Thursday, May 19, 2011

Value ideas in system design

There was a nice post in Eight2Late last month on how value ideas work themselves into system design. There's no news in the revelation that value is a pretty complex subject, far more than just a simple econometric dollarization.

The basis of the blog is a paper published a few years ago entitled "Choosing Between Competing Design Ideals in Information Systems Development" by Heinz Klein and Rudy Hirschheim, and the argument framework developed by Stephen Toulmin. given as below:
Claim: A statement that one party asks another to accept as true. An example would be my claim that I did not show up to work yesterday because I was not well.

Data (Evidence): The basis on which one party expects to other to accept a claim as true. To back the claim made in the previous line, I might draw attention to my runny nose and hoarse voice.

Warrant: The bridge between the data and the claim. Again, using the same example, a warrant would be that I look drawn today, so it is likely that I really was sick yesterday.

Backing: Further evidence, if the warrant should prove insufficient. If my boss is unconvinced by my appearance he may insist on a doctor certificate.

Qualifier: These are words that express a degree of certainty about the claim. For instance, to emphasise just how sick I was, I might tell my boss that I stayed in bed all day because I had high fever.

Klein and Hirschheim took Toulmin's argument framework [above] and added a number of obstacles and barriers to rational discussion of values as applied to system design. These ranged over the political, factual, and emotional domains that often inform decisions. It's a good paper and the Eight2Late blog summarizes it nicely.

But here's the real point: it's really hard for a hyper-rational person to make a decision when the facts are close.  Without some investment of passion, belief, and values, the paralysis of analysis keeps the hard core "just the facts.." kind of decider forever deciding.  To break the paralysis, someone with less dependency on rational analysis has to step in.  These are the folks who can be satisfied with being a supporter without necessarily being a believer.

And the corollary: the passionate believer often fails to be sufficiently rational to see the other points of view.  Believers often ignore facts and are perfectly willing to be "fact free".  Believers are more committed than supporters.  Believers almost never abandon a position; they are what we call ideologues. Supporters, on the other hand, mix a bit of belief with some facts and are willing to provide support until the facts change.

So, when you read Eight2Late's posting, take into account that a reasonable mix of all the sins of decision makers is really not a bad thing!

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