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Scientific background of the IRIS community

Introduction and problem

In IRIS business meeting 2015 we discussed how to document the history and profile of IRIS, the worlds longest consecutive conference within information systems. I, Per Flensburg, was given the task of coordinating such a work. It will be labeled as “40 years of trends, topics, theories and methods used by the IRIS community” and in short it will describe the scientific background of the IRIS community.  

From the beginning and up to the end of the 80's it was very clear what type of theories, approaches, and problems the IRIS community addressed. It was development and use of administrative information processing systems seen from the users point of view. A big issue was the used research paradigm, where most of us were against the traditional positivistic approach. As Markku Numinen puts it: We were negativists! Today, the addressed problems and the investigation diverges much more and the fierce battle with positivism is no longer. Also people from outside the nordic countries (for instance Joan Greenbaum and Duane Truex) have encourage us to put forward our specific perspective. These are some of the reasons for describing the scientific background of the IRIS community. 

Scientific background means theories, problems, domain and methods used. There are certain dependencies between them and for instance problems and domain can be difficult to formulate in an extensive way. 

Fig 1. Parts in the scientific background

In Fig 1 I provide a model of the parts in the scientific background. It is partly based on Törnebohms (1975, 1983) work, but further develop by myself. In a science, such as information systems, we investigate certain problems, dealing with phenomena in a part of the real world, the domain. Not all sciences study the real world and the study concerns always only some specific aspects of the reality. The investigation is based upon some theories and guided by a method, a scientific method. The science is based upon certain theories and the method chosen is based on a methodology1. The method chosen is dependent on the theories used and the domain investigated. The purple arrows indicate this. The result of a scientific investigation can be one or more of the six green arrows:

  • It can be identification and description of a problem
  • It can be solving a problem in the domain
  • It can be evaluation of a specific method
  • It can be test or construction of a new theory
  • It can identify and describe dependencies between method and theory
  • It can identify and describe dependencies between method and domain

The result will be a description in a wiki of problems, methods and theories used by researchers in the IRIS community. PhD students will benefit from the result and it will be easier for them to formulate relevant research problems, find relevant theories and methods within the scope of the IRIS community. The wiki form will open for a debate and allow people express alternative views. This will also help strengthening the IRIS community and make it more vivid and revitalize it. Finally, I think the wiki can be used in teaching at the undergraduate level, giving the students a better idea of what information system is as a scientific area.


The IRIS community is pragmatically defined as those who have submitted papers to any IRIS seminar, SJIS or SCIS. It should correspond to the IRIS mailing list.

The method used will be a mixture of qualitative and quantitative method including collection of data about theories, problems, methods and domain from proceedings from the IRIS seminars, SJIS and SCIS conferences. Proceedings from SCIS and articles in SJIS are all filtered through the eyes of a program committee and therefore some bias might be introduced. The contributions in the IRIS papers mirror best the total opinion of the community, since the acceptance rate is quite high for them. It might, however, be fruitful to compare the SCIS proceedings and SJIS articles for some years with the seminar proceedings for these years and identify any differences.   The method should for selected contributions be to describe theories, methods, problems and domain used according to Fig 1. As a base for possible theories we use the AIS wiki1 over theories used in information systems. The result will be documented in an IRIS wiki and members of the IRIS community can suggest changes, and we hope they share their knowledge and opinions. 

To study every paper of every proceedings from every IRIS, SJIS and SCIS requires much work. A reliable result can be achieved by using a random selection. But since our domain have changed considerably I suggest we divide the papers in approximately 10-year periods as follows:

1. 1978-1985: Establishing the area, systems development models

2. 1986-1995: User orientation, Scandinavian school, social-technique

3. 1996-2005: Establishment of Internet

4. 2005-2015: Social media and impact on society

I have indicated some main areas roughly covered during the indicated periods. There are of course no clear boundaries and other researchers might argue I have overseen several areas. The main point is though, that the sample should cover the whole period and the analysis might better indicate periods and content of them. Concerning the size of a sample, I have no idea, but I hope somebody, more skilled in statistics than I can suggest a reasonable sample.


