European Journal of Information Systems

, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp 125–142 | Cite as

Beyond organisational agendas: using boundary critique to facilitate the inclusion of societal concerns in information systems planning

  • José-Rodrigo CórdobaEmail author
  • Gerald Midgley
Original Article


As the development of the information society takes place worldwide, individuals, groups and organisations face the challenge of taking advantage of information and communication technologies (ICTs). ‘Digital divides’ are emerging: some sections of society are gaining access to information, knowledge and technologies while others are being excluded. There also seems to be an over-concentration on the use of ICTs for organisational purposes, with traditional information systems (IS) planning approaches largely ignoring the needs and concerns that people express outside formal organisations. One answer to this problem might be to adopt a systems approach to IS planning. At first sight this appears to be a good idea because of the aspiration of systems approaches to comprehensiveness, presumably looking beyond organisational concerns. However, a review of two popular systems methodologies employed in IS planning suggests that there is potential for their scope to be equally limited by organisational boundaries. There is a need to enhance the critical review of the boundaries of IS planning processes, enabling people to consider family, community and other concerns. In this paper, we use the systems theory of boundary critique to derive a set of questions to help practitioners reflect on different possible boundaries for IS planning exercises. These should be seen as complementary to existing systems approaches rather than as a replacement for them, enabling the latter to be practised more critically. We end by presenting our reflections on using these questions in the context of an IS planning project in a Colombian University.


boundary critique critical systems thinking digital divide information systems planning information society systems methodology soft systems methodology (SSM) TOP 


  1. Ackoff R (1981) Creating the Corporate Future: Plan or to be Planned for. John Wiley and Sons, New York.Google Scholar
  2. Afele JS (2003) Digital Bridges: Developing Countries in the Knowledge Economy. Idea Group Pub, Hershey, PA.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Alvesson M and Willmott H (1992) Critical theory and management studies: an introduction. In Critical Management Studies (ALVESSON M and WILLMOTT H, Eds), pp 1–20, Sage, London.Google Scholar
  4. Alvesson M and Willmott H (1996) Making Sense of Management: A Critical Introduction. Sage, London.Google Scholar
  5. Avgerou C (2001) The significance of context in information systems and organizational change. Information Systems Journal 11, 43–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Avison D, Wood-Harper AT, Vidgen RT and Wood JRG (1998) A further exploration into information systems development: the evolution of Multiview2. Information Technology and People 11 (2), 124–139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Avison DE and Wood-Harper AT (1990) Multiview: An Exploration in Information Systems Development. Alfred Waller (McGraw-Hill Publishing Company), Henley on Thames.Google Scholar
  8. Ball K and Wilson D (2000) Power, control and computer-based performance monitoring: a subjectivist approach to repertoires and resistance. Organization Studies 21 (3), 539–565.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bangemann M (1994) Europe and the global information society: recommendations to the European Council. Report to the Commission, Commission of the European Communities (CEC), Brussels.Google Scholar
  10. Bannon L (1997) Conceptualising the information society. The Economic and Social Review 28 (3), 301–305.Google Scholar
  11. Beck E, Madon S and Sahay S (2004) On the margins of the ‘Information Society’: a comparative study of mediation. The Information Society 20, 279–290.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Bennetts P, Wood-Harper AT and Hills S (2000) A holistic approach to the management of information systems development: a view using a soft systems approach and multiple viewpoints. Systems Research and Behavioral Science 13 (2), 189–205.Google Scholar
  13. Castells M (1996) The Rise of the Network Society. Blackwell Publishers, Cambridge, MA.Google Scholar
  14. Castells M (2001) The Internet Galaxy: Reflections on Internet, Business and Society. Oxford University Press, Oxford.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. CEC (1997) Green paper on the convergence of the telecommunications, media and information technology sectors, and the implications for regulation: towards an information society approach. Commission of the European Communities (CEC), Brussels.Google Scholar
