iConference 2019 Blue Sky Papers


The Blue Sky of the Blue Sky

Kevin Crowston and John Leslie King (and maybe more)

The Information Schools (iSchools ) were a major “breakout” in the 20 years from 1995 to 2015, a period of fiscal challenge for higher education in many countries. The iSchools grew, testimony to the rightness of the idea. What’s the idea?

The idea is either vague or not agreed on. The iSchools web site notes that programs evolved from information technology, library science, informatics, information science, etc. Each has its own strengths and specializations. What ties them together is a focus on information, people, and technology. iSchools are interdisciplinary, using “the power of information and technology” to maximize human potential. Success is evident when the iSchool Movement is global, when the information field is recognized for innovations that benefit people, when graduates are leaders, when research attracts strong support and has social and policy impact.

It is difficult to spell out the idea from first principles. The Blue Sky papers gets at ambiguity by having people say specifically what they are doing and/or what they think should happen. Each of the accepted papers presents a point of view on the issue. The desire was to push the frontiers, refusing to use only the past to inform the future. In particular we were interested in ideas that stand out in importance, relevance, and excitement to shape the direction of the information fields, with guidance to pursue these topics.

It ain’t over ‘till it’s over, and it ain’t over. Since 2010 there has been substantial growth in “data” oriented programs, the most popular at the moment being data science. Two out of four categories in the Data-Information-Knowledge-Wisdom hierarchy (DIKW) have dominated. This provides some reassurance that the iSchools that are probably headed in the right direction. However, invoking DIKW, one can imagine some who believe it is possible (perhaps desirable) to move straight from Data to Knowledge, or even Wisdom, disintermediating Information altogether. This would not be good for the “brand equity” of the iSchools, as the marketing types might say. In any case, it presents something to think about.

This paper summarizes contributions from the 2018 iConference Blue Sky Track, weaving those into a tapestry started by our desire to find the “there” there in the iSchools. Parts of the goal have been accomplished. The iSchools Movement is global. Most people recognize that the “information field” broadly considered is tied to innovation that benefits people. Some graduates are leaders. Some research is supported and is recognized for social and policy impact. But aside from the first – the global movement – are the iSchools credited with these accomplishments?

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