Information Systems Research and the Quest for Certainty

Enid Mumford
2003 Journal of the AIS  
If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; But if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties". Francis Bacon This paper is written for information systems (IS) scholars who may be researching design problems of considerable complexity and who seek approaches and ideas that can increase their confidence in understanding and tackling these problems. The subject of the paper is the notion of 'certainty:' the certainty of a researcher's performance and
more » ... s performance and that of his or her research targets. How can researchers be sure that they are studying the right things in the right way in novel situations? How can they predict the certainty of success in situations where information technology (IT) innovation involves novelty and affects multiple stakeholders like users, developers, and managers? In order to answer these questions, researchers may need to critically evaluate and assess the ways they handle uncertainty in IS research. Certainty and IS research Scholars need to be clear about what they are studying, so we need to first define what we mean by certainty. The Oxford English dictionary defines 'certain' as determined, fixed, not variable, sure, reliable, unfailing, having no doubt. There can be certainty based on knowledge, dogmatic certainty, certainty without evidence, and certainty based on trust. The principal context in which we handle certainty in this paper is in the field of information technology and its use in a changing world. A simple definition of certainty for IS research is, therefore, doing the right thing to secure desired objectives, while believing in the correctness of one's actions. Hence, certainty, as defined in this paper, is based on the knowledge of what is going to happen in the present and the future. This knowledge can take different forms and will always be partial rather than comprehensive. The purpose of IS research is to increase the amount of certainty based on knowledge that is an improvement either in scope or degree.
doi:10.17705/1jais.00034 fatcat:aq67ogkfpjg3foe3rhzkfwgim4