  16. Cecez-Kecmanovic D, Janson M and Brown A (2002) The rationality framework for a critical study of information systems. Journal of Information Technology 17, 215–227.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Champion D and Stowell FA (2001) PEarl: a systems approach to demonstrating authenticity in information systems design. Journal of Information Technology 16, 3–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Checkland P (1981) Systems Thinking, Systems Practice. John Wiley and Sons, London.Google Scholar
  19. Checkland P (1984) Seminar at the Department of Systems Science, City University (London, UK).Google Scholar
  20. Checkland P (2006) Seminar at Hull University Business School, 5 April 2006, University of Hull, Hull.Google Scholar
  21. Checkland P and Holwell S (1998) Information, Systems and Information Systems: Making Sense of the Field. John Wiley and Sons, Chichester.Google Scholar
  22. Checkland P and Poulter J (2006) Learning for Action: A Short Definitive Account of Soft Systems Methodology and Its Use for Practitioners, Teachers and Students. John Wiley, Chichester.Google Scholar
  23. Checkland P and Scholes P (1990) Soft Systems Methodology in Action. John Wiley and Sons, Chichester.Google Scholar
  24. Christopher M (2005) Logistics and Supply Chain Management: Creating Value-Added Networks. Prentice-Hall, Harlow, UK.Google Scholar
  25. Churchman CW (1968) The Systems Approach. Delacorte Press, New York.Google Scholar
  26. Churchman CW (1970) Operations research as a profession. Management Science 17, b37–b53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Churchman CW (1971) The Design of Inquiring Systems. Basic Books, New York.Google Scholar
  28. Churchman CW (1979) The Systems Approach and its Enemies. Basic Books, New York.Google Scholar
  29. Ciborra C (1994) The grassroots of IT strategy. In Strategic Information Systems: A European Perspective (CIBORRA C and JELASSI T, Eds), pp 3–24, John Wiley, Chichester, UK.Google Scholar
  30. Ciborra C (2001) From Control to Drift: The Dynamics of Corporate Information Infrastructures. Oxford University Press, Oxford.Google Scholar
  31. Clarke S (2007) Information Systems Strategic Management: An Integrated Approach. Routledge, London.Google Scholar
  32. Córdoba JR (2002) A critical systems thinking approach for the planning of information technology in the information society. PhD Thesis, Centre for Systems Studies, University of Hull.Google Scholar
  33. Córdoba JR (2006) Using Foucault to analyse ethics in the practice of problem structuring methods. Journal of the Operational Research Society 57 (9), 1027–1034.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Córdoba JR and Midgley G (2003) Addressing organisational and societal concerns: an application of critical systems thinking to information systems planning in Colombia. In Critical Reflections on Information Systems: A Systemic Approach (CANO J, Ed), pp 159–208, Idea Group Publishing, Hershey, PA.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Córdoba JR and Midgley G (2006) Broadening the boundaries: an application of critical systems thinking to IS planning in Colombia. Journal of the Operational Research Society 57 (9), 1064–1080.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. DOT Force (2000) Okinawa charter on global information society, declaration of the G8. Japanese Government, Okinawa,, February 2003.
  37. Dunleavy P, Margetts H, Bastow S and Tinkler J (2006) Digital Era Governance: IT Corporations, the State, and E-Government. Oxford University Press, Oxford.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Earl M (1998) An organizational approach to IS strategy making. In Information Management: The Organizational Dimension (EARL M, Eds), pp 136–170, Oxford University Press, Oxford.Google Scholar
  39. Evans K (2004) Maintaining Community in the Information Age. Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Flood RL (1995) Total systems intervention (TSI): a reconstitution. Journal of the Operational Research Society 46, 174–191.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Flood RL and Jackson MC (1991a) Creative Problem Solving: Total Systems Intervention. John Wiley and Sons, Chichester.Google Scholar
  42. Flood RL and Jackson MC (1991b) Critical Systems Thinking: Directed Readings. John Wiley and Sons, Chichester.Google Scholar
