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For each of us and for organisations in general the effective use of information is a critical success factor. You only need to think of the assignments you need to complete and the demand for a diverse and unified communication of information being required.
There are two broad paradigms for dealing with information:
• Information as a ‘substance’ flowing through a system (Stamper et.al.)
• Information as a ‘process’ ie a social activity of making and maintaining relationships (Cheek et.al.)
We have chosen the later paradigm, however both need modelling approaches which allow us to collect and communicate knowledge and information effectively.
Daniel Bell (1973) coined the expression ‘the post-industrial society’. In this society a substantial proportion of the population are employed or involved in the work of information collection and communication. In this sense we can see that information has become a commodity which can have a value and is therefore marketable. It also can be seen as an indispensable component of our social fabric.
The general concept of ‘information’ is used in a confused manner. By some it is seen as something we distil from data in order to make decisions, and to a point this could be a true observation. By others it is seen in terms of the understanding that we gain from messages or the knowledge that one person communicates to another and the meanings we create and exchange.
Stamper, Lui, Schaik (unpublished) suggest:
‘… To obtain something resembling a scientific handle on the concept of information we need to begin with a clear picture of what we are observing. Physics is concerned with physical bodies of all kinds, their properties and their behaviour. We do not have to define the concept of a body in so many words because we can show a person so many concrete examples that he can learn to use the word ‘body’ as competently as we do ourselves. Similarly, we can start our exploration of information by using the concept of a sign. We might tell someone that a sign is any physical object, event, or property of an object or event which can stand for something else. But we do not leave it at that. We show them hundreds of diverse examples until they know what a sign is by ostensive definition (that is, by demonstration). In this way we escape the tyranny of a verbal regression into the domain of practical, concrete action.
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The theory of signs is called semiotics. As physics is the study of the physical properties of bodies, so semiotics is the study of the semiological properties of things. As in physics we start by classifying physical bodies and physical phenomena, so, in semiotics we do much the same with signs. Similarly, as in physics we begin to measure physical bodies in many ways, such as finding out how big they are, and in so doing distinguishing many different aspects of size, we can in semiotics measure signs. We discover that information is the semiological concept analogous to the idea of size in physics, and we find that measuring signs in various ways leads to a whole range of different precisely defined measures of information.’
Semiotics is no new comer to studying human understanding. As a result there are a number of views and sub-disciplines we can use to measure information, several of which interest us in our study:
1. Syntactic (structure, data, records, language, logic, software, files, …)
2. Semantic (meaning, denotation, signification, proposition, validity, truth, …)
3. Pragmatic (intent, communication, conversation, negotiation, …)
Other sub-disciplines also exist in order to explain the basic elements of our understanding. For example Statistical (physical/empirical) and Social, both these are classified either side of the above three:
4. Statistical (physical/empirical, as patterns, codes, signals, traces, …)
5. Social (Apobetic - beliefs, expectations, commitments, contracts, law, culture, …)
Although we have an interest in all these aspects, Information Methods – LCI101 is practically concerned with the syntactic, semantic and pragmatic measures.
As a student you are concerned with communicating what you know and understand, and doing this as accurately and meaningfully as possible. Once you can communicate accurately you are then in a position to communicate your intentions (which may include new interpretations of data, etc.).
As an example - students are examined; in that you are tested for your ability to communicate accurately what has been taught, ie. most often the syntactic and semantic detail. Stamper et al (unpublished) provides a further example:
‘… In order to use information effectively for getting business done, we must perform effectively at all these levels. We must know to pick up the telephone and make the contact with the person we need (physical). We must know how to speak clearly enough to overcome the crackling and disturbance on the line (empirical). We must use the appropriate language for the other person (syntactic). We have to know that the words and numbers that we are using will be interpreted with the intended meaning by the receiver (semantic). We have to be clear about our intention, for example are we asking the other person to do something for us or to tell us the result of what he has done already (pragmatic). Finally (social) we must maintain and use correctly the social structure ranging from the general culture to the appropriate subculture relating to the specific communication taking place.’
If we fail at any one of these levels then the effectiveness of the communication is diminished or lost. Knowing these things helps us understand the role of information and also the two information paradigms suggested earlier.
An example, which will assist in clarifying how we may view these paradigms, is to think about ‘teaching’ and ‘learning’
Teaching – which in essence equates to a flow model where information is taught, memorised and reiterated with little or no development of understanding of intent, negotiation, etc.
Learning – the process of bringing to life the problems of making new meanings, negotiating intentions and forming social realities in which information can be used effectively. This paradigm assumes that the material required (memorised, etc.) is acquired by the learner.
Therefore knowing and understanding the information paradigms and the semiotic levels AND applying this knowledge can assist each of us in communicating information.
The next question is - where does information emanate from? Earl and Hopewood (1980) suggest an information matrix:
Official Lectures, learning Access facilities,
materials, MIS, DSS, Task forces, Drop-in Labs,
control systems, etc. consultants, tutors, etc.
Unofficial Black books, libraries, The grape vine, informal chats,
just in time files, etc. etc.
Finding the right information is often about asking the right questions and knowing when and how to apply the above matrix. The dynamics that unite data, information and knowledge can now be considered, and can be depicted as follows (Galliers 1992):
I want to now differentiate between what could be called fact or data based information that includes questions that begin with – who / what / when / which / where and rule or norm based information that includes the how and why questions. If our intention is to collect lots of data or facts like the ABS statistics etc. then how we collect and process the information is in terms of the syntactic and semantic levels and sees information as a substance. Whereas how and why questions see information from the pragmatic then semantic levels, and therefore requires that we quantify the semantic and syntactic levels in order to process and store information.