Working Paper Series WP04-003  
Exploring the information space: a strategic perspective on information systems

Max Boisot []
Researcher (IN3-UOC)
Sol Snider Center for Entrepreneurial Research (The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania)


Thinking on information systems has tended to conflate data, information and knowledge. Intelligent agents convert data into information and thence into knowledge through a two-step filtering process that is guided by the possession of prior knowledge. Agents, however, have finite brains and intelligence, and often encounter more data and information than they can process or store. To deal with the problem of overload, they have recourse to external processing and storage devices - ie, artefacts or 'external scaffolding' of various kinds - to overcome this problem. Networks of such artefacts, in effect, make up embryonic information systems that have the agent at their centre. Due to the ever-increasing technical change, the division of labour is constantly shifting, both between the external scaffolding and the agent using it or within the agent itself, between embodied, narrative, and abstract forms of knowledge. What determines this shift?

In the paper we show that the way in which information is structured affects how it flows within a group of agents - a family, organization or wider society - and whether it gets embedded in physical or institutional scaffolds or agents. Information and communication technologies aim to facilitate the structuring of information and hence its flow. These technologies, thus, materially modify the information environment within which an agent, or group of agents, acts and interacts. We shall argue that the agenda for the future development of information systems needs to broaden out to encompass a wider conception of its mission, one that relates an agent's, or group of agents', learning needs to the nature of the information environment that they face. We present a conceptual framework, the Information Space or I-Space, which will help us address the issue. We then apply the framework to the question posed above.


Information systems, knowledge management, organizational learning, information flows

Submission date:
January 2004 

Published in:
May 2004 
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