Integrating Ontology, Epistemology, & Methodology -- Zhichang Zhu

ISSS Meeting at Asilomar, June 28-July 2, 1999 
  • Paper Session, June 28, 1999, 5:15 p.m., chaired by ? 
These participant's notes were created in real-time during the meeting, based on the speaker's presentation(s) and comments from the audience. These should not be viewed as official transcripts of the meeting, but only as an interpretation by a single individual. Lapses, grammatical errors, and typing mistakes may not have been corrected. Questions about content should be directed to the originator. These notes have been contributed by David Ing ( at the IBM AdvancedBusiness Institute ( ).
Won't be discussing foundations of information science, as the Chinese philosophy is to immediately apply the concepts.

Insights which may be useful in information systems

Insight 1: The differentiated Tao 

  • Everything is connected to each other, but they transform / inform each other. 
Implication 1: 
  • ISD is differentiated, but is also integrated. 
Insight 2: The complementary ying/yang -- everything should have its opposite.

Implication 2: No single aspect of IS is permanently central or fundamental. 

  • Dialectical usage is methods is more meaningful than endless polarization / clarification. 
  • No single ISD method alone can do the right things right all the time. 
  • e.g. soft systems says social systems are most important, but still need technological systems. 
Insight 3: The bubbling lis (patterns) 
  • Tao has no fixed shape. 
Implication 3: 
  • IS as a bubble-li management 
  • Technical, organizational issues are like bubbles, and we can't predict how they will bubble up. 
Insight 4: The cyclical I (transformations) 
  • Societies, systems always move. 
  • Even history moves in cycles: 12-year cycles (this year as monkey). 
Implication 4: 
  • ISD as a spiral learning process. 
  • In linear, when you deliver the system, it no longer suits the user. 
Insight 5: 
  • The spontaneous wu-wei: have to work / act compatibly in the local situation. 
Methodology is a monster blocking participation. 
  • Lots of new methodologies now geared towards user participation, but all claim that they are ISD methodologies. 
  • In Singapore, China or Sri Lanka: When you talk IS methodology, you've become an expert, and already reduce the user. 
  • Need to transform ISD methodologies to be more compatible with the wisdom of the common management. 
Implication 5: 
  • ISD methodologies should not take a form different from general problem-solving -- not artificial and arbitrary. 
Insight 6: The golden shi-chong 
  • Always want to be comfortable with the new. 
  • Then, there's no "best" wisdom to follow, no fixed route to take, ... 
Chinese philosophy has been around for 5000 years, but how to make this compatible with ISD? 
  • Wuli, shili, renli: An Oriental Systems approach to management. 
li is a subjective word, depends on situation and background.
  • to manage, to ... 
wu = objective conditions, resources, restraints

wuli = relation with the world pattern of transformation

shi = subjective modeling

shili = relation with the self ways of seeing / thinking / doing.

ren = intersubjective values interests, behavior

renli = relations with others.

In three dimensions, they inform each other: 

  • W = natural / technical 
  • S = psycho / cognitive 
  • R = social / political. 
  • ISD focuses on W and S, but sociology suggests they're also shaped by R. 
  • What domains does ISD cover? 
Philosophy of WSR: 
  • Need to know wuli: resources 
  • Reflect model: shili -- the view of management, technical, workers 
  • If different people have different world views, then need a concern on human relations: renli -- caring for. 
System boundaries: 
  • Wuli has physical boundaries 
  • Shili has conceptual boundaries 
  • Renli has ethical boundaries. 
  • Each conditions the other. 
  • We may have to enlarge our scope of IS and management. 
Have a WSR methodology not only for IS, but also for management. 
  • Need to understand the desires -- what do we need. 
  • Investigate conditions -- what do we have (as resources)? 
  • What shall we do -- traditional IS methods take the above two as objective. 
How do you reduce the distance between experts and users? 
  • Translate from General Problem Solving form into Information Systems Design form. 
  • The two are very similar in structure. 
  • Don't presume as an IS method, but instead as a general management situation. 
    • Only when we get to something formal, then move to this type of format, with both GPS and ISD. 


Is there a practical way to separate the three entities, because they're interlocked? 
  • Always a challenge to discuss over different cultures, e.g. engineers. 
Is there a concept of optimization in this model? 
  • In any single situation, would optimize, but no fixed process. 
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This page was last modified by David Ing on October 6, 2002.