. "Research Motivated by Social Applications of Information Technology." Making IT Better: Expanding Information Technology Research to Meet Society's Needs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2000.
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MAKING IT BETTER: EXPANDING INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY RESEARCH TO MEET SOCIETY'S NEEDS
are instead expected to have a significant record of accomplishments. The program is still new, and MIT has only a small number of such professors, but they add breadth and experience to the school's engineering programs.
Interdisciplinary Research in Academia
If research on the social applications of IT is to advance, then interdisciplinary research will be needed that involves participants and expertise from a wide range of academic disciplines. The work needs to involve not only computer scientists, engineers, and software experts but also business professors and organizational theorists who understand the relationship between IT and the organizational structures within which it is embedded, the human side of complex technical systems, and the market aspects of different social applications. The research teams need to include social scientists who can evaluate the impact of IT on individuals, families, organizations, and society and who understand the human-centric nature of computing. They could include specialists in particular application areas such as health care, manufacturing, finance, and e-commerce.
Researchers in business, economics, and the social sciences have already made numerous advances in understanding IT as it is used in a range of social applications (Box 4.5 and Box 4.6). Several opportunities exist for stepping up the involvement of experts in business, economics, social science, and law in research pertaining to IT. Nontraditional research mechanisms may be needed that will encourage the participation of end-user organizations in research, broaden the outlook of IT researchers, and/or overcome disciplinary boundaries in universities. The management of interdisciplinary research collaborations generates its own set of issues: technologists and social scientists have different vocabularies, methodologies, time perspectives, standards of evidence, and so on. Such differences need to be bridged if collaborations are to be effective.
Interdisciplinary research can be conducted in one of three ways. Individuals can broaden their own expertise: technologists can become increasingly facile with the uses of the technologies and the larger system (including sociotechnical system) contexts within which they are embedded, and experts in sociotechnical system contexts become more facile with technology. Alternatively, experts in the system contexts can collaborate more extensively and effectively with technologists. Or, new professions can arise to mediate between IT and its uses: this occurred in health care when the field of medical informatics emerged to help bridge the gap between IT and medicine (Box 4.7) and, even earlier, in civil engineering when an entire profession (building and landscape architecture) was established to deal with application, societal, and aesthetic