 104
Date Published: Dec. 5, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-61190-188-7

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.

Governing Innovation in U.S. State Gov. – Journal of Strategic Info. Systems

JSISMy co-authored article with Gregory S.Dawson (Arizona State University) and James S. Denford (Royal Military College of Canada) has been accepted for publication in Journal of Strategic Information Systems

Governing Innovation in U.S. State Government: An Ecosystem Perspective

In the public sector, the strategic quest for IT-based innovation often starts by hiring a successful private sector CIO and hoping his or her prior experience will transfer. However this often ignores the existence and influence of other entities and IT governance structures that form the innovation ecosystem. Applying the legal view of agency theory to the U.S. state innovation ecosystem and using a crisp-set qualitative comparative analysis (csQCA) approach, we investigate factors that are associated with public sector IT-based innovation. We find that CIO characteristics, structural oversight mechanisms, CIO relationships with authorities, and the state environment combine to form configurations that lead to both high and low performance.

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.

Florida International University, Feb 24-26, 2016

FIU I will be visiting Florida International University later this month to deliver a research presentation at the Department of Public Administration in the Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs.

Information Technologies, Public Management, and Public Policy: Reflections and a Way Forward 

FIU

The public sector continues to invest heavily in information technologies (IT). Investments in IT have skyrocketed in recent times at all levels of government, from local to regional and national. These investments have been fueled by a recognition that IT have the potential to transform how we design our public institutions, deliver public services, and govern responsibly. Alas, we must take a moment to assess whether these aspirations have been fully realized. There is limited evidence that investments in IT have delivered on their promised benefits. What is even more troubling is that for every success story, we have quite a few information technology project disasters that have squandered taxpayer dollars.

We do not need to despair; we need more serious engagement on the intricacies of how technologies are introduced, managed, and leveraged within the public sector. In this talk, I will draw on over four years of research to outline critical issues that limit our ability to exploit the potential of IT in the public sector. I will draw on past research projects that have spanned topics such as designing crowdsourcing platforms, building analytical capabilities to mine big data, managing mega-scale IT projects, performance management of IT units, and emerging technologies (e.g. automated vehicles, drones, etc.). I hope to inspire researchers to take the IT management more seriously in the context of public administration, public policy, and governance.