IT-adaptation as sensemaking inventing new meaning for technology in organizations

University dissertation from Umeå : Umeå universitet

Abstract: Noting how organizations today are increasingly dependent on IT for a broad range of organizational activities, the thesis starts from the observation that many IT-related endeavors nevertheless fail. In tracing part of the problem to the inability of many organizations to cope with changes in the surrounding material and social context, the emphasis is put on the processes by which IT-artifacts are adapted and re-adapted, after they have been put into daily use. Assuming human sensemaking as a good basis for coping with the changes, qualitative data from two organizations — a Swedish social services department and a software firm — provides an empirical context for assessing how sensemaking processes affect IT-adaptation.Conceptually, the thesis draws on Karl Weick's thinking, introducing the "double interact" and the "response repertoire" as sensitizing concepts with which to understand the mechanisms generating adaptation of IT-artifacts. Methodologically, the interpretive case study is employed, using the "hermeneutic circle" as the guiding principle for the research process.The thesis draws some specific implications concerning how IT-adaptation can be understood in organizations. The generic IT-adaptation process can be divided into two elementar}- phases, exploration and exploitation. During the exploration phase, several individual interpretations of a particular IT-artifact co-exist, occasioning ambiguity about its meaning in organizational daily activity. During the exploitation phase, the IT-artifact itself is in the background of matters of attention, providing organizational actors, who pursue individual goals and desires, the opportunity to exploit the shared and taken-for-granted meaning they see in the artifact. While the exploitation phase is important for organizational efficacy, there is nevertheless a risk that the meaning exploited becomes outdated by surrounding socio-material changes over time. Among other proposals, the thesis therefore suggests that triggering sensemaking processes can be important for meaningful IT-adaptation. In addition, it suggests the activity of searching for the interlacing areas of professional identity of actor groups, as a means to make IT-artifacts meaningful in organizing endeavors.