Definitions of information culture

Information culture is defined differently as demonstrated in the examples that follow. Davenport (1997) defined information culture as the pattern of behaviors and attitudes that express an organization’s orientation toward information. He contended that information cultures can be open, closed, factually oriented or rumor and intuition-based, controlling or empowering and internally or externally focused. Authors such as Choo et al. (2006) defined information culture as the organization’s values, norms, and practices toward the management and use of information. The values and norms are perceived as follows:

• The values provide answers to what the organization perceives to be the role and contribution of information to organizational effectiveness and what values underlie the organizational style of managing its creation and use of information.

• Norms are derived from values and are socially accepted rules or standards that define what is normal or to be expected in the organizations. They can be informal or formal. Informal norms and attitudes influence the creation, flow, and use of information in individuals or groups. Formal rules, routines and polices are meant to plan, guide, and control information as an asset in an organization.

Douglas defined information culture as “an emerging complex system of values, attitudes, and behaviors that influence how information is used in an organization. Information culture exists in the context of and is influenced by an organizational culture and the wider environment” (Douglas, 2010, p. 388). Douglas’ definition captures the complexity of information culture. Her qualitative study explored the values, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that government departments in Western Australia showed toward information. Even though information was pervasive in all government departments, the value the departments ascribed to it and their attitudes and behavior toward it were not well understood. Her study found information culture to be complex, systemic, and reflexive. She also identified intricate relationships between information culture and organizational culture, information management and information use. Like Curry and Moore (2003), she asserted that although information culture is frequently used as a concept, there is no agreed upon definition. Her research identified different types of information cultures that can be found in organizations and they include the following:

  • • Functional culture: managers use information as a means of exercising influence or power over others.
  • • Sharing culture: managers and employees trust each other to use information (especially about problems and failures) to improve their performance.
  • • Inquiry culture: managers and employees search for information to better understand the future and ways of changing what they do to align themselves with future trends/ directions.
  • • Discovery culture: managers and employees are open to new insights about crisis and radical changes and seek ways to create competitive discontinuities (Douglas, 2010, p. 48).

Douglas (2010) highlighted paucity of studies on information culture yet it is supposed to give organizations a competitive advantage, if well aligned with business strategies. Widen-Wulff (2000) was of the view that information culture is about information systems, common knowledge, and individual information systems in form of attitudes and information ethics. She concluded that the organizations she reviewed were aware of the importance of information, but argued that it was the most difficult asset to manage (Widen-Wulff, 2000).

The connection between information culture and organizational culture was also confirmed by Curry and Moore (2003), who used organizational culture as a starting point for their research on information management in healthcare. Finding it difficult to quantify and qualify culture and information, they discussed the need for a tool to measure and develop an information culture. They posited that it requires a well-developed organizational culture if information culture is to be nourished. This further clarifies why information culture and organizational culture are intertwined. The two concepts have common attributes in the form of values, assumptions, and beliefs. They defined information culture as “A culture in which the value and utility of information in achieving operational and strategic success is recognized, where information forms the basis of organizational decision making and Information Technology is readily exploited as an enabler for effective Information Systems” (Curry & Moore, 2003, p. 94). Oliver (2011) also posited that information culture is inextricably linked to organizational culture and that the term connotes cultural characteristics that are unique to a particular organization.

Choo, Bergeron, Detior, and Heaton (2008) have also argued that information culture and organizational culture are an integral part of a process of becoming a knowledge-based organization. Seel (2000, p. 2) posited that “Organization culture is the emergent result of the continuing negotiations about values, meanings, and proprieties between the members of that organization and with its environment.” Oliver (2004, 2008) contended that information culture exists in all organizations. An effective information culture requires effective communication flows, cross-organizational partnerships, cooperative working practices, and open access to relevant information, management of information systems, clear guidelines and documentation for information and data management, trust, and willingness to share information. Information culture could also be stable beliefs that constitute assumptions, values, norms, and attitudes. It encompasses behaviors, such as work practices, rituals, social dramas, and communication (Travica, 2008). Travica was of the view that information culture is that part of organizational culture that evolves around information and IT and that it is these two elements that shape the culture of an organization. Examples of cultural attitudes include preferences for facts or rumors, information behaviors that include information sharing, and the choice of communication channels.

Choo, Bergeron, et al. (2008) established whether there is a systematic way to identify the information behaviors and values that characterize an organization’s information culture. Amongst the influences they found and that shape the information culture of an organization are: mission, history, leadership, employee traits, industry and national culture. Again they asserted, that information culture as a concept has not been adequately explored in current research. The results of their 2006 research demonstrated that different organizational issues need to be effectively managed if information is to be leveraged in a manner that gives a competitive advantage.

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