It’s a huge task and requires much work. First we have to collect all proceedings from all IRIS seminars, all numbers of SJIS and all proceedings of SCIS. This might turn out to be impossible, but we will collect as many as possible. Many authors also consider the IRIS proceedings as working papers and don't want them to be cited. This is not the intention here, the material will not be common available, but have to be asked for. Detailed instructions for the classification are needed in order to obtain high data quality.  With such instructions available students could do classification as a part of their master or bachelor thesis, or even in specific courses in theories, problems or history of information systems. At University West we will give a master course about theories in information systems and this is a golden opportunity both for the students and for this project to come up with a small number of analysis and a tested method. This course could also be given also at other universities. The descriptions and experiences from our course will of course be available for the IRIS community. The description can be found here.

After some iterations we should have a quantitative description of who, where and when has used which theory. The result will be a description of the scientific base from the very beginning up to now. It might diverge quite a lot in the last five or ten years. In fact, it might not be possible to define the current and future scientific background for the IRIS community in a coherent way. 

It is important that the work is continuously documented and shared, since it will take long time and those who started it might pass away. Therefore the work must be well planned and some persons must be willing to carry it along. I’m willing to do this as long as my power and brain last, but planning for the future is needed.

Some problematic issues

Some issues we have to consider:

1. Shall the proceedings be digitalized from the very beginning? I think it is a good idea if we copy them to pdf-format but they should not be available for all on internet but have to be asked for.

2. Establish a historical IRIS-site. Markku Nurminen started a such (http://www.cs.utu.fi/IRIS/hist.htm ), but it stops 1998. It is important that we keep information of each IRIS, principally the homepage, maybe without the proceedings, since there were some issues with the biometry if the proceeding were available. 

3. Oldies, like me, should be involved in the history, but it is important that young people also are involved, both for keeping the interest live for the next generation, but also because they are familiar with new trends in information systems.

Problems unsolved:

1. Get all material from all IRIS conferences. I guess there might be some conferences we can't obtain the material from. Effects on validity and reliability must be evaluated

2. Establish a wiki and website for this project. This could be done within the frame of the IRIS community webbsite.

3. Establish a task force group for the work. This is not done yet, but I know several persons willing to take part, so it should not be a great problem. 

4. Detailed procedure and methods for the investigation. This is to be published here. 

Work already done

There are some persons who are retired and have an outstanding knowledge about the IRIS community. I think of persons like Pentti Kerola, Juhani Iivari, Pertti Järvinen, Markku Nurminen, Lars Mathiasen, Tone Bratteteig and many others I can’t remember. Therefore it might be a good idea to start collecting their information and involve them in the work of describing the history. Judith Molka-Danielsen et al (2007) wrote a paper about IRIS history up to 2006 and it is further documented in a web-site http://www.commetrix.de/iris which give information about the conferences up to 2006. Molka’s work however, is mainly focused on the relations between the authors and to some degree on the area of the papers. The focus here will, however, be on the content of the papers.  Molka (2007) identifies the top authors whose opinions on the IRIS activities might be worth gathering.

Project organization

Fig 2 Proposed organization

The suggested project organization is described in Fig 2. It should not be a big organization and people could move in and out. The main work is done electronically so there should not be need for many time consuming travels.


Judith Molka-Danielsen, M. T., Vadim Shlyk, Markku I. Nurminen (2007). IRIS (1978-2006) Historical Reflection through Visual Analysis. 30th Information Systems Research Seminar in Scandinavia – IRIS30, Murrika, Tampere, DEPARTMENT OF COMPUTER SCIENCES, UNIVERSITY OF TAMPERE.

Törnebohm, H. (1975). Undersökande system, paradigm och tematiska diskussioner, Avdelningen för Vetenskapsteori, Göteborgs Universitet.

Törnebohm, H. (1983). Studier av kunskapsutveckling, Doxa.

1 “Methodology” should here be understood in its original meaning: “The science about methods” and not in the anglo-saxon meaning of “method”.

2 http://istheory.byu.edu/wiki/Main_Page

© Per Flensburg 2015