ASIS&T 2006 START Conference Manager    

Structuration Theory and the Use of XML for Web Site Content Management in Government: Comprehensive Prototyping as an Induced Change Episode

J. Ramon Gil-Garcia, Donna Canestraro, Jim Costello, Andrea Baker, and Derek Werthmuller

ASIS&T Annual Meeting - 2006 (ASIS&T 2006)
Austin, Texas, November 3-9, 2006


XML is generally understood to be a new technology that supports effective data exchange between applications (Cingil, Dogac, & Azgin, 2000; Kendall & Kendall, 1999). However, XML has another value that is much less exploited or understood – it offers an innovative long-term solution to many of the shortcomings of HTML because it structures and describes web content in a meaningful way (Hoelzer et al., 2001). In general terms, XML can be seen as a powerful way to structure, share, and manage information (Kendall & Kendall, 1999). Despite clear advantages, government agencies confront many obstacles to the adoption and implementation of XML-based web site management. These include the need for technical training and infrastructure readiness, but more important are the needs for solid business case justifications, understanding the impact of organizational change, leadership buy-in, and a firm understanding of where to begin. One of the most pervasive challenges is the multiplicity and disparity of stakeholders involved in the publication process. Content creators, reviewers and technical staff do not necessarily have the same conceptualizations, interests and needs, and therefore, their understandings, norms, and capabilities regarding XML are not always aligned.

Recently, there have been various theoretical efforts to understand the differences in perceptions and use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) through approaches based on structuration theory (Giddens, 1979, 1984). In these structurational accounts, technology change in organizations, when it occurs, is represented as a series of modifications, adaptations, and improvisations on IT artifacts and that take place incrementally across time as users find it practicable, necessary, or rewarding to explore possibilities (DeSanctis & Poole, 1994; Orlikowski, 1992, 2000; Orlikowski & Robey, 1991). Although this characterization is appropriate for many conditions of routine technology use and in which there is a relatively homogeneous group of users, it has important limitations for understanding situations in which there are multiple groups of stakeholders with different visions, capabilities, and priorities.

Within structuration theory there is a different way to understand change and the relationships between social groups. For Giddens, all social life is episodic and he was particularly interested in comparing large scale episodes or “sequences of change having a specifiable opening, trend of events and outcomes” (Giddens, 1984, p374). Novel conjunctions may arise in the context of “time-space edges,” which are at the nexus of contact or interdependence between different structural types of society. Previous research has proposed that Giddens’ concept of change episode can be used to understand the use of information technologies in situations of inter-organizational or inter-group intensive interaction such as the response to terrorist attacks, natural disasters, and corporate merges (Gil-García, Harrison, Juraga, Pardo, & Thompson, 2004; Harrison, Gil-García, Pardo, & Thompson, 2006). This research provides insight into how multiple groups can develop shared understandings, norms, and capabilities through externally imposed periods of intensive and close collaboration.

However, within this line of research, it is not clear whether these change episodes can be intentionally produced through organizational interventions. Based on two sets of semi-structured interviews and a three-wave survey to program and technical staff from five New York State agencies, this poster will show how a comprehensive prototyping experience can induce a change episode. It will also suggest the mechanisms through which facilities, norms and interpretive schemes in relation to the use of XML for web site content management changed and became more similar across agency teams and between technical and program staff. Finally, the poster will suggest practical implications for IT training, systems development, and the implementation of IT initiatives.

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