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Churchman's Inquirers as Design Templates For Knowledge Management Systems

Introduction A number of years ago, Peter Keen implored information systems researchers to develop theory they could call their own, which would build a cumulative tradition in the area, while maintaining close ties to practice; as it is central to the field, not peripheral. Even before that, Herbert Simon called for the development of a rigorous science of design that would also be relevant to the practice of computer science, information systems, business and engineering.

Relating to design, C. West Churchman's work on the design of inquiring systems1 has had a profound influence on research in management information systems over the years. Mason and Mitroff8 introduced this work into the MIS literature early on effectively making it endogenous to the field. Working both together and independently they went on to publish a host of articles based on inquiring systems and other books and papers by Churchman. They have inspired other IS researchers to follow in their footsteps. Ulrich has a website dedicated to Churchman and his work ( His inquiring systems have been used as the basis for learning organizations, for knowledge management systems11 and proposed as kernel theories for knowledge management systems in general.

Despite all the work following on Churchman's original inquiring systems, Mason and Mitroff wrote recently: "To say that Singerian and Churchmanian systems are underrepresented is putting it kindly. They are virtually nonexistent." We believe that there are several reasons for this. First, the book is out of print and inaccessible. In addition, it is admittedly a difficult read, especially the passages on the Singerian inquirer. Even in lieu of the work that has been done on inquiring systems, perhaps many IS researchers believe the concepts are passé. After all, it's over 35 years old now! On the contrary, we believe that continued development of inquiring systems theory can provide continuity in IS research, serve as a theory that IS researchers can call their own, and contribute to the practice of information systems design.

The objective of this article is, first and foremost, to gain additional recognition for inquiring systems theories themselves, and to suggest ways in which they can provide the basis for contemporary design research. Essentially we argue that the inquirers can serve as logical design templates for various forms of information systems. We use an object oriented approach to describe the inquirers themselves, and then indicate how the inquirers can be viewed as logical design templates for instantiations or physical designs.

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