Information Technology and Organizational Change: Causal Structure in Theory and Research
This article concerns theories about why and how information technology affects organizational life. Good theory guides research, which, when applied, increases the likelihood that information technology will be employed with desirable consequences for users, organizations, and other interested parties. But what is a good theory? Theories are often evaluated in terms of their content—the specific concepts used and the human values served. This article examines theories in terms of their structures—theorists’ assumptions about the nature and direction of causal influence. Three dimensions of causal structure are considered—causal agency, logical structure, and level of analysis. Causal agency refers to beliefs about the nature of causality: whether external forces cause change, whether people act purposefully to accomplish intended objectives, or whether changes emerge unpredictably from the interaction of people and events. Logical structure refers to the temporal aspect of theory—static versus dynamic—and to the logical relationships between the “causes” and the outcomes. Level of analysis refers to the entities about which the theory poses concepts and relationships—individuals, groups, organizations, and society. While there are many possible structures for good theory about the role of information technology in organizational change, only a few of these structures can be seen in current theorizing. Increased awareness of the options, open discussion of their advantages and disadvantages, and explicit characterization of future theoretical statements in terms of the dimensions and categories discussed here should, we believe, promote the development of better theory.