  43. Flood RL and Romm N (1996) Diversity Management: Triple Loop Learning. John Wiley and Sons, Chichester.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Fuenmayor R (2000) A brief crack of light? Systemic Practice and Action Research 13 (6), 757–772.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Galliers R (1993) IT strategies: beyond competitive advantage. Journal of Strategic Information Systems 2 (4), 283–291.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Galliers R (1995) Re-orienting information systems strategy: integrating information systems into the business. In Information Systems Provision: The Contribution of Soft Systems Methodology (STOWELL F, Eds), pp 51–74, McGraw-Hill, London.Google Scholar
  47. Galliers R (1999) Towards the integration of e-business, knowledge management and policy considerations within an information systems strategy framework. Journal of Strategic Information Systems 8 (3), 229–234.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Galliers R (2004) Reflections on information systems strategizing. In The Social Study of Information and Communication Technology: Innovation, Actors and Contexts (AVGEROU C, et al., Eds), pp 231–262, Oxford University Press, Oxford.Google Scholar
  49. Habermas J (1976) Communication and the Evolution of Society. Heinemann, London.Google Scholar
  50. Habermas J (1984) The Theory of Communicative Action – Volumes One and Two. Polity Press, Cambridge, UK.Google Scholar
  51. Hagedoorn J and Duysters G (2002) External sources of innovative capabilities: the preference for strategic alliances or merges and acquisitions. Journal of Management Studies 39 (2), 167–188.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Hammer M and Champy J (1995) Re-Engineering the Corporation: A Manifesto for Business Revolution. Nicholas Brealey, London.Google Scholar
  53. Hawkins R (1995) Enhancing the user role in the development of technical standards for telecommunications. Technology Analysis and Strategic Management 1, 21–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Henderson J and Venkatraman N (1999) Strategic alignment: leveraging information technology for transforming organisations. IBM Systems Journal 38 (2&3), 472–484.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Hirschheim R and Klein H (1989) Four paradigms of information systems development. Communications of the ACM 32 (10), 1199–1216.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Hirschheim R and Klein H (1994) Realising emancipatory principles in information systems development: the case for ETHICS. MIS Quarterly 18 (1), 83–105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Howcroft D and Wilson M (2003) Participation: ‘Bounded freedom’ or hidden constraints on user involvement. New Technology Work and Employment 18 (1), 2–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Information Society Commission (1999) Information society Ireland: discussion document on IT access for all. Information Society Commission, Dublin., accessed in March 2000.
  59. Ivanov K (1991) Critical systems thinking and information technology: some summary reflections, doubts and hopes through critical thinking critically considered, and through hyper systems. Journal of Applied Systems Analysis 18, 39–55.Google Scholar
  60. Jackson MC (1982) The nature of soft systems thinking: the work of Churchman, Ackoff and Checkland. Journal of Applied Systems Analysis 9, 17–29.Google Scholar
  61. Jackson MC (1991) Systems Methodology for the Management Sciences. Plenum, New York.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Jackson MC (2000) Systems Approaches to Management. Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, London.Google Scholar
  63. Jackson MC (2003a) Creative Holism: Systems Thinking for Managers. John Wiley and Sons, Chichester.Google Scholar
  64. Jackson MC (2003b) Deeper complementarism: a brief response to Ulrich. Journal of the Operational Research Society 54 (11), 1225–1226.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Japanese Government (2000) First meeting of the digital opportunity task force (dotforce). G8, Okinawa., accessed on the 14 January 2002.
  66. Jasperson JS, Carte T, Saunders CS, Butler BS, Croes HJP and Zheng W (2002) Power and information technology research: a metatriangulation review. MIS Quarterly 26 (4), 397–459.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Jermier J (1998) Introduction: critical perspectives on organizational control. Administrative Science Quarterly 43 (2), 235–256.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Keen PGW (1991) Shaping the Future: Business Design through Information Technology. Harvard Business School Press, Harvard, MA.Google Scholar
  69. Klein H and Huynh MQ (2004) The critical social theory of Jurgen Habermas and its implications for IS research. In Social Theory and Philosophy for Information Systems (MINGERS J and WILLCOCKS L, Eds), pp 157–237, John Wiley and Sons, Chichester.Google Scholar
  70. Klein H and Lyytinen K (1985) The poverty of scientism in information systems. In Research Methods in Information Systems: Proceedings of the IFIP 8.2 Colloquium (MUMFORD E, Ed), pp 131–161, North Holland, Amsterdam.Google Scholar
  71. Lewis P (1994) Information Systems Development: Systems Thinking in the Field of Information Systems. Pitman Publishing, London.Google Scholar
  72. Linstone H (1999) Decision Making for Technology Executives: Using Multiple Perspectives to Improve Performance. Artech House, Boston, MA.Google Scholar
  73. Lyytinen K (1992) Information systems and critical theory. In Critical Management Studies (ALVESSON M and WILLMOTT H, Eds), pp 159–180, Sage, London.Google Scholar
  74. Lyytinen K and Klein HK (1985) The critical theory of Jurgen Habermas as a basis for a theory of information systems. In Research Methods in Information Systems (MUMFORD E, Ed), pp 219–236, Elsevier, Amsterdam.Google Scholar
  75. Mansell R (2002) Inside The Communication Revolution: Evolving Patterns of Social and Technical Interaction. Oxford University Press, Oxford.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Mansell R and Steinmueller W (2000) Mobilizing the Information Society: Strategies for Growth and Opportunity. Oxford University Press, Oxford.Google Scholar
  77. Mattelart A (2003) The Information Society: An Introduction. Sage, London.Google Scholar
  78. Menzies H (1996) Whose Brave New World? The Information Highway and the New Economy. Between the Lines, Toronto.Google Scholar
  79. Midgley G (1992) The sacred and profane in critical systems thinking. Systems Practice 5, 5–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Midgley G (1996) What is this thing called CST?. In Critical Systems Thinking: Current Research and Practice (FLOOD RL and ROMM N, Eds), pp 11–24, Plenum Press, New York.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Midgley G (1997) Mixing methods: developing systemic intervention. In Multimethodology: The Theory and Practice of Combining Management Science Methodologies (MINGERS J and GILL A, Eds), pp 249–290, John Wiley and Sons, Chichester.Google Scholar
  82. Midgley G (2000) Systemic Intervention: Philosophy, Methodology and Practice. Kluwer Academic/Plenum, New York.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Midgley G (2003) Introduction and overview of systems thinking. In Systems thinking volume 1 General systems theory, cybernetics and complexity (MIDGLEY G, Eds), pp xvii–liii, Sage, London.Google Scholar
  84. Midgley G and Ochoa-Arias A (2004) An introduction to community operational research. In Community Operational Research: OR and Systems Thinking for Community Development (MIDGLEY G and OCHOA-ARIAS A, Eds), pp 1–36, Plenum, New York.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Midgley G, Munlo I and Brown M (1998) The theory and practice of boundary critique: developing housing services for older people. Journal of the Operational Research Society 49, 467–478.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Mingers J (1980) Towards an appropriate social theory for applied systems thinking: critical theory and soft systems methodology. Journal of Applied Systems Analysis 7, 41–50.Google Scholar
  87. Mingers J (1984) Subjectivism and soft systems methodology: a critique. Journal of Applied Systems Analysis 11, 85–113.Google Scholar
  88. Mingers J (1992) Technical, practical and critical OR: past, present and future?. In Critical Management Studies (ALVESSON M and WILLMOTT H, Eds), pp 90–112, Sage, London.Google Scholar
  89. Mingers J (2001) Combining IS research methods: towards a pluralist methodology. Information Systems Research 12 (3), 240–259.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Mingers J (2005) ‘More dangerous than an unanswered question is an unquestioned answer’: a contribution to the Ulrich debate. Journal of the Operational Research Society 56 (4), 468–474.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. Mingers J and Brocklesby J (1996) Multimethodology: towards a framework for critical pluralism. Systemist 18, 101–131.Google Scholar
  92. Mumford E (1983) Designing Human Systems for New Technology: The ETHICS Method. Manchester Business School, Manchester.Google Scholar
  93. Munro I (1999) Man-machine systems: people and technology in OR. Systemic Practice and Action Research 12, 513–532.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  94. Negroponte N (1995) Being Digital. MIT Press, Boston, MA.Google Scholar
  95. NTIA (1999) Falling through the net: Defining the digital divide. National Telecommunications and Information Administration, US Department of Commerce,, February 2000.
  96. Ormerod R (1996) Information systems strategy development at Sainsbury's supermarket using ‘soft’ OR”. Interfaces 16 (1), 102–130.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  97. Ormerod R (2005) Putting soft OR methods to work: the case of IS strategy development for the UK Parliament. Journal of the Operational Research Society 56 (12), 1379–1398.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  98. Panagiotidis P and Edwards J (2001) Organisational learning – a critical systems thinking discipline. European Journal of Information Systems 10 (3), 136–145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  99. Peppard J and Ward J (2004) Beyond strategic systems: towards an IS capability. Journal of Strategic Information Systems 13 (2), 167–194.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  100. Perelman M (1998) Class Warfare in the Information Age. Macmillan Press Ltd, London.Google Scholar
  101. Piccoli G and Ives B (2005) IT-dependent strategic initiatives and sustained competitive advantage: a review and synthesis of the literature. MIS Quarterly 29 (4), 747–776.Google Scholar
  102. Reponen T (1998) The role of learning in information systems planning and implementation. In Information Technology and Organisational Transformation (GALLIERS RD and BAETS WRJ, Eds), pp 133–149, John Wiley and Sons, Chichester.Google Scholar
  103. Robey D and Boudreau M (1999) Accounting for the contradictory organizational consequences of information technology: theoretical directions and methodological implications. Information Systems Research 10 (2), 167–185.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  104. Sabherwal R, Hirschheim R and Goles T (2001) The dynamics of alignment: insights from a punctuated equilibrium model. Organization Science 12 (2), 179–197.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  105. Salmela H, Lederer A, Reponen T (2000) Information systems planning in a turbulent environment. European Journal of Information Systems 9 (1), 3–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  106. Santhanam R and Hartono E (2003) Issues in linking information technology capability to firm performance. MIS Quarterly 27 (1), 125–165.Google Scholar
  107. Schecter D (1991) Critical systems thinking: a connective summary. In Critical Systems Thinking: Directed Readings (FLOOD RL and JACKSON MC, Eds), pp 213–226, John Wiley and Sons, Chichester.Google Scholar
  108. Stowell F (1995) Empowering the client: the relevance of SSM and interpretivism in client-led design. In Information Systems Provision: The Contribution of Soft Systems Methodology (STOWELL F, Eds), pp 118–139, McGraw-Hill, London.Google Scholar
  109. Strijbos S and Basden A (2006) In Search of an Integrative Vision for Technology: Interdisciplinary Studies in Information Systems. Springer, New York.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  110. Taylor J and Moynihan E (2002) Analysing IT ethics. Systems Research and Behavioral Science 19, 49–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  111. Ulrich W (1983) Critical Heuristics of Social Planning: A New Approach to Practical Philosophy. Haupt, Berne.Google Scholar
  112. Ulrich W (1987) Critical heuristics of social systems design. European Journal of Operational Research 31, 276–283.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  113. Ulrich W (1993) Some difficulties of ecological thinking, considered from a critical systems perspective: a plea for critical holism. Systems Practice 6 (6), 583–611.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  114. Ulrich W (1996) Critical systems thinking for citizens: a research proposal. Research Memorandum, University of Hull, Hull, UK.Google Scholar
  115. Ulrich W (2000) Reflective practice in the civil society: the contribution of critically systemic thinking. Reflective Practice 1, 247–268.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  116. Ulrich W (2001) Critically systemic discourse: a discursive approach to reflective practice in ISD (part 2). Journal of Information Technology Theory and Application 3 (3), 85–106.Google Scholar
  117. Ulrich W (2003) Beyond methodology choice: critical systems thinking as critically systemic discourse. Journal of the Operational Research Society 54 (4), 325–342.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  118. UNESCO (1992) Science and Technology in Developing Countries: Strategies for the 1990's. United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization, Paris.Google Scholar
  119. Walsham G (2001) Making a World of Difference: IT in a Global Context. John Wiley, Chichester.Google Scholar
  120. Ward J and Griffiths P (2002) Strategic Planning for Information Systems. John Wiley and Sons, Chichester, UK.Google Scholar
  121. Webster F (2002) Theories of the Information Society. Routledge, London.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  122. Wilcox D and Pearl M (2002) Civic and community technology. The Journal of The Communications Network 1 (1), 1–9.Google Scholar
  123. Willmott H (1993) Strength is ignorance; slavery is freedom: managing culture in modern organizations. Journal of Management Studies 30 (4), 515–562.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  124. Willmott H (1997) Management and organization studies as science? Organization 4 (3), 309–344.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  125. Wilson B (1984) Systems: Concepts, Methodologies, and Applications. John Wiley and Sons, Chichester, UK.Google Scholar
  126. Wilson B (2002) Soft Systems Methodology: Conceptual Model and its Contribution. John Wiley and Sons, Chichester.Google Scholar
  127. Wood-Harper AT, Corder S, Wood JG and Watson H (1996) How we profess: the ethical systems analyst. Communications of the ACM 39 (3), 69–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  128. Wresch W (1996) Disconnected: Have and Have-nots in the Information Age. Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, NJ.Google Scholar
  129. Zuboff S (1988) In the Age of the Smart Machine: The Future of Work and Power. Heinemann Professional, Oxford.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan Ltd 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Systems Studies, Business School, University of HullHullU.K.
  2. 2.Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) LtdChristchurchNew Zealand
  3. 3.Victoria Management School, Victoria University of WellingtonWellingtonNew Zealand
  4. 4.School of Sociology and Anthropology, University of CanterburyChristchurchNew Zealand
  5. 5.School of Natural and Rural Systems Management, University of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia

Personalised recommendations