Sunday, September 30, 2007

Becoming more specific

Now, it is obvious that the proposed dissertation topic is somewhat abstract. After all, it could mean many things to different people; so let me attempt to clarify.

Short Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to show how topsy-turvy my brain is or that I can't commit to one project. Rather this blog is a way for me to voice interests, research ideas and document the process of refining my research objectives.

Ok, now that is out of the way (BTW, I'm certifiable! LOL!).

While the last post was abstract it pertains specifically to the original proposal I submitted to my dissertation chair and to the ES/RP program. The focus of this proposal was to emphasize the development and evaluation of effective community information systems for sustainable development, not just in the use of patterns to support NRM. So perhaps it is time to re-focus and as the topic of this post suggests, be more specific.

Anyway, going back to the topic community information systems (CIS), as the ideas of community memory and process-oriented development become increasingly important topics, the ability of groups to effectively enable these elements in their work becomes central.

Unfortunately, the capacity of groups to retain the emergent information glut coming out of these differing research agendas, projects and interests is undermined. Community Information Systems represent an interesting opportunity to address this problem. Likewise, with the growth of web enable services and tools it is becoming easier to integrate services such as GIS, conceptual mapping tools, complex simulation software and a number of other relevant applications into the mix of these CIS apps. This of course is in addition to the traditional tools such as blogs, message boards and chat services that have already been integrated into sites renamed as "social networking sites."

While CIS has been implemented for NRM before, it appears that many of the tools and case studies showing the use or problems associated with these tools is often confined to experts using the applications. There seems little use for actual community members (not to say it isn’t happening). Likewise, there is little information related to the participatory design process of these applications.

But CIS are much more interesting in that beyond their potential application for NRM, they can be useful in more integrated approaches to development. This means, as we have seen already in the field of informatics is that these tools can be used in literacy campaigns, provide locally relevant health information, disaster preparedness information, links to buyers and sellers of good within the local districts of a developing community and provide access to governance related information.

From my perspective CIS for NRM is just one function.

Anyway, the opportunities and problems I have seen have prompted an interest in CIS for supporting effective NRM and poverty alleviation that is at its very core interested in participation, memory and process.

Now, the patterns developed for L.V. are directly related to this issue in many ways and represent a core component to the effective design and implementation of systems that at their core support values of participation, social leveling, community and sustainability.

But do we know this for sure? We assume, and what do researchers like to do with assumptions? We like to test them!

With this in mind it is possible to begin thinking of how to test this. We can begin by describing the patterns we think link directly with enabling the types of information systems we want to develop. These patterns can then guide our development process. Of course, the research is again confronted with the issue of how to use these patterns in a coherent manner. This brings up the need for useful methods for understanding user requirements, not just of the system, but of the fundamental work they seek to accomplish. Through these methodologies as well as enabling systems to support the construction of a context specific pattern language we can then hope to develop something useful.

To evaluate, this can then be broken into three distinct levels; one the development of a context specific pattern language derived from the L.V. system (or larger system of patterns where the L.V. represents a part), two the evaluation of the system as it relates to the patterns that guided the design, and three, the actual use and effect in the community. What if any patterns did we miss, what patterns if any might help improve the system or its usefulness and so on.

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