There are multiple perspectives regarding what constitutes theory and the purposes of theory. Gregor (2006) proposes five interrelated categories of theories. Theories for analyzing are descriptive and include taxonomies and classification schema. Theories for explaining propose how and why a phenomenon occurs. Theories for predicting describe what will be but not why it will be that way. Theories for explaining and predicting state what is, how, why, when and what will be. Theories for design and action describe how to do something, providing a road map of actions.
Although there are multiple types of theories, the information sciences are better known for borrowing theory from other disciplines than for introducing new theories. Theory development is typically not included in information science degree programmes at any level, and there is a lack of literature discussing the theory development process in the information sciences. Thus there is a need to explore and illuminate theory development across the information sciences in order to encourage, inspire and assist individuals striving to use and develop theory and/or teach theory development.
The purpose of this panel is to discuss the role of theory in the information sciences, and to share personal experiences developing theory. Leaders in the information sciences will share their insights regarding challenges, successes and failures with respect to theory development. Rauch Wolf will discuss the relationship between theory development and the development of tools, artefacts or software in the information sciences. David Bawden will discuss his approach to theory development that emphasizes a qualitative and conceptual analysis and synthesis, aiming to create a form of understanding which brings coherence to complex sets of information. Tefko Saracevic will discuss his lifelong involvement with the puzzle we call relevance. Diane Sonnenwald will discuss a theory development process model that emerged from a synthesis of reflections from 16 scholars regarding their personal experiences developing theory throughout their career or with respect to a specific time frame during their career.
Session participants will be encouraged to share their experiences developing theory, including challenges they have encountered and successful approaches they have developed, and to share insights regarding effective ways to teach theory development. Session participants, especially students and junior colleagues, will also be encouraged to ask the panel and other session participants questions about the theory development process, and to suggest techniques or activities instructors can employ to help them learn how to develop theory.
Each panel member will speak for 10-15 minutes, and after each presentation there will be a 5 minute Q&A period to address questions emerging from the presentation. This will be followed by a discussion session that includes session participants and panel members. Notes will be taken during the discussion and shared with conference attendees.
David Bawden is Professor of Information Science in the Department of Library and Information Science at City University London.
Tefko Saracevic is Professor II Emerita of Library and Information Science at Rutgers University.
Diane H. Sonnenwald is Professor of Information Science in the Royal School of Library and Information Science at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. (Panel chair)
Rauch Wolf is Professor of Information Science in the Department of Information Science and Information Systems at the University of Graz.
Gregor, S. (2006). The nature of theory in information systems. MIS Quarterly, 30(3), 611-642.
Sonnenwald, D.H. (Ed.) (in press). Theory development in the information sciences. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.