Chaos theory as a model for interpreting information systems in organizations

McBride, Neil (2005). Chaos theory as a model for interpreting information systems in organizations. Information Systems Journal, 15(3) pp. 233–254.



Chaos theory concerns the qualitative study of unstable aperiodic behaviour in deterministic non-linear dynamical systems. Concepts from chaos theory have recently been applied as a model for interpreting organizational change and understanding organizational behaviour. This paper applies these concepts to the study of information systems in organizations. Key concepts from chaos theory are identified and used to develop an interpretive framework. The importance of understanding the initial conditions when an information systems strategy is developed or an information system is implemented is highlighted. The idea of strange attractors, patterns of behaviours of information systems, organizations and actors, which are repeated is developed, and the effect of internal and external events and choices is considered. These chaos theory concepts are applied to a case study of information systems strategy implementation in the UK probation service. It is concluded that concepts from chaos theory offer valuable support in developing a coherent and meaningful story concerning interactions between information systems and their host organizations